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Sensitivity is no joke

I’ve had an interesting couple of days. I have struggled with food and skin sensitivity for as long as I can remember, and heck, even before then. As a baby, I was lactose intolerant and couldn’t handle soy milk, so they gave me coconut milk instead. I used to be allergic to oranges, but I grew out of that. The struggle is real and lifelong.

I went gluten-free about 10 years ago because I was having blinding migraines and what I will describe as “gastrointestinal distress” after nearly every meal. Cutting out wheat helped…or so I thought. More on that later.

I fought against going dairy-free until just before the pandemic hit. To say I love cheese would be an understatement. A few years ago, I had paid to go to a hematologist who told me my problems were allergy-related and I should avoid dairy. A dairy-free life may not be as exciting as eating smoked gouda whenever I get a craving but at least I don’t spend most of my time in the bathroom after meals.

For about a year, I’ve been going through some skin-related issues with rashes that won’t go away. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I tried a ton of different lotions and potions to try to heal the rash on my neck and eyelids, both of which were as painful as they were annoying. Nothing seemed to work…and it was getting worse.

Opportunity arises

A friend of mine told me she was trying a food sensitivity test by Check My Body Health that also tested for plant and chemical allergies. I jumped at this sign from the universe and asked for the link. I figured at worst I lose a couple of sheckles, at best I solve my mysteries and we have a shared experience as friends.

Added bonus: they’re running a Spring Special. For less than $40 and a hair sample, I was willing to try it and see if I could solve my mystery rashes. As soon as I could, I signed up, paid my fee, mailed my sample, and waited anxiously for the results.

On Saturday I received the results and it was eye-opening, to say the least. I was sensitive to things I didn’t think I was and received confirmation of some of the things I knew I had issues with. I have a big life change coming and I have to re-evaluate things for sure.

Sensitivity results cover page
This is the cover of the 65 page report that was worth every penny.

Most surprising was that I wasn’t sensitive to wheat at all but rather highly sensitive to rye and hops. Good thing I’m not a big drinker. I believe my issues with wheat were really from the additives they put in processed food.  I am however moderately sensitive to coconut, rice, sesame oil, and soy which is bad considering how much I love Asian cuisine.

Some other food issues identified:

  • Amaranth
  • Caramel coloring (definite shocker)
  • Corn (I suspected)
  • Dairy products from cows, goats, and sheep (known since birth so no shocker here)
  • Eggs (definite shocker)
  • Hemp seed
  • Locust bean and Guar gum
  • Kiwi (so long Strawberry Kiwi anything, I will miss you Capri Sun)
  • Legumes: field peas, black beans, chickpeas, edamame, and soybeans (totally blown away by these)
  • Molasses (suspected)
  • Seafood: clams, cod, and haddock (definite shocker)
  • Tomato (suspected)
  • Turkey (definite shocker)

Better living through chemistry

The biggest revelation though was the chemical sensitivities that I have. Here is where it gets interesting. I’ve used skin-sensitive products for years. I didn’t know what a paraben was, but it sounded bad considering so many things have labels that say “Paraben Free”. Good thing too because that is one of the revelations of my test: I’m highly sensitive to methylparaben which is known to kill fruit flies 50% faster. So, I won’t be using Maybelline Instant Age Rewind makeup anymore, unfortunately.

There are some chemicals on the list that weren’t in any of the products I use, thankfully. Most of them were found in harsher cleaning products, and for some weird reason, pet shampoos. However, two of the other chemicals are in so many things. I had products I was using that had one or both. It was dizzying and a bit overwhelming when I started looking at labels.

Vitamins are good for you, right? RIGHT?

Number one on the list of sensitivities was tocopherol. You may have seen this in products you use, especially beauty and personal care products. Crazy-sounding name but it’s simply Vitamin E oil; something that should be helpful, and most people are ok with it. I, however, am not ok with it and it was in a bunch of things I use along with beeswax which was a moderate sensitivity, but I suspect that in conjunction with tocopherol it’s a power punch to my immune system. Which explains the struggle I have with lip balm. I use it constantly, but my lips are always dry. There is something called “lip balm addiction” that isn’t really an addiction at all, it’s an allergic reaction to the ingredients in lip balm. The problem is it’s in nearly EVERY lip balm in that combination and if a balm doesn’t contain beeswax or tocopherol, it’s usually got coconut oil which is another no-go.

Emulsiwhat?

Next on the list were some emulsifiers which are additives that encourage the suspension of one liquid in another, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. These include citric acid esters, mixed esters, and propylene glycol esters of fatty acids of mono and diglycerides. Citric acid and mixed esters I didn’t find in any products I used. Propylene glycol (PG) was another story and it’s in everything. Especially the things labelled as safe for sensitive skin, ironically. It was in my haircare products, face wash, body wash, hand soap, lotion, hair dye, and, most importantly, my All Free and Clear Sensitive Skin laundry detergent. Everything from Garnier Fructis and Bath and Body Works that I used daily had PG in it. I had to throw it all out and use A LOT of Bath of Body Works from body spray to shower gel to lotion. All of it has to go.

Bag of personal care products that contain things I'm allergic to.
The bag of sadness…look at the all the things I had to throw out. Sigh.

Brands that I use that were good or ok-ish

The lotion and lip balm from Dollar Shave Club was safe but their Repair Serum and Post Shave Cream were not.

I love Pure Romance’s skincare products and most of them passed the label test. Don’t be put off by the fact they are experts in things of a naughty nature. Pure Romance makes some kick-ass bath and beauty products. None of the ones I use have PG but some of them did have coconut oil or tocopherol. The Heli product line ended up being the safest for me and I will continue to use it. Their shave creams were safe but their lotion and shower gel was not. Sad panda, because I love me some Sweet Fantasie and Pink Prosecco. My girl Jessica Newberry will hook you up with all the Heli goodness (and some things to liven up your sex life too 😉 ).

Pears Transparent soap was a-ok but the body wash was not. I have to get this soap from England–I’ve got a mate (in the British sense) that gets me a couple of bars when he travels there. Why do I have someone “smuggle” soap from England? Because two bars cost anywhere from $5 to $17 here in the states if you can even find it, where it’s £1.25 for two bars there (around $1.77). Healthy skin is hard to come by in the colonies, yo.

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. At no additional cost to you I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. 

Pantene is another brand that that didn’t have any of the bad stuff in it. Repair and Protect is now my go-to shampoo and conditioner but I also use Pantene Radiant Color Shine. Plus, it makes my hair soft, and it smells a-maze-ing.

The best of all the brands was Eucerin. I use their Original Healing Cream and a 16 oz. jar lasts me for years and years. I replaced the L’Oréal Collagen face cream I was using with their Q10 Anti-Wrinkle Face Crème. My skin already feels better.  

Ingredients of Collagen Creme
L’Oréal Paris’ Collagen Creme has the trifecta of badness: Propylene Glycol, Tocopherol, and Methylparaben. I was putting this on my face twice a day.

The Big Bad

So, what is PG made of? It’s frequently made from natural gas (petroleum) and occasionally made from vegetable by-products or algae. It is “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA according to the Naturally Curly website.  Supposedly, it’s easily metabolized by the liver and broken down into citric acid. Huh, that could be the problem have since I also am sensitive to that.

I ran across a blog post by a dermatologist named Dr. Rajani Katta and I will be forever grateful to her. She wrote about a patient that had a food allergy when she ate Ken’s salad dressing that didn’t show up on any food allergy tests. Huh, sounds like me. I’ve had a scratch test before that didn’t show any food issues. The patient had a persistent rash that was getting worse. Also sounds like me. It was discovered the patient was consuming propylene glycol in said salad dressing. She was found to have a propylene glycol allergy from patch test results. Boom! The proverbial light bulb turned on and I’m fairly certain I’ve discovered the cause of my rash.

So, what’s next?

I will need to eliminate the disagreeable food and nasty chemicals from my repertoire, which will cost me a pretty penny to replace. I’ve already switched many of my beauty products. I’ve stopped using the products with vitamin E, which I will replace with lanolin-based products. I have stopped using anything with propylene glycol but I will have to rewash all of my clothes which could take a while. Seventh Generation makes a sensitive skin laundry detergent that works for me.

I will also need to go on an elimination diet. Eggs will need to be history or at least a rare treat. Incidentally, I was making gluten and dairy-free Monster Cookies this weekend and ran out of eggs which the recipe called for. Thank the universe and Sir Tim Berners-Lee for the Internet because I found an article with substitutes for eggs. I had chia seeds on hand, so I ground three tablespoons up in my coffee grinder and mixed in 9 tablespoons of water.  It worked perfectly and the cookies were super tasty!

Caramel coloring has to go and so do my beloved black and garbanzo beans and all things soy. It’s going to take a little while to level out. After that, I can reintroduce some things one by one to see if they’re ok.

I’m hoping my experience can help someone out there who is going through the same trials and tribulations. I will likely have to start making some things myself. I plan to impart any life hacks, recipes, or information I garner along the way. My journey has just begun.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you don’t see a doctor if you’re having issues. I had already pursued that avenue and was seeing an allergist on the regular until the pandemic hit then he stopped taking appointments and never called me back after repeated messages. Needless to say, I’m in the market for a new allergist and took the matter into my own hands.

Resources you can use to look up information

These are the websites that I found helpful when researching my results:

Contact Dermatitis Institute

Consumer Product Information Database

Food-Info

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