Monday, January 30, 2012

My Allergic/Atopic Valentine

Chocolate, flowers, stuffed animals, perfume and jewellery - that pretty much sums up most Valentine's Day presents. Not that there's anything wrong with them, though I'm not sure what to do with the stuffed animals, except give them to my niece.

So, I think we can do better. And, if you have an allergic/atopic girlfriend or boyfriend, I know we can do better.

1. Massage - You have two choices here. DIY or book a single or couples massage at a spa. If DIY, look for a basic massage oil that does not contain your beloved's allergens. A massage oil with a grapeseed base is usually pretty safe. Common allergens found in some massage oils are sweet almond oil, soybean oil and other nut oils. If in doubt, buy a pure, food-grade grapeseed or avocado oil from your local health food store. To make it a little bit more aromatherapeutic, add a couple of drops of lavender or rose. Stay away from essential oils like peppermint since it's an irritant. Remember that many essential oils can irritate if applied directly to the skin, undiluted. Just a couple of drops pre-mixed with the massage oil will do. A note about fragrance, just because it's pure, doesn't mean it's problem-free. Even natural scents can cause respiratory, nasal and/or skin reactions, like contact dermatitis . If in doubt, skip the scent entirely. Focus on creating an inviting atmosphere with heated towels, relaxing music and unscented candles.

If you've decided to go all out and book a massage with a registered massage therapist, do your research and pick a reputable place like spas in hotels or salons that carry your favourite vegan brands. When making the booking, make sure they are aware of your girlfriend's/boyfriend's allergies and can accommodate. If you get the sense that they don't "get it" over the phone, find another place or find another gift.

2. Chocolate - Good quality chocolate that is free of dairy and nuts is a difficult thing to find. Cross-contamination is a common thing in chocolate processing. There are some allergy-free chocolates available, but sadly they're not always great quality. Pacari is a great chocolate since it's pretty much dairy-free. However, there are nuts in some of its products. However, chocolate availability is different from city to city. So, find your nearest and best chocolate boutique and have a face-to-face conversation. When chocolate wrappers say "may contain", it usually does contain. This year, Ange Gardien (located in Boucherville, Quebec) is offering lovely, boutique-style chocolates which are egg-free, nut-free and dairy-free. Any guy who did his research and bought me these, would definitely be in my good books!

3. Jewellery/Watches - You really can't go wrong here, as long as you're buying something of quality. Be aware of nickel allergies. If you're buying that stunning, diamond solitaire in a platinum band, you're probably okay. Local artisans are very aware of what they use in their jewellery; so, email or talk to a designer your beloved admires in order to find something that works. Something else to consider this year is MedicAlert's line of beautiful and casual bracelets - leather, beads, crystals and silver. These might not be worn everyday; so, a special and thoughtful gift for that special someone is appreciated. Make a gift certificate for them and participate in the ordering process.

4. Flowers -With flowers, unless you know for certain that your Valentine is okay with them, it's best to avoid this entire gift giving category. If you decide to go ahead because of experience, stick with low-pollen flowers, like orchids, hydrangeas and pansies. CasaSugar has a great list of Low-Pollen Flowers. What's available will depend on where you live; so, ask your florist for advice.

5. Dinner - Those of us with food allergies can get a little tired of always having to interrogate the restaurant staff about everything before we put it in our mouth. So, once again, you have two choices, DIY or find a safe place. In the case of DIY, it's more than okay to discuss with your girl or boy ahead of time if you don't know everything he or she is allergic to. Ask questions and be interested. It shows a level of dedication that is certainly romantic.

If you're going to take your sweetheart out to a restaurant, try to stick to either a cuisine or restaurant with which they're comfortable. Valentine's Day is about being romantic and showing you care, not having an adventure (a.k.a. trip to the ER). Talk to your significant other and make sure they're comfortable and call the restaurant ahead of time to book and discuss allergies with them. Valentine's Day is busy; so, make time a few days in advance to speak to the chef and advise him or her of the allergens to be avoided. On the day of, tell your server of the allergies and that you've spoken to the chef. A written card with the allergies on it is a great way to make sure no miscommunication happens on a busy night. Review my previous post "Eating Out With Allergies" for more tips.

6. Perfume/Cologne - Skip it. With the countless chemicals and scents contained in any vial of perfume, you're doomed before you begin with this present. From contact dermatitis - allergic and irritant - to asthma and nasal reactions, you can't win. So, unless your darling has requested something specific, keep shopping.

7. Movie Night - This can be as simple as agreeing to see something at the theatre (that you wouldn't otherwise agree to) or spending a wonderful night in with a few movies, wine and allergy-free snacks. This can be as fancy or as casual as your relationship calls for.

The real advice here is to think differently. Valentine's Day is a day to go out of your way to show that special someone you love them. It's not about the amount you spend, but how you spend it. For anyone with atopic conditions or allergic conditions, there are things that are difficult to arrange or obtain. Really think about it. Is it an allergy-free dessert that they didn't have to bake themselves? Perhaps a nice dining experience in which you've already briefed the chef ahead of time so they don't have to. Maybe it's their favourite moisturizer that they have to mail-order to get or a set of bamboo sheets in a beautiful colour so they can have a good night's sleep.

In the end, maybe it has nothing to do with allergies or atopic conditions at all. A visit to a great art gallery exhibit followed by drinks at a nice wine bar can be a great way to spend an evening. Romance is in the eye of beholder.


  1. such a thorough post in terms of massage soybean oil ugh I'm so allergic to soy.. I don't eat dairy because it's found in cancers/tumours so will have to try out Pacari 'tired of always having to interrogate the restaurant staff about everything before we put it in our mouth' MHMM I dread going to dinner LOL! As for the perfume.. I have asthma.. but I can't resist spraying a little on I sort of.. do this thing where I spray it onto my jacket or sth then leave the room LMAO I love this post it's wonderful you have a great blog!

    1. Thanks! I'm always so paranoid about massages, manicures, etc. and have to read the ingredients of everything. As for Pacari, it's a great company, too, in terms of environmental sustainability and social responsibility.