Identify the Additional Risks
When you’re sensitive to chemicals, every facet of your life becomes a question of how much toxic burden your body will be assaulted with at any given time, and what will you do to cope.
After an exposure, your overall performance is inevitably affected. It’s hard to focus on work and on any of the other roles you have in life.
MCS causes people to feel like living hell, and you can feel completely devastated and isolated if you are examined by a Physician and are told “there is nothing wrong with you.” It’s little wonder that many sufferers turn to alternative medicine specialists.
The holidays bring additional troubles for individuals with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity.
For instance, there is so much more shopping to be done. Let’s face it, the lion’s share of shopping for gifts and food will fall on women. And women are more susceptible to multiple chemical sensitivity.
In addition, while most people look forward to the parties, this is another worry for MCS sufferers.
For those who suffer from MCS, the impact of the holidays means:
- Constant contact with many people wearing fragrances and colognes
- Crowded malls full of scented people and new clothing and products that have been chemically treated
- Congested roadways and traffic jams where you must breathe car exhaust and diesel fumes from passing trucks for extended periods of time
- A flurry of new gifts, many of them plastic or made of polyfibers, fresh from the assembly line and packaged in chemical laden packaging
- Newly printed holiday cards which emit odors
- Artificially scented candles and holiday air fresheners
Many MCS sufferers will feel like turning into a hermit for the holidays. A simple trip to the mall can leave you passed out on the couch for hours afterwards. It seems unfair to feel like you have a hang-over for a good part of the next day even though you haven’t touched a drop of alcohol.
However, with special self-care and some proactive effort, it is possible to minimize your exposure to chemicals during, what is supposed to be a most wonderful time of year.
Tips to Survive the Holidays
1. Buy in advance
Buy holiday gifts far in advance. Store them until Christmas. Stowing away gifts will allow some of the chemicals in the newly printed packaging to off-gas for a while. This way, the gifts won’t be brand new and you won’t overpowering smells from the packages sitting under your tree making you ill each time you attempt to sit down and relax.
2. Look for Clearance Items
If you must shop in November and December, try to get clearance items. These have been sitting on the shelf longer, so they may have already lost a lot of their synthetic odor. You’ll also be more likely to snag a great deal!
3. Choose 100% cotton
Choose 100% cotton over poly blend clothing. It is getting more difficult to identify these, especially if you shop for your family at stores like Target, where it seems that the clothes no longer detail the material makeup of garments on the labels anymore.
All-cotton is still the best choice, not only for quality and breathability, but for people who can’t handle synthetic materials being close to their bodies without having an adverse reaction of some kind.
4. Explore the idea of secondhand gifts
Not only will this be healthier for you as a chemically sensitive person, it will also be great for the holiday budget. Of course, kids will always want to have that latest super-popular toy on their list. And no doubt you will want to get it for them. But you can probably also find tons of gently used toys and accessories at thrift stores and garage sales that any kid will appreciate. This will include craft supplies, vehicles, science kits, sports equipment, costumes, games and books.
5. Wash clothing as soon as you get it home
Wash clothing as soon as you get it home. If you shop at retail stores, it doesn’t usually seem to be a problem these days to return an item without tags, as long as you have the receipt. So, you may want to consider laundering brand-new garments before wrapping them for family this Christmas. It will save you many headaches, and the clothes will be ready to wear right out of the gift box. Obviously, you need to know the returns policies of the stores you are buying from.
6. Recycle wrapping paper and gift bags
Recycle wrapping paper and gift bags. Gift bags are easy, but smelly to someone who is sensitive to chemical odors. The good news is that they hold up well after use, and can be folded easily and stored away for next year. Keep a stockpile of gift bags and gift wrap in the attic or basement. The newly-printed smell will wear off gradually, so that by the time you need them you won’t have to worry about feeling sick from the odors.
7. Choose essential oils not synthetic holiday scents
Choose essential oils instead of synthetic holiday scents. If you know that you get headaches from perfume, then you should also realize that the many scented accessories of Christmas, such as candles, pinecone wreaths, tart warmers, room sprays, and scented plug-in air fresheners may also affect you. These can be replaced with more environmentally friendly, chemical free alternatives – mainly, essential oils.
Young Living has a Christmas blend, as do many of the other major brands of essential oils.
You can even make up your own delicious holiday blend, to use in a diffuser. For example, try cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg oils, for the scent of fresh baked holiday goodies. Or, try a Christmas tree mix that includes pine and rosemary oils.
Candle making can be a fun family activity in which you can use essential oil scents as well.
8. Buy all Christmas deco on clearance
Buy all Christmas deco on clearance, then store away to use next year.
Items like new tablecloths, Christmas stockings, table runners, pillows and throws tend to keep their synthetic chemical odors through the first season of use, even after washing.
So, your best bet as a person who reacts to chemical odors, is to buy these things at the end of the season (think of the savings!) to store away and then use the following year.
9. Dust your ornaments
Christmas ornaments will have been sitting in a box all year, and may be coated in dust or mold. If possible, unwrap them outside to avoid spreading dust inside your home. Wipe them off with a soft cloth before hanging.
10. Use new paper when putting them away
At the end of the season, wrap your ornaments in new paper, rather than re-using old, dusty paper.
11. Clean your wreaths
Artificial wreaths can be vacuumed or dusted with a soft cloth.
12. Prepare your live Christmas tree correctly
Learn by experience. If a particular type of Christmas tree has caused discomfort in the past, try something different.
Pine pollen is a major allergy trigger for some people. Some trees release airborne pollen around at this time of year. Scotch pines and Douglas firs do not and the Leyland Cyprus is a sterile hybrid tree, which means it does not produce any pollen. But they will still have their own smells and essential oils that may not be tolerated by people with MCS. In addition, there is every likelihood that a live tree will carry mold that will grow stronger in warm and humid homes.
Whatever tree you select, you can reduce the possibility of problems by:
- shaking as much debris as possible out of the tree before bringing it inside (perhaps even try using an air compressor to get rid of as much debris as possible)
- rinsing off the tree with a hose and sprayer
- allowing the tree to dry for a couple of days in the garage before putting it up
If you have an air purifier with HEPA, this would be a good time to make use of it.
13. Avoid snow sprays
Avoid artificial “snow sprays” that may aggravate nasal and sinus passages, as well as asthma and other sensitivities.
14. Buy an artificial Christmas tree
Choose a tree with less off-gassing: PE (or PolyEthylene plastic) Christmas Trees are the newest advancement in artificial tree technology and may have lower levels of out-gassing than the PVC alternatives. These trees are very realistic and extremely durable but tend to be more expensive than PVC trees.
15. Wipe down your existing artificial tree
Artificial trees can get damp and dusty in storage and can be susceptible to mold growth. When it’s time to get out your tree, wipe it down with a dust cloth (outside), or even hose it off if it is not pre-lit.
16. Try an eco-friendly alternative tree
Try an eco-friendly alternative tree. Some of the creative alternative trees have a modernist design, others are more basic.
17. Avoid scented candles
Strong fragrances found in scented candles can cause irritation to the eyes, nose and lungs. If you crave a little atmosphere with your holiday meals, try unscented beeswax, vegetable wax, or LED candles and tea-lights.
18. Buy natural air cleaning houseplants
Researchers have found that certain houseplants actually clean indoor air. This is especially helpful during the winter months when windows are often kept closed preventing polluted indoor air from escaping. You can read more about this here.
19. Maintain your self-care routines
Another way to preserve your health during a generally difficult time for people with multiple chemical sensitivity, is to maintain your self-care routines. It may not be easy with so many other pressures and demands on your time but, if you normally go running to sweat out toxins, keep it up. If you do yoga, you may want to increase your practice to stay in balance.
Don’t be tempted by alcohol served at holiday parties. Drinking tends to exacerbate symptoms (although one or two may be in order if everyone’s scents start to make you nervous). Sparkling water looks festive and has the added benefit of no calories.
Try to eat holiday sweets in moderation or avoid altogether, especially if you’ve found that they make you feel worse when combined with all the other temptations.
In many respects, for MSC sufferers the holidays are like any other time of year. You need to identify and/or learn your triggers and the avoid them as far as possible. It is just more difficult in the lead-up and during the holidays because everything is so much more intense.
However, with a little extra planning and self-care, you too can enjoy the holidays, even as someone who has a hard time being around chemical odors.
Good luck and have a great time during the holiday season.