The Skin Allergy Update

If you have been following along on the blog, you’ll remember that just over a year ago I was afflicted with some crazy skin allergies. I saw allergists, dermatologists and my acupuncturist. I was told by different specialists that it might be my dog, and that I should consider getting rid of her. That I needed to stop using all my skincare products. And that I had to avoid touching my face at all costs because my eyes were reacting to allergens on my fingers. I didn’t wear make-up for a year. I stopped using all of my products with fragrance and color dyes. And still my face itched so terribly that I woke up multiple times a night scratching at my eyes and lips. I looked like I had been stung by bees all over my face. (It’s worth noting I never once considered getting rid of my dog.) After 12 months it got bad enough (and robbed me of enough sleep) that I could no longer justify paring down my product list and waiting it out.

I took longer than I should have to finally do patch testing, because I heard one doctor charged $3000 and it wasn’t covered by insurance. I was beyond grateful when my mom got a name from a friend of a doctor who did patch testing and did in fact take insurance. I went to Dr. Jonathan Zippin at Weill Cornell Medical Center in NYC. Dr. Zippin asked me a series of questions about my known allergies (dogs, cats and dust), current rash outbreaks, and lifestyle. He then put almost 300 small patches on my back with flowers, fragrances, dyes, and a lot of other materials on them. 5 days later I went back to the office and was told that my allergy was lanolin, a naturally occurring substance that comes from sheep, and is found in soaps, creams, make-up, lipstick, and many other products. To say I was relieved to finally know the culprit is an understatement. My allergy is a topical one, also known as contact dermatitis. It’s interesting because this type of allergy (Type 4) does not appear upon contact. It takes from 4-10 days for your skin to react to the allergen after being exposed. The skin usually is itchy with rashes, then turns scaly and dry, and within a 10 day cycle begins to disappear until you are exposed to the allergen again. Anaphylaxis caused by bee stings, nut allergies, etc. is a Type 1 allergy which is much more dangerous and needs to be taken more seriously when it comes to exposure to allergens. Thankfully a type 4 allergy just indicates that I was overexposed to a substance I am allergic too, and as long as I avoid it, I will no longer have itchy rashy skin on my face, legs, and hands.

Looking back I was able to pinpoint when all my issues began. Last Thanksgiving when we were in VT, I ran out of face cream. I figured it was nice and dry up there so I slathered Aquaphor all over my face. A few days later that was when my skin went bananas and I was left looking like this. You can see my eyes were covered in hives, but the photo doesn’t do my lips justice. They were rashy, cracked, and peeling.

Skin Allergy

I tried Benadryl to no avail. (I now know that Benadryl does not help with type 4 allergies.) I then assumed it was dust or mold in our house in VT and waited for the reaction to go away. A few weeks later I “randomly” had the same reaction. Over the next few months I was inadvertently using lip balm, face creams, shaving cream, and hand creams with lanolin in them and was getting more and more itchy as the weeks passed. I finally went to an allergist here in CT who told me to use nothing but Aquaphor, as that was what they recommended for babies, and it was the least likely to cause more allergies as he feared I was allergic to something in the creams I was using. I think you know where this is headed… After being diagnosed, I realized that Aquaphor only has 5 ingredients, one of which is lanolin. It was almost like I was rubbing poison ivy on my face and hands every night before bed for 4 months. Ugh! Lanolin was also in a bunch of soaps I used and most lip balms. Lanolin is used for waterproofing, so it makes sense they add it to lip balm and lip stick so it doesn’t wear off every time you drink something. And lanolin is not a chemical. It’s a naturally occurring substance. That means it can be in organic products, but it cannot be in vegan products since it comes from animals.

I was so grateful that the allergy department at Cornell Weill has a special app that they program for you with your skin allergies. The app helps me to know what household, make-up, skin, and cleaning products are free of my allergen. That has saved me a lot of time and flare ups as I now only use products that have been approved by their labs. The big takeaway after I confirmed my allergy was that I needed to think more about what I slathered on my face and body. I immediately began the process of assessing all of the products I use on my body, face and hair so I could figure out what needed to be chucked, what was contaminated because my hands had dipped in Aquaphor before using it, and what brushes had touched products with lanolin and needed to be replaced. I also figured out what products I should be buying to prevent more flare ups. Everything had to be lanolin free. For those who already know they have a lanolin allergy, below are some of my favorite “safe” products. And for those of you suffering from crazy rashes that other doctors haven’t been able to diagnose, I would say go get patch tested asap. I know that skin allergies are a very small issue in the grand scheme of life, but I also know that we all want to feel good, sleep well, and not itch 24-7. It’s worth figuring out.

So what am I using now? Since the brand was launched I have always loved Beautycounter products. I first blogged about them in 2014 here. The founder, Gregg Renfrew, is a super cool chick who was sick of not knowing what was in the products she used. Beautycounter aims to use whole healthy ingredients, and to make sure their clients can read the label and understand what is in the things they make. At Beautycounter, they’ve committed to a health and safety standard that goes well beyond what is legally required in the US. Their “Never List” is made up of more than 1,500 questionable or harmful chemicals that they never use as ingredients in their products. This includes the over 1,400 chemicals banned or restricted in personal care products by the European Union, plus additional chemicals screened by Beautycounter and found to be of concern. They also recently marched on Washington to demand more oversight in the beauty industry. I love the brand, am confident that there is accountability behind what they are doing, and felt they were incredibly receptive to my inquiries about their ingredient list. Only two things they sell have lanolin in them, and if I steer clear of those two lip products I feel great using everything else. I believe in them so wholeheartedly that I signed on to sell their products. Don’t worry, I won’t be forcing the brand on you with an overabundance of blog posts and  selling parties, but I do want all of my readers to know the good stuff that is out there for all of us to be a part of. I use their products for me and I use them for my kids, because I no longer want to bury my head in the sand and pretend that all the chemicals and toxins we use in our make-ups and creams don’t matter. They do. And we all need to think long and hard about what the long term affects of toxins and chemicals might be. The allergy was just the tip of the iceberg for me. Finding a way to live healthier for me and those I love is the deep rooted goal.

This blog post is a mouthful, so I will leave you with some Beautycounter products that have been great for me in recent months, and the good news that I have been mostly rash-free for 2 months now. From time to time I cross contaminate and get rashes on my hands and eyes, but for the most part I feel great. The Cleansing Balm is literally the bomb. I use it once a week to make my skin feel super hydrated. It smells amazing, as all their products do because they use natural fragrances from flowers and herbs. I’m also totally hooked on their Dew Skin daily moisturizer that is tinted and has SPF. And the facial oil? Don’t even get me started. Every time I wear it people ask me if I had botox. Ha! If you have any follow up questions – you know where to find me. I continue as always to believe that we learn from the sharing. I’m hoping this post will help anyone else with allergy issues to find answers to what they’re allergic to. In future posts I will also share other brands I love that are lanolin free. Stay tuned!

{No. 1 Brightening Facial Oil, Dew Skin Moisturizing Coverage, Cleansing Balm, Nourishing Cream Cleanser, Powder Blush Duo, Smooth & Control Hair Care}

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  1. I Love beauty counter products and their mission to get chemicals out of make up. They even went to Washington DC to talk to lawmakers about banning the 1800 chemicals in make up and creams that Europe bands. The cleansing balm is my favorite because you can also use it as a light mask on your face overnight! Well done Lindley, for your determination to figure out what was going on with you! Glad to know you are a wrap for beauty counter !

  2. Sarah Mithun says:

    Wonderful, info-rich lesson for us all! Thank you! So glad you got to the bottom of the cause too! Xo

  3. I shop at Follain and Credo Beuaty….all natural place to get make-up, creams, etc. Ursa Major and Jose Rosebrook are my two favorite brands. My skin has never been better!

  4. marianna says:

    I had the same experience. I put a cream makeup product on my eyes and they started to swell, red and itchy. Found out there was lanolin in the product. Please send me info about beauty counter

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