I’m a big fan of samples, which makes Christmas gifts or other exchanges a pleasure. I love trying out new textures, sniffing new scents, and figuring out if the latest product on the block is a fad or of true value. Yet, samples might be some people’s worst nightmare, and I’m not speaking solely from a perspective of taste or habit.
Certain products can actually be physically harmful or triggering for people with various medical conditions. In this post I will list down some of my favourite presents to receive, but people you should never, ever give them to. Not even to ‘try out a little bit and see’.
*Post Updated: 06 December 2020
*Note: This article is meant for educational purposes, but I am not a doctor. Nothing should be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your own doctor(s) before changing or adding any new treatment protocols. I have however, done my due diligence citing from reliable sources. Experiences from other blogs are based on each author’s personal experiences.
This post also contains affiliate links. It will cost you nothing to click on them. I will get a small referral fee from purchases you make, which helps with the maintenance of this blog (approx. $100/month needed). Thank you!
I’ll start with a landmine topic. I love perfumes, and it used to be a favourite hobby of mine when I could still afford it whilst working full time. I’d order samples online, and sniff odours from past, present and future. You know the feeling of being bound to something – be it a notebook, watch or your phone – that you feel a little naked without it? Yea I never leave the house without spraying a carefully selected perfume to match my mood. It’s almost like a precursor to how you might expect interactions with me for the day or night to be like. You can check out my Fragrantica profile here, where I used to review, search for, and classify my favourite perfumes.
Never Give Perfumes as Gifts To…
Have you heard of people with MCAD and MCAS (Mast Cell Activation Syndrome)? They’re basically allergic to most of the world. Anything can trigger an anaphylaxis reaction, which can even lead to death. From reading blogs of people with MCAS over the years, I’ve learned that scents are one of the biggest triggers. It’s also one that’s almost unavoidable in public spaces. Being trapped in an elevator in a shroud of noxious perfume, or getting a deadly sniff of poison when you turn a street corner sounds like a scary way to live.
Scents can also trigger flare ups in other chronic illnesses such as ME/CFS and migraines. Here is a list of some of my favourite advocates and their blogs, where they share their experiences with scents, and the horror they can bring:
If you still want to share your love for perfumes with them in some other way, a good book might be an ideal alternative. This is one of my favourite books about the chemistry and science of perfume making. Fascinating, to say the very least.
2. Hand Creams, Body Lotions & Makeup
Christmas is the season where I receive the most hand cream, body lotion and makeup samples, and I love it! I am by nature a curious person, even when it comes to minor things like ‘how does this smell or feel like?’. I love most scents from Crabtree & Evelyn. In fact, I apply a different scented hand and body lotion every night before I go to bed, once again based on my mood. You can see a pattern of how I use scents to represent how I feel and lift my mood, by now!
Textures also matter a great deal. You’d think that I’d be used to stickiness and greasiness by now, living in a humid climate like Singapore, but I haven’t. Whilst my skin has a tendency to be dry, I still prefer light, fluid textures. My skin is also somewhat discoloured as a side effect of medications, and using serums with vitamin C helps quite a bit. I really like this one from Björk & Berries.
And with it being the festive season, makeup items can be such fun with all the colours and packaging – from classy to chic to sweet! It’s always fun for me to try a new brand or product, and you can never have too many lipsticks, I say! My favourites currently are from Laneige and MAC. The colours are suitable for my skin tone, and Laneige’s moisturising coloured lip balm feels good, too. MAC has an incredible range of lipsticks, and I’ve gotten a few free sticks using their ‘Back to MAC’ recycling programme. All you need to do is collect and return six of their products to receive a free lipstick of your choice.
Who Not to Give Hand Creams, Body Lotions & Makeup as Gifts To…
Once again, people with MCAS are at high risk, so just don’t. Anything applicable can also be harmful to people with skin allergies, or autoimmune disorders such as psoriasis and Discoid Lupus. The best thing you can do is to show up for them, or visit them without using any scented products. No perfumes, scented body lotions or shower gels, if possible, prior to arriving!
Of course, they need to shower and maintain their bodies as well, so if you want to give them gifts in this category, be sure to check with them first. Generally products that are as natural, organic and ‘free from’ are best. Scrutinise the ingredient list – the lesser the better, and the items should be pronounceable.
Here are some blogs that share more about their conditions, and why these kinds of gifts aren’t ideal for them one bit:
3. Clothing & Jewellery
Clothing and accessories can be tricky to purchase even for the average person. There’s the matter of style preference, then size, which can vary slightly from brand to brand. Some of my favourite presents have been earrings, necklaces and bags from ex-partners, however. Usually these are classic designs that won’t fail you. But I also love receiving the occasional dress or accessory from friends who snapped them up because ‘it reminded them of me’!
Who Not to Give Clothing & Jewellery as Gifts To…
People with sensitive skin, allergies or immune disorders such as psoriasis, allodynia, or eczema might not be able to appreciate such gifts. The culprits can include textures or chemicals used to make them. Nickel is also a common skin allergen, as well as latex.
On top of materials, sensitivities to heat or cold can play a role, too. Some examples of chronic illnesses that could be affected by temperature – sometimes drastically so – are: Dysautonomia & POTS, ME/CFS, migraines, Erythromelalgia and Myasthenia Gravis.
Clothing and jewellery can still make for pretty and practical gifts however, but you might just want to check on your loved one’s specific sensitivities or triggers first. Here’s a list of blogs and sites that do a better job than I can to explain and illustrate some of these conditions:
4. Food, Snacks and Dessert
Isn’t this usually the sweetest of treats?! I for one love to eat, whether it’s salty popcorn at the cinema, a refreshing salad, street food, raw sushi (though I really shouldn’t with my low immunity…), fine dining, and I sure love my desserts! I’m always up for experiencing and acquiring new tastes. It’s amazing how much you can do to tingle your taste buds.
Who Not to Give Food Items as Gifts To…
Unfortunately, there is a long list of people with various types of chronic illnesses whom food affect for different reasons. They could be living with: IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease), Celiac Disease, FAP (Familial Adenomatous Polyposis), food allergies or sensitivities, Diabetes, Gastroparesis, Antiphospholipid Syndrome, or something else. Food can be the biggest bane of their lives as eating something incompatible – even a tiny speck – can cause pain. It can send their bodies into a flare up that takes weeks or even months to recover from.
Each of these disorders are complex, with varying symptoms and triggers. I won’t dive into detail for the purpose of this post, but here is a quick overview of some of the more common ones:
- For Celiacs/Coeliacs: Even a crumb of gluten can cause them to go into a pain flare (aka ‘glutened’), with cross-contamination as a major source of the problem. Such contamination can even be found in restaurants that claim to be gluten friendly, or in their own homes. All it takes is for the same pot, pan or toaster to be used with a product that contains a tiny bit of gluten, for a person with Celiac Disease to become ill.
Remember that going gluten-free IS NOT a fad or fashion statement for Celiacs. Their lives depend on it. If you do purchase food items for them, then you need to understand that there are varying degrees of ‘gluten-free’, which means that the product isn’t necessarily safe for your celiac friend.
Food labels can be tricky and mean many different things. There are a few organisations that certify products as being gluten-free, which according to the FDA, has to contain less than 20ppm of gluten. Check for these certifications and always ensure that the packets have a quality seal.
Here are some great bloggers with Celiac Disease. Read about their life experiences as they navigate life in a gluten-filled world, from eating out, to misconceptions, to even kissing!
- For People with Food Allergies & Sensitivities: The top eight major food allergens and any proteins derived from them must be included in the ingredients list by law: Milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans. You will need to scrutinise the ingredients list and read all the fine print, to ensure that it’s safe for your friend to consume. Do note that sometimes mislabelling occurs and needs to be reported, so there is always that small risk there.
Check out these blogs on various food allergies and sensitivities to learn more:
- For People with IBD: IBD is an umbrella term for people living with Crohn’s Disease and/or Ulcerative Colitis, and is too complex to narrow down into a cut-and-dry list. Each of these patients can have different reactions to the exact same foods. I would suggest not even giving any food items to them, unless you’re familiar with their diets. In fact, many of them prepare their own meals to be safe.
There are many blogs on IBD out there, but here are a few good ones that pop to mind:
- For People with Antiphospholipid Syndrome & Other Blood Clotting or Bleeding Disorders: And of course, I need to include my rare disease on this list, because it’s often underestimated! I need to watch my intake of foods that contain vitamin K, or other blood thinning or clotting triggers. Lots of medications interact with warfarin (the blood thinner I’m on) as well, so I need to be alert at all times. After living with APS for 20 years, I generally get a ‘feel’ of whether I need to adjust my intake of foods containing vitamin K and by how much, after a few days.
Vitamin K is found in high amounts in foods such as green leafy vegetables and soybeans. Foods such as quinoa, turmeric and salmon thin the blood. None in burgers, fries or candy as far as I know 😉 Once I drank a few sips of nourishing soup my mum’s friend had brought to the hospital in a small act of gratitude. But the next day my INR (blood clotting ratio) went off the charts, and my doctor was in panic mode. It was especially dangerous then, as I had dengue fever and was already at risk of bleeding if I developed dengue shock.
You can always do a Google search before giving food items to people like me, but in general healthy foods are the culprits 😉 Here are some other blogs that do a wonderful job raising awareness about APS as well:
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Finally, a few more blogs that explain various other conditions that can be affected by food (there are just too many!):
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5. Physical Books
I first bought a Kindle because my ex-partner couldn’t sleep with the bedside lamp turned on. I had always thought that I was a physical book kind of person, until I owned a Kindle! It is so much easier to read with a Kindle flat against your thighs in bed or placed on a table, especially when your joints are aching.
Aching so much that even the act of holding a book open can be painful. Thick, heavy books can be daunting for me to finish, not because of the number of words, but the size. Thanks to the Kindle, I managed to enjoy and finish one such book recently about ‘Catherine the Great’!
Who Not to Give Physical Books as Gifts To…
Physical books aren’t something that cross most people’s minds when purchasing as gifts. Whilst many people with disabilities love to read, it can be a challenge on some days, either from pain or brain fog. Physical books can be troublesome in particular for people who live with arthritis, visual impairments, migraines, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), SMA (Spinal Muscular Atrophy), Multiple Sclerosis and more. This might be due to the weight, muscle pain, dislocated joints, head pains, or something else.
If your friend happens to own a Kindle or digital notepad, it might actually be an even better idea to buy them a gift card. That way they can even select their own books. I know that I’d love such gifts for sure!
Here are some great blogs that share more insight into how reading physical books can trigger pain for them in various ways. They also contain tips on how they still manage to get their reading fix in:
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Showing That You Care Through Acts of Service
Whilst gifts are often meant to be pleasant surprises, it can be tricky when it comes to chronic illnesses. Unless you’re familiar with the person and know what sort of gifts they’d love, it might be a good idea to check beforehand. Besides, this isn’t an exhaustive list of potential problems; it’s barely a glimpse. You don’t have to reveal what your gifts are exactly, but getting a few clues is a good idea.
A trip to the Emergency Department on Christmas (or any other day) would suck big time. Whilst you may not fully comprehend what your loved one’s illness is all about, showing that you care through the questions you ask can mean a great deal. Often knowing that you bothered to even ask is a heartwarming, bonus gift in itself!
I also wanted to add a little reminder here that gifts don’t always have to be a tangible item that you buy. Many people with chronic illnesses have trouble doing certain tasks, such as cooking, cleaning, or driving. Offering to take them for a drive out to nature, or cooking them a nice meal can mean just as much. Little things like these can go a long way and create wonderful memories.
Pin to Your Chronic Illness & Christmas Boards:
Supporting Businesses Owned by People with Chronic Illnesses
Living with chronic illnesses or disabilities is tough, there is no denying it. Many of us aren’t able to work full-time due to chronic pain, and stress is a major trigger for pain flares. As a result, many people with chronic illnesses try to find work from home, or start small businesses. You can help by supporting businesses run by people with chronic illnesses. Their insider’s knowledge about living with chronic illness is also a bonus, because these gifts are specially crafted with them in mind. Happy holidays to one and all!
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