Since I wanted to do this month of beauty posts, I thought I would starts things off by talking about something that is deeply personal to me, and actually effects every decision I make when it comes to beauty products. For as long as I can remember I have had issues with having reactions to lots of different products and foods. I honestly thought when I was a teenager that I was allergic to everything. I avoided what I could, but I didn’t always know what was causing these reactions.
While I never had a lot of acne, my skin constantly stayed red, irritated, inflamed, scaly, itchy, etc… This was on top of the migraines I got from exposure to many items as well as blisters, itching, and a swollen tongue. However my parents were extremely poor, they didn’t have health insurance, and they rarely had the money to take me to the doctor when I was extremely ill, let alone for something like this. So I did the best I could with what I had.
I want to share some of the things that have happened where I had allergic reactions that were confusing. In elementary school I had to stop using wood pencils that you sharpen and go exclusively to mechanical pencils. After using traditional pencils for a few days I would develop what looked like a third degree burn with small bumps and blisters in the are the pencil continually touched. As a preteen I was in the grocery store with my mother and they were handing out samples of Farmer’s Cheese. One bite and my mouth started feeling odd. Within a minute I had three large blisters on my mouth. Anytime I am walking through a store, or enclosed public place really, it is a real possibility I am going to have a reaction. All it takes is walking by a man or woman wearing a heavy dose of the wrong perfume or cologne and I will within minutes have a migraine and red blotchy spots all over my face. Sometimes it will feel like my face is on fire, sometimes it will only feel itchy. And this is just a small sample of things that happen.
Fast forward to my mid twenties and it has done nothing but gotten more severe. I finally had health insurance and I decided that it was time to visit a dermatologist for my skin, as that seemed like the most logical place to start. They diagnose me with seborrhea dermatitis, which is not an allergic reaction at all, and honestly at this point I was still willing to believe the allergies were a separate issue. They give me a prescription cream, told me to use a heavy duty dandruff shampoo and sent me on my way. I use the cream as it was directed for almost a year with no real results. The most I ever got was some relief from the burning. Then one day I had a reaction so bad, I think if I could I would have ripped my own skin off. I know that sounds really graphic and disturbing, but the level of pain I was in was indescribable. That is the point where I decided to go to an allergist and see if I could find out anything different.
I had planned on taking some photos of my enflamed skin so you all could see what it actually looks like, however I started a new product to test out for this month that actually helped clear my skin up. If I do have a reaction sometime this month I promise to take a picture and share it. But before moving on with my story I did manage to find pictures on a dermatology websites of people who have the same allergy and seems to have a very similar looking reaction to help give you an idea of what I deal with.
And if you image search what a Balsam of Peru Contact Allergy looks like, you might be both horrified and realize I am one of the lucky ones. But I digress, back to the allergist. When I got there they ran a standard panel for allergies where I came up allergic to dust, dust mites, and lobster. Knowing none of these are the culprit for my issues they suggested I also take a patch test. Patch tests are different from skin prick tests. While the skin prick tests are used to find food and seasonal allergies, the patch test looks for contact allergies. While the patch test is optional, I highly recommend everyone take it, especially if you suspect an allergy to something like a fragrance. Also unlike the skin prick test, with the patch test you wear it overnight or longer and then come back for an analysis.
As you have probably guessed at this point my patch test came back positive for something called Balsam of Peru. The thing is that is the only thing I tested positive for. This left me very confused since, as I mentioned earlier I thought I was allergic to so many things including foods, cosmetics, fragrances, and so many other things. So if I only tested for one thing, how am I reacting to all of those things? And what does the Allergist tell you? “Take this paper, go home, do some research, and use this cream.” Ironically, I am given the exact same prescription cream the Dermatologist gave me.
I made my way home and read all the info the Allergist gave me, which is now available to view here. It soon becomes apparent why I am having reactions to so many things, and that I am going to need to do a lot of my own research since the info given is very basic and there is so much to remember. For instance the plant alone can go by so many other names as well as 20+ chemical ingredients they make from it, and dozens of genetically similar items like essential oils you can have reactions to. Between all of the items I can have reactions to, they are used in foods, medication, cleaning products, cosmetics, skin care products, etc.. And they tell you that this plant is rarely used anymore, which is a bit deceptive. Its true, you rarely see Balsam of Peru or any of its other names listed as an ingredient. However, the many types of alcohols and other chemical ingredients made from the plant are common ingredients. Also, since this is also sometimes used as a fragrance or flavoring, that is all that is required to be listed in an ingredient list. And there is a loophole often used:
Because of allergic reactions, since 1982 crude Balsam of Peru has been banned by the International Fragrance Association from use as a fragrance compound, but extracts and distillates are used up to a maximum level of 0.4% in products, and are not covered by mandatory labeling.[30 –
If you have been diagnosed with a Balsam of Peru contact allergy already and have been looking for help, don’t be afraid to reach out by leaving a comment below or messaging me on my Facebook page.
For my readers, I know this isn’t my usual topic, but it is relevant as we move into the month of beauty. The next few posts will be about my routine, and new products I am trying. I also will be covering some favorite cosmetic brands, new and old that I am able to use. And feel free to ask any questions. There are articles out there that make this seem rare, but there are other things that say this is one of the top fragrance allergies. I think there might be a lot of people out there that are silently suffering like I use to, that just never got tested. I hope there are people out there I can help in some way. And isn’t your skin as import as any dress you can put on when it comes to beauty? Do any of you have rare unheard of allergies?