Soybean, coconut, and PG oh my

My Journey to a New Me

It’s been 16 days since I learned about my food and chemical allergies through a hair test and it’s been quite a journey to a new me. I feel like Alex 2.0 because so much has changed. I started reading labels immediately, eliminating things that I’m allergic to, doing TONS of research, and making plans to take back my life.

One thing I’ve learned is that there are soooo many chemicals in the things we eat and use on a daily basis. It wasn’t always this way. Our ancestors survived on a healthier lifestyle, making their food, and crafting their own health and beauty products. Not all of it was good, surely. Arsenic, lead, formaldehyde, and mercury used to be staples but we know a lot more now. I venture to say in a hundred years our dependents will chuckle at the thought of us using propylene glycol in our products. By the way, propylene glycol was named the 2018 Allergen of the Year by the American Contact Dermatitis Society so I guess I’m not alone.

The struggle is all too real

Since I received my results, I’ve been playing a game I like to call, “What do I have to throw away today?” The first thing I started doing was reading the labels of everything I was using in or on my body. So many things contained the laundry list of what I was allergic to (including my laundry, but I digress). Because of my rash, it seemed that eliminating was propylene glycol was the most important thing to do. This thick colorless liquid has likely been ruining my life for quite some time.

Here’s a short list of things I found that contained propylene glycol:

  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Hair mousse
  • Lotion
  • Foundation Make-up
  • Deodorant
  • Shaving cream and aftercare products
  • Eczema ointment (my personal favorite)
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Hair dye
  • Tylenol gelcaps
  • The hand soap at work
  • Food coloring
  • Dish soap
  • Dishwashing detergent
  • Laundry detergent

Wanna see what a propylene glycol rash looks like? I colored my hair with my last box of Madison Reed hair dye just after I found out about my allergy. $30 is $30 and I didn’t want it to go to waste like EVERYTHING else. So, I canceled my subscription with them and told them that I was allergic to their product and they refunded my last box without me asking them to. I highly recommend Madison Reed (if you’re not allergic that is). They are a little pricey but their shampoo and conditioner are great.

Neck rash from Propylene Glycol
My neck rash. Sorry, it’s not clearer. It’s super hard to take a photo of your own neck. It’s like Two-Face how I’m split down the middle in the back though. Super weird. You can see some behind my ear which I wasn’t really aware of till I took this photo.

The Pesky Proplyene

Propylene Glycol’s chemical name is 1,2-Propanediol but it’s also known as the following:

  • E1520
  • Methyl ethyl glycol
  • Methylethlyene glycol
  • Trimethyl glycol
  • propane-1,2-diol
  • 2-Hydroxypropanol
  • Isopropylene glycol
  • Alpha-propylene glycol
  • Dowfrost

In all, there are 497 synonyms for it. You can see a full list on the National Institute of Healthy’s PubChem database. There’s also a link to soybean oil but more on that later.

Chemical structure of Propylene Glycol
The chemical structure model of Propylene Glycol, C3H8O2

It’s generally recognized as safe but has been known to cause issues from both ingestion and skin contact in up to 3.5% of the population. According to ChemicalBook.com, it’s used as antifreeze in breweries and is also highly combustible so that’s a fun fact. I read more than one source that said if you have kidney or liver problems or take lorazepam you should limit or completely avoid it too.

Even if you read labels and find a company like Tom’s of Maine who uses only vegetable derived, rather than petroleum derived, propylene glycol that may not help you, especially if you have one of my other allergies: soy.

All Roads Lead to Soya and its Buddy Coconut

On this journey to a new me, I discovered that soy and coconut are a real problem. An alternative to many “chemical” derived ingredients is to use all-natural ingredients. That’s great! But what if you’re allergic to the all-natural alternative? You’re in for a long haul and the occasional bouts of defeat. Lots of things are derived from soy including citric acid, caramel coloring, Tocopherol/Vitamin E, glycerin, and even molasses–all of which showed up on my sensitivity report. If soy isn’t used then they generally use coconut as an alternative. Some days it felt like I couldn’t win.

I did the only thing I could do in this situation: I took to “The Google” for research, research, and more research. I found the most helpful website of all: SkinSAFEProducts.com. The site, made in conjunction with the Mayo Clinic, contains a database of 60,528 products (as of this writing) ranked by the number of allergens they contain, and best of all, it is free for consumer use.

I’m able to filter it by my top 5 allergens (parabens, coconut, gluten, soy, and propylene glycol) and save favorites to my profile. Now, that’s not to say that I can just use the 10647 products that fit those five filters because I have a slew of other issues but it’s definitely a starting point. I find the soy filter particularly helpful as I can tell if something like citric acid or tocopherol is made with soy or not.

SkinSAFE Filtered products
SkinSAFE lets you filter for products that are safe for you, but you should still read every label.

This means I made the decision to figure out how to make my products. This is the safest bet for me. Soap, lip balm (beeswax is a problem for me), and pretty much anything I put on my body contains allergens so I’m going to learn to make my own. I’ll share my recipes once I get them perfected and I’ll likely start up another Etsy store for my extras. That’s my long-term strategy, though. In the short term I needed to find things that would work for now.

Crowdsourcing at its best

The other thing I’ve been doing is talking to people to see if there are any products that they use that may work for me. This has been a great source of information! It’s how I found out where to start my search for local places to source replacements (Whole Foods and Sprouts mostly) and the best find so far.

One of my co-workers turned me on to the brand Alaffia. Some of their products contain coconut, like their shampoos but their All-In-One Authentic African Black Soap, which I use for hand soap, shampoo, and body wash (it really is all-in-one). Their Everyday Shea Conditioner and Body Lotion are safe for me too. They both work great and have, frankly, been a godsend. The conditioner is life-changing, seriously. The products are scented but not overpowering. Another great thing about them is their company philosophy. If you’re socially conscious in any way, shape, or form, you will appreciate them.

Looking toward the future

I’ll be sharing knowledge with you once a month at least that can help if you’re struggling to find products or food you can eat. I’m basically eating a modified Paleo diet out of necessity right now. I’m one week into my elimination diet and am subsisting on nuts, seeds, meat, veggies, and fruit–no dairy, or processed food except almond or oat milk. Oats are the only grains I’m using at the moment.

It’s a totally life change and I’m already seeing dividends. My neck is healing and my clothes feel looser. Low carb has some benefits. I made lip balm this weekend and it’s pretty awesome! It smells and tastes like mint chocolate! I’ve made my own shave oil and it makes my legs feel lovely. I tried to make my own eye shadow but that didn’t work as well lol. I will keep experimenting and find what works for me and share it with you all.

More to come later on the journey to the new me!

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