The word ‘natural’ may conjure up pleasant ideas about purity and trust, but does natural always mean safe? Not if there is an unknown allergy lurking. An allergic reaction (also referred to as contact dermatitis) to a natural compound can be far from soothing or beauty enhancing. In extremely rare cases, it can even prove fatal.
What you need to know
Each of us have different tolerance levels for specific ingredients found in natural beauty products. This can be influenced by diet, repeated exposure to certain allergens, immune function, and basic daily lifestyle choices that may create imbalances in the body. This medley of factors make it difficult to pinpoint and label products as potential hazards. So in order to use the products we love and to reap the benefits of choosing a chemical-free approach to beauty choices, it is essential to raise our awareness of the risks of giving ourselves a false security when encountering the word “natural“, in relation to what we put on our bodies.
Natural beauty products often include botanical ingredients in the form of herbs, roots, and/or essential oils. These ingredients can have potent concentrations even in small amounts. Many people encounter these concentrations with no difficulty at all, but sometimes repeated exposure over long periods of time can activate a reaction in the immune system that causes it to see the ingredient as a foreign substance and start releasing histamine into the system. In other cases, taking herbs or certain medicines for health purposes can cross-react with particular botanical ingredients in the product.
Some botanical essential oils, like bergamot, which is sometimes used in products for its citrus fragrance, can increase photosensitivity, which can result in severe burns if exposed to the sun.
The most common allergens are chamomile, lavender, soy, and green tea extract, although reactions are not limited to these ingredients. Keep in mind that many people use products containing these ingredients and suffer no adverse effects. It is only of concern if you have a sensitivity or allergy to these specific ingredients.
Is there need to worry?
In short, no. There are many ways to avoid, or at least minimize allergic reactions associated with natural beauty products. The best approach is to develop a good relationship with your body and learn what your skin does and does not like.
If you are trying a product for the first time, or returning to a familiar product after a time away from it, try a patch test first. Simply dab a small amount of the product on your body (the inner wrist is a good place) and leave it on for at least several hours. If at any time it starts to turn red and/or there is a burning sensation, it’s a good idea to wash it off immediately. Make sure to use a mild cleanser as well. Water alone will not completely remove the product.
Other signs of inflammation are itchy, bumpy, scaly or swelling skin. These are signs of what is known to be a Type 4 allergy. It means symptoms are usually mild and the condition is considered to be non-life threatening. A Type 1 allergy is more severe and can cause the airway to swell to the point of closing (anaphylaxis). This is considered to be life threatening, but reactions of this magnitude are far more rare than the discomfort caused by a Type 4 allergic reaction.
It’s a good practice to wash your hands after applying an unfamiliar product. This helps ensure you don’t unintentionally transfer more of it to more sensitive areas, like your eyes or lips, until you’re certain of your body’s comfort level with a particular product.
If you are worried about allergens, keep in mind they’re usually the ingredients used to add fragrance to a product, so purchase products labeled “Fragrance-free“. Don’t be fooled by the term “Unscented”, which often uses one fragrance (usually linalool- a compound found in lavender that is responsible for its scent) to mask other less desirable fragrances.
Another thing to keep in mind when purchasing natural products is that expensive organic products can have more potential for stronger allergic reactions due to the fact the ingredients used are often in their purest form. This is an especially interesting tidbit to keep in mind if you already know you have a sensitivity or allergy.
And if that doesn't work
If it does happen that you end up with inflammation and discomfort, you don’t have to suffer, there are ways to alleviate your symptoms.
According to HealthxWellness.com, the best remedy to provide natural home relief involves mashing almond leaves into a paste and applying it to the affected area. Papaya, cucumber, or banana can be pureed in a food processor and applied to the skin as well. Calamine lotion can also help to ease skin discomfort.
Cold helps the body to slow down the production of histamine, therefore assisting in the relief. Any kind of cold pack will help, even a cold glass of water can be held to the affected area.
Adding lemon water to your daily drinking water can boost your vitamin C levels, an important element in proper immune function.
A hydrocortisone cream, found at your local pharmacy, can be applied topically to relieve itching. An oral anti-histamine can be effective for symptom relief as well.
If there is severe discomfort, you may want to consult a doctor, who will likely prescribe a corticosteroid.
No need to panic
There is no need to be overly concerned when choosing natural beauty products. Most people are able to enjoy the benefits of using natural products in their daily regime with no ill effects. Natural beauty products are still generally safer for enhancing the healthy glow we all desire, without having to expose yourself to the unnatural chemical creations of the laboratory. Keep it simple. Be aware of your body‘s own unique language. Be patient with new products before you slather them everywhere. Be mindful of the ingredients you are using. And above all, remember you are already beautiful!