A couple weeks ago, a week of warm weather got me excited for spring and I headed to the woods for a trail run. I was enjoying zipping by all the signs of the season while getting my heart rate up, when all of a sudden I smelled something terrible. No, it wasn't a dead animal, it was the strong, chemical scent of detergent. I almost stopped running — the smell was so powerful and in-my-face. In another moment I heard footsteps and then finally saw a man hiking towards me with his dog. I smiled and nodded as he passed me, and I was overwhelmed by the strong scent coming from his clothes. It was a good 30 seconds before I couldn't smell him anymore.

Since discontinuing the use of chemical perfumes and products, I have noticed my sense of smell becoming stronger. I've never really smoked cigarettes, but I have always heard that quitting smoking returns your sense of smell. I feel much like I've gone through a similar change. And I smell good things better too — flowers from down the block as if they are right next to me (flower scent is incredibly powerful!), and food smells better too. I've always smelled my fruits to determine ripeness, but now I feel like it's an even stronger ability.

And I haven't given up scents — quite the contrary — I now revel in lavender (I just realized English lavender is my favorite type; lavender has many different varieties), ylang ylang, rosemary, geranium, cedarwood and pine. Some of my favorite products now seem to have an almost intoxicatingly wonderful scent — La Bella Figuera's face and hair oils are delicious and Clairvoyant Beauty uses jasmine and rose to wonderful results in their face creams and serums.

Turns out I'm not the only one who noticed a difference when I quit using the few products that contained artificial fragrances. Blogger Danika Carter wrote recently about her realization of the same transformation I went through, and she thinks it's her body's early-warning system to stay away from the chemicals: "Since eliminating so many synthetic chemicals from my life my nose is much more sensitive to them. My senses are no longer numbed."

Tiffany Washko who runs Nature Moms says that after she stopped using artificially scented products, she noticed a big difference: "A scented deodorant on someone else smells like overwhelming perfume or cologne to me and I got a headache from some lady's shampoo at a movie theater recently. She was sitting directly in front of me. My sense of smell is VERY sensitive now."

And for people who can truly smell well, some of those chemical smells start smelling the opposite of what they were designed for — they start smelling bad. Similarly to my experience when I was running in the woods, Gretchen Sowers of Healthful Mama says, "I thought all of my friends who were giving me hand-me-down clothing had very strong-smelling dogs. As it turns out, I was smelling the funky musk of traditional detergents!"

And finally, Kimberly Danek Pinkson, founder of the EcoMom Alliance, explains how these scents can really alter our senses — and health — over time, and we might not even notice it happening. "My son has seasonal and chemical-induced asthma, and last year when traveling we entered a hotel room wherein we were overcome with the smell of 'cleansers.' Within about 15 minutes, he could barely breathe and we had to leave the hotel. What's most frightening is how DESENSITIZED the majority of our population is, that the chemicals that pollute our air and put us at greater risk of disease smell 'fresh' and 'normal.' "

Why not take a break from artificial scents for a month and see how it affects your sense of smell? You might never go back to the fake "fragrance" (this is often what artificial scents are listed as on ingredient listings) again.

Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

My sense of smell improved after I nixed chemical fragrances
I never even realized how much 'fake' scents cut down on my ability to smell.