Monday, November 12, 2012

Gift Giving

I've been asked for a post on my favorite fragrance-free products to give as Christmas gifts. There are so many variables (recipient age, gender, preferences and state of health, for example) that I'm not sure where to begin. I don't think I'll list specific products, but I'll say a few things about gift-giving in general and provide some links to online stores with generally safer offerings.

Here are some of my random thoughts:

  • Giving safer products as gifts is a great goal that serves multiple purposes. When we keep toxins in mind as we buy for others we not only protect their health, but we support the merchants and manufacturers taking the issue seriously. Every purchase we make is a statement about the kind of products we wish to see in the stores. Giving people safer gifts is also a good way to introduce them to items and issues they might be unaware of otherwise.

  • There are safer alternatives to for almost every traditional toxic product. A quick internet search will generally yield many results. Often, products marketed as being less toxic are more expensive than their traditional counterparts. In theory, I support paying more for healthier choices, but in practice I realize that budgetary restrictions are very real. When considering healthy options for personal use (not necessarily for gifting), there are many ways to spend less. Homemade cleaners (often based on vinegar or baking soda) are very cheap. Personal care products can be often be bought in bulk from suppliers who market to those who make their own formulations. I buy fragrance-free shampoo, conditioner and castile soap by the gallon. An internet search for "shampoo base" or similar terms will provide a variety of purchasing choices . Fragrance-free products marketed to hunters are also an option.

  • Because of lax labeling laws (see this previous post), it is challenging to know how healthy a product actually is. In general, a health food store or online retailer targeting health-conscious customers will have more products that are truly safe. Even those stores, however, may carry products made with synthetic fragrances or other problematic ingredients. Although there may be other reasons to avoid them, it is easier than it used to be to find healthier products at traditional stores. Many of the "big box" retailers now carry some fragrance-free personal care products and organic clothing and bedding.

  • There are personal differences, but many people with chemical sensitivities or other chronic health conditions appreciate gifts that are health-related. One Christmas when I was asked by extended family members for gift ideas, I responded with a list of vitamins and supplements in various price ranges. I don't remember what gifts I received that year, but I'm sure they were lovely and generous. I do remember that I didn't receive any of the supplements on my list. Maybe the idea just seemed too weird. Be aware that people with chemical sensitivities often have food allergies and sensitivities as well, so food gifts aren't always the best choice.

  • Many alternative products are fragranced with essential oils. This is a tricky issue to navigate. Although people can certainly be allergic to natural oils, they don't carry the same toxicities that synthetic fragrances do. Many people with chemical sensitivities tolerate them well, but others find they cause great problems. In some cases this is another labeling issue, since natural oils are sometimes actually mixed with synthetic fragrances. Some brands are also extracted with chemicals instead of being steam distilled.

There are many, many online retailers offering safer goods. Some are specialty stores selling one type of product (such as beeswax candles or non-toxic toys) and others have more extensive offerings. Here are a handful of retailers that offer a variety of generally safer products:

NEEDS (Nutritonal Ecological Environmental Delivery System)
The name is a little strange, but this company has been around a long time and generally offers products that are very safe.

Although they sell a variety of safer products, they also sell items with added synthetic fragrances, so check ingredients carefully.

Healthy Home

I'm grateful for those of you wishing to buy healthier Christmas gifts this year. Every purchase matters. What we celebrate at Christmas is the birth of our savior, and when we care for ourselves and others by making safer product choices, I think he is pleased.


DebraSY said...

Thanks for the list, both for gift-giving and for personal use. To date, as a person who doesn't have MCS but is trying to live less violently in many regards (which includes eliminating fragrances), the hardest thing for me to find in retail shops has been unscented shampoo. I got some at a farmers' market once that left my hair feeling greasy and smelling like popcorn. I want to try one (or more) from the pages you recommend. You have a specific one you like?

Martha McLaughlin said...

Popcorn? Ha, that's a new one. As I mentioned in my post, I currently buy fragrance-free "shampoo base" by the gallon and it's been a long time since I tried anything else. Two different brands I used to use have both gone out of business. I guess the short answer to your question, then, is "no." I've heard people recommend Magick Botanicals and Unicure, but I don't have personal experience with them.

DebraSY said...

Thanks. Uhm. You probably need to stop putting shampoo companies out of business, ya' know.

Martha McLaughlin said...

I have the gift. Joking aside, it's a common MCS problem that a safe product will change its formulation or stop being made. As far as putting shampoo companies out of business -- it probably doesn't help to say that a shampoo makes your hair smell like popcorn, although a smart marketer might be able to turn that into a positive thing.