Things That Make My Life Easier: Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab

[Image description: Four bottles of perfume in front of and resting upon some books; the bottles are labeled “Australian Copperhead,” “Banded Sea Snake,” “Cottonmouth,” and “Asp Viper,” respectively. Image courtesy of Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab.]

Today, I am taking a page from amandaw’s awesome series “Things That Make My Life Easier” and have chosen to spotlight the fantastically scented goodness of Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. As a person with chronic pain, I have found that certain things having to do with the five senses that take my mind off of my pain — even for a few minutes — makes dealing with pain and fatigue much, much easier. While I am unsure of the scientific veracity of perfume oils and their use in general life-improvement for folks with pain issues (in my case, fibromyalgia, which for me usually causes intense muscle pain and moderate to severe fatigue), I have personally benefited from wearing the complex and often surprising essential oil blends in which the Lab specializes. While smelling nice certainly won’t bring my physical pain down from, say, an 8 to a 1 (on a scale of 1 to 10), many of these blends have helped me to relax, focus on a different sort of physical sensation that is not abjectly, horrendously painful, and generally be more comfortable as I go about my day.

Besides a “General Catalogue” consisting of hundreds of scents—all inspired by a diverse mix of people (comic-book heroes and heroines; H.P. Lovecraft), places (the “Wanderlust” line, which offers scents inspired by famous locales) and things (love [image on page is NSFW], myth and fairy tales, classic art, religion and spirituality, and Alice in Wonderland, to name just a few)—BPAL also offers Limited Edition blends. Currently, they are offering their annual Fall/Halloween scents; if you’ve ever wanted to smell like an apple orchard, fall leaves and smoke, or Halloween candy, one (or more) of these oils may be for you.

It is next-to-impossible for me to pick favorite blends, as mine seem to change by the day. There are a few that I consistently utilize, however: Blood Kiss is a bizarrely dark blend of vanilla, clove and cherry that I’ve been wearing for years (I’m on my third bottle of the stuff). Absinthe is effervescent, minty and (obviously) boozy. When I want to smell sort of like a head shop sans the moldy undertone, a couple drops of Sin do the trick. Aquatic scents seem to be my most-used “category,” with the salty, swampy Bayou being the one that I reach for most often, tied with the Limited Edition Sturgeon Moon (the latter is no longer available, unfortunately). The smoky, slightly citrusy goodness of Carnaval Diabolique (part of a sprawling LE series of the same name) makes for a great late summer/early fall scent, as does the sharp, lavender-tinged Casanova.

Of course, the very fact that I wear essential oil perfumes brings up another issue — how to be sensitive and accommodating to fellow PWDs who may have scent sensitivities, allergies, or who may have otherwise painful reactions to scented stimuli. When I’m planning to be out and about, I tend to wear a drop or two at most, usually applied with a q-tip, and allow ample time for the oil to dry before I leave the house; this is not a perfect solution, but I am still figuring out how to balance the benefits that I personally get from wearing these amazingly-crafted oils with the needs of other PWDs whom I may encounter in public.

About Annaham

Annaham is a feminist with several disabilities who occasionally updates her personal blog. She currently lives in California's Bay Area with her partner and a silly little dog named Winston. She is currently getting her Master’s in Women and Gender Studies; her research interests include disability and cultural/social attitudes surrounding it, the body, gender, nontraditional media, art of all kinds, and social equity. You can reach her by emailing Annaham at disabledfeminists dot com.

12 thoughts on “Things That Make My Life Easier: Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab

  1. I can definitely agree with this one. On a bad day for me, a bit of BPAL’s Embalming Fluid (citrus/aloe) does wonders in helping the nausea/pain/exhaustion go down. Only a little–but enough to make my life a bit easier.

    As for the whole cutting down on other people’s scent problems thing… I find that BPAL is better than a lot of scents if just because (1) it’s oil, not alcohol-based perfume, and that cuts down on a lot of people’s reactions right there (I know that I can’t go anywhere near alcohol-based perfume), (2) it’s pretty localized–in other words, if you put just a dab on your wrist, people more than about 6 inches from you can’t smell it well, and (3) if you put it in a scent locket, it’s difficult for anyone to smell it unless it’s RIGHT up against their nose. You still have to be careful, obviously, but I’ve had less trouble with that versus other types of aromatherapy bothering others.

    I usually apply it so only I can smell it. (putting a dab near the top of the neck usually helps with that.) It just seems like the best way to do it.

  2. I have scent sensitivities somewhat, though not to the point of debilitation (they tend to be a migraine trigger), and I find that BPAL makes the only scents that don’t set me off. Well-praised.

  3. Scent is a major migraine trigger for me, and oil-based perfumes are far, far less likely to be an issue than alcohol-based perfumes. Oil-based perfumes tend to affect a far smaller area, are not as strong (though I don’t know if this is because wearers apply less) and don’t linger in the air after the scented person has left the area. If you’re looking to minimise your effect on others, oil-based perfumes are the way to go.

  4. I’d like to try these, but there are two hitches: one is that they are based overseas for me, so that would mean high shipping costs and possibly extra taxes on arrival, but the bigger issue (because I’ve already had to figure out our import tax system in the past) is that their site is… well… sort of a mess.

    There are far too many categories and the perfumes don’t seem to be ordered in a convenient way within the categories, and there does not seem to be a good search option or filtering options. I’d like to be able to browse by type of scent, and the categories don’t tell me anything about what kind of smells will be within them. Also, the scent descriptions are mostly a lot of background story and the info on what it might smell like can be hard to spot, and they also seem to make some jokes in there so I have a hard time figuring out what’s what.
    I do think the fairytale- or story- or character-themed scents are kind of neat, and hearing about oil-based being less of a problem to many people than alcohol-based is awesome, but I can’t fight my way through their site no matter how much I want it.

    I’ll go and try to find a (more) local supplier of oil-based perfumes (that have a good reputation, also important to know) and a more friendly website.
    Norah´s last blog post ..You are what

  5. I have had dramatic results when it comes to alleviating physical pain or sadness. There is of late a lot more research into the realm of scent, and the impact it has on the way we experience the world. It is also the number one sense that triggers memories.

    There are several BPAL scents that have gotten rid of headaches for me, or swung me out of the doldrums. And I never wore perfume before discovering the lab. I have found many others with similar experiences, particularly those with fragrance sensitivities or allergies, who have found numerous blends they can wear comfortably.

  6. Oh wow, both you and the commenters have solved a problem for me. I’ve been having allergic reactions to some alcoholic drinks and since we can’t pinpoint the source, so I’ve been afraid to use perfumes knowing they contain alcohol. The BPAL stuff sounds like it would be the solution, specially since I get overwhelmed by heavy perfumes, scent-wise, myself. And I indeed would rather not wear something that sets off others’ sensitivities. Good to know that the thing to do is to look for oil-based things…

  7. Since you brought it up, I will try to be as minimalist and non-triggery in my response as possible:

    Most people with MCS or severe CS cannot tolerate essential oils, even without petroleum. Oils last/adhere a long time. It is unfortunately a myth that small amounts of fragrance products (one small dab vs. several) or giving them time to air makes a difference for access/safety for MCSers.

    For the people in my life who feel they must use products that make me sick (e.g., addicted to cigarettes, or some form of therapeutic product like this is for you), they don’t use any of that thing that day or any clothes that have been worn at the same time as around that thing, and they shower/bathe with fragrance-free stuff and baking soda before leaving the house to see me.

    This may not solve the problem in all cases for me, and certainly not for more severe MCSers, but it’s a step that would make a difference for folks like me or those less severe.

  8. Norah, you may want to check out http://scentscribbles.com, which is a wiki-esque page that allows users to search by notes. I’m not sure of your location, but I do know that the folks on the BPAL boards (http://bpal.org) might be able to suggest other companies that are in your geographic location or close to it.

    Sharon, thank you so much for sharing that info with us. 🙂

  9. Thanks so much for the resources. On those forums they have a thread about recommendations where you can tell people what you like (also giving existing perfumes as examples) and they tell you what kinds of BPAL perfumes come close, that one sounds especially helpful.

    I found one ‘local’ brand of oil based perfumes, sold mostly in alternative/fantasy stores that also sell incense and stuff, but they only have floral perfumes. I’m not really a fan of those; I prefer greens, trees, grasses, mosses, herbs and spices. They did have the one flower scent I do like (lavender), so I’m going to sample that and see what kind of quality it is. I know that brand also sells incense, which is often of good quality, but I don’t know how much that says.

  10. Funny you should write about this today; I spent a good bit of time on a date (gasp – someone who’s struggling with disability goes on an occasional date) Thursday talking about BPAL and why I love them so…

    I too struggle with Fibromyalgia along with a host of co-morbid conditions, and medication side effects all over the map to make things really fun. One of the side effects is hyperosmia coupled with some odd parosmia (like the scent of fresh pork being that of rancid seafood no matter how it’s cooked), and I find that one of the best coping mechanisms is BPAL.

    I almost always have an imp in my pocket when I leave the house, and I apply it liberally on my wrists and neck/cleavage areas a few times a day. Without it, I find that leaving the house is almost impossible – I’m constantly being assaulted by overwhelming scents, and often they make me nauseous with occasional dry heaves.

    I do try my best to limit exposure of other people to my scent as well, applying it a letting it dry thoroughly before I leave home. But I can still smell it, and if something is really bothering me I can bend my face down into my cleavage or bring a wrist up to my nose for a few moments.

    Favorites for me include Blood Amber, Antikythera Mechanism, Hunter and The Ifrijt (from the Neil Gaiman collections), and Morocco. I also adore the fact that so many of their scents are produced in conjunction with artists and authors, and that they then give a percentage of those proceeds to good causes (such as the CBLDF for the Gaiman scents), so I don’t even feel too guilty about having a small addiction to them.

  11. Thanks for the heads up on this! I’d heard about them before, but always wrote them off as “hipster perfume.” Regretfully, because now it seems like something right up my alley!

    I’m excited that folks on here and elsewhere on the internet say that (1) it seems much less likely to bother allergies/ asthma than other perfumes (2) it helps with nausea. Also uses some of my favorite “weird” scents (like tobacco, even though I’m a non-smoker) and Neil Gaiman!

    I have two concerns, though. As mentioned above, the website could use some work to be more accessible and less daunting. It made me kind of anxious because I didn’t know what the categories meant, and it was difficult sometimes to wade through the large blocks of text. Also, several of what I’m assuming are the older scents didn’t list their ingredients. I would be afraid to try those, as I see the company uses eucalyptus and lemongrass/lemon verbena, three things that are Trouble City for me.

    Still, I’d like to give them a try, so I’m pretty jazzed that they have sample sizes. I’ve never been able to wear perfume in my life, so hopefully this will give me the chance.

  12. “Also, several of what I’m assuming are the older scents didn’t list their ingredients.”

    To be clear, none of them list their ingredients. What they often list are notes, specific scents that will show up in the overall scent profile of an oil. This is not the same thing as ingredients because often a scent will be replicated with a combination of ingredients. It’s a common practice — musk, for instance, is an animal product, so vegan companies create a musk smellalike from other stuff. Or things like pears are nearly impossible to get an oil extract from, so the scent is replicated with other ingredients.

    You can contact Black Phoenix and ask whether a given perfume contains specific ingredients that worry you and they will give you an answer.

    I agree that the huge number of scents makes buying an intimidating process and the poor site design doesn’t help any.

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