Allergens in natural cosmetics – can natural cosmetics be made without essential oils and plant extracts?
Allergens in natural cosmetics – can natural cosmetics be made without essential oils and plant extracts?
Allergies and hypersensitivities are a growing problem, especially among users of natural cosmetics. This post is based partly on my own experience of hypersensitivity. I suffer from atopic eczema and other hypersensitivity disorders. I’ve been able to significantly minimize the symptoms of atopic eczema. I’ll share my story here so you can get some ideas on how to treat your hypersensitivity and allergic symptoms. My story also contains tips on how you can effectively prevent sensitization to natural cosmetics.
I have suffered from atopic skin all my life.
My skin has been very sensitive as long as I can remember. As an adult, I have had many symptoms of hypersensitivity. I got a diagnosis of asthma ten years ago. My illnesses have been treated as usual, with medication.
Three to four years ago my symptoms got worse. The most severe of the symptoms was atopic eczema, or allergic rash, which spread quickly throughout the body. The intense anaphylactic reaction, a shock, that forced me to a hospital bed was also frightening. Atopy means allergy and eczema means rash. My doctor’s estimate was that I would have to use strong cortisone creams for years or maybe decades.
Don’t treat bad atopic eczema yourself
Inflammation of the skin in atopic eczema can quickly get really bad and require long hospital stays. If you have broken skin or a rash on large area of skin, consult a dermatologist. Especially if the patient is a small child, consulting a doctor is a must. In such a situation, you should never treat the rash yourself, for example with natural cosmetics. Things could get much worse.
Atopic eczema is a real illness that can be extremely serious
Atopic eczema is often considered as a minor ailment that can be conveniently treated by rubbing just a little coconut fat on the skin or by changing the brand of shampoo. Such comments are, as a matter of fact, offensive to those who have spent sleepless nights for months with pain, itching and inflammation, unable to go to work or even outdoors.
About $ 200 million is spent annually on research of atopic eczema. If this disease could be easily beat with coconut oil or some nutritional supplement, why sacrifice such amounts of money for research. Atopic eczema is a troublesome and often severely disabling disease, for which the researchers still have no complete answer. Atopic eczema can, at worst, lead to death.
Many people talk about atopic eczema even when they refer to dry, flaky skin. Dry skin and atopic eczema are two different things. These should not be confused. Atopic eczema may develop even if the skin is greasy.
How I finally got my eczema under control
I want to tell you about my own recovery so that you can somehow benefit from my experience. Not all atopic eczema is due to the same reason as myself. Therefore, my experience does not help everyone. But if it helps at least one person, it is worth telling.
I started to solve the situation myself together with my doctor. My symptoms were suspected to be due to something I eat. We took a closer look at the cosmetics I used and I gave up all of it. I started treating my face only with refined sunflower oil. For skin cleansing, I used completely non-perfumed soap.
I started a 6-week diet eliminating all foods that caused symptoms. At first, I only ate boiled chicken and cabbage. I added new foods to my diet every week. With the help of my diet, I found foods that worsen my symptoms and my skin completely healed. Nowadays I eat almost normal meals.
How do we become allergic to cosmetics?
Cosmetic products can also cause atopic eczema. Unfortunately, natural cosmetics with many herbal extracts is very allergenic. Things causing allergy are often plants such as tomatoes or nuts. Herbal allergens also work similarly when using natural cosmetics.
Perfume hypersensitivity is quite common. About 2-3% of the population suffer from them. Perfume hypersensitivity occurs, for example, in the form of rash on the hands. Many people also get milder symptoms from perfumes and other fragrance. These symptoms can also get worse if the person is exposed all the time.
A person suffering from fragrance hypersensitivity should not use neither any scented cosmetics nor any scented cleaning chemicals. Whether the fragrance is a real essential oil or a synthetic fragrance does not matter. If your body is already ill, all scents should be avoided.
In addition to fragrances in perfumes and cleaning chemicals, you should avoid hydrolates and most plant extracts. Hydrolates, as well as most plant extracts, always contain small amounts of essential oils.
Sensitization to plant chemicals
As a herbal therapist, I know that plants contain hundreds of different chemicals. For some people, the number of plant-derived compounds is simply too much.
Today, the superfoods are really popular. People look for berries, herbs and vegetables that contain the highest amounts of herbal chemicals and eat them in large quantities, such as smoothies, concentrates and dried green powders. Superfoods are believed to be the key to healthy life because of their antioxidant content. However, for sensitive people, these superfoods are too much. Over time, they can cause health problems to the whole body.
Over-use of herbal chemicals both in nutrition and cosmetics is harmful. I also believe that eating a lot of superfoods and supplements, combined with the use of natural cosmetics containing strong herbal chemicals, can easily trigger allergic symptoms and atopic eczema. At least this presumably happened to me. Too much is always too much. We should be reasonable with superfoods.
The common allergies have been familiar for years. A person can be very allergic to only one type of protein. Typical allergens include pollen, nuts and fish. A person can be allergic or become allergic at any time to anything. If you get severe symptoms from a cosmetic product, you may be allergic to one of its ingredients. The person with allergy can easily find out the cause of the allergy by allergy tests. Allergies should be taken very seriously as they can, at worst, cause a life-threatening condition. Many allergens are also present in cosmetics. Allergens cause problems only to certain individuals. Most of the people do not have to avoid them. If you are uncertain about the cosmetics you use, you can always contact the manufacturer to get deeper information.
Problems with natural cosmetics
I’m definitely in favour of natural cosmetics. Natural cosmetics is made from pure, natural raw materials and do not contain any plastic. Many synthetic chemicals are banned in natural cosmetics. However, the manufacturers of natural cosmetics should wake up to the growing problem of skin sensitization to herbal chemicals. It is also possible to make natural cosmetics completely without using any herbal extracts. There should be more such products available.
Too many herbs
Natural cosmetic products often contain far too many herbs and plant extracts. Most products contain very strong herbal extracts and unrefined oils rich in herbal chemicals. Almost everyone’s skin will eventually become sensitized to herbal chemicals when used several times a day. Latest trend is to apply facial toner several times on face at a time. Herbal cream alone is no longer enough, but the use of a serum rich in plant chemicals is also recommended. The daily load of herbal chemicals on the skin rises very high.
Many natural cosmetic products contain far too many different herbs and extracts. In many cases, just only one herb would be enough. Herbs, of course, contain beneficial ingredients for the skin. Cosmetic plants contain hundreds of different compounds, many of which are useless to the skin and some even harmful. Even if the product contains 10-15 different herb and flower extracts, the number of harmful compounds increases in the same proportion.
Too much essential oils
I have spoken often about natural essential oils and their harmfulness. You can read more about them here and here.
Essential oils cause a lot of hypersensitivity. They can penetrate through the skin into the body and even through the blood-brain barrier directly into the human brain. Essential oils are solvents that are harmful to human health when used excessively. All chemicals that are able to penetrate the epidermis, the outer layer of the skin, can easily cause sensitization. Essential oils are such.
Bees products and resin
Unfortunately, the wonderful bees’ products contain very many allergenic ingredients. Beeswax used to solidify waterless salves is not suitable for fragrance-sensitive persons. Beeswax is particularly rich in resins. Resin allergy is often associated with fragrance hypersensitivity. In addition to resins, honey contains pollen residues. All resins are mixtures of resins and essential oils. Therefore, resin products are also unsuitable for fragrance-sensitive persons. In addition to spruce and pine resin, frankincense and myrrh are also used in cosmetics.
Hydrolates are almost as sensitizing as essential oils
Essential oils are prepared by steam distillation. The process separates the oil-soluble constituents of the plant from the water-soluble ones. The oil-soluble ingredients are essential oils and the water-soluble ingredients are hydrolates. Quite a large amount of essential oils remains in the hydrolates. It is very difficult to distil all essential oils away. Therefore, people suffering from fragrance hypersensitivity and natural cosmetics should avoid products containing hydrolates.
Concentrated plant extracts and plant chemicals
Many natural cosmetic products contain a lot of concentrated herbal chemicals. Salicylates are used as plant extracts or as a pure chemical to brighten the skin. Salicylates are highly sensitizing. For example, aloe vera and meadowsweet are rich in salicylates.
It is also very common to add plant extracts like gingko biloba, ginger or other superfoods to natural cosmetics products. These extracts are mentioned only for short term use. However, you can find them in regular creams for daily use.
Lack of non-scented products
It is very rare to find a non-scented, natural cosmetics product. There are some but unfortunately not available everywhere. The popularity of essential oils is so big that the has been no need to develop a specific, fragrance-free products. And even if the product would be a non-scented, it contains several different herbal extracts.
Natural cosmetics for people who are sensitive to plant chemicals
You must be wondering now how it is possible to make natural cosmetics if you can no longer use plant extracts, hydrolates or essential oils. Do not worry. There are many other ingredients that can be used to make safe and gentle cosmetics. Also, there is no need to use herbs and plant extracts in every product and all the time. Here are some good and safe products for people suffering from hypersensitivity.
Clay is one of the oldest cosmetic ingredients mankind has used. Clay is natural and safe to use. When an ancient person was wandering through dusty land, the skin was always covered with a fine layer of clay. Winds brought minerals to the skin to protect it from burning. Human skin is also able to receive minerals and transports them to the bloodstream and muscles. Magnesium, for example, has been found to be even better absorbed as a cream than when ingested orally.
Some clay products can cause allergic reactions to persons suffering from nickel allergy. Take this into consideration if you are allergic to nickel.
You can use clay for masks and scrubs.
You can use several safe, non-allergenic mineral products in your cosmetics. One really good product is the MaineBase salt, which you can use for skin cleansing and even scalp washing. Ordinary sea salt and rock salt are minerals that hardly anyone is allergic to. Epsom salt is high in magnesium. It is usually a safe product for sensitive skin.
Epsom salt is suitable for baths, salt masks and peeling products.
Supply of natural cosmetics based on oils has increased enormously. That’s a really good thing. Oils belong naturally to human skin. The skin is very rich in linoleic acid, which is found also in sunflower oil and safflower oil.
If you are not yet sensitized to cosmetics and you do not have allergies, you can use all cosmetic oils freely for skin care. Oils are safe to use in daily skin care.
If your skin is sensitized or you have a fragrance sensitivity, avoid strong, unrefined oils such as cold pressed olive oil, hemp oil or pumpkin seed oil. They are rich in herbal chemicals that can aggravate your symptoms.
Choose the cheapest filtered sunflower oil bottle from the bottom shelf of the market. It’s the best for sensitive skin. Other refined oils are also suitable. Rice bran oil, safflower oil and refined white shea butter are really good too.
You can make a lotion from oils, water and emulsifier. This kind of emulsion is moisturizing and nourishing and does not irritate the skin, not even in daily use.
Plants with low plant chemicals content
There are plants and plants. Not all plants are rich in plant chemicals. There are plenty of them in flower extracts, berries, fruits and herbs, wild herbs and strongly green vegetables. Avoid them if you are sensitized to herbal chemicals.
If your skin is sensitized and you have a bad skin rash, I do not recommend trying any plants at all on your skin. My skin is now so healthy that I have started to use carefully cosmetics made from plants. I use plant parts that are not so rich in skin irritants. Here are just a few examples. Someone may be allergic to these too. So, you should test yourself whether these ingredients are suitable for your own skin.
- Mung bean powder or aduki bean powder for face scrub. Bean powder is especially good for facial peeling. It is an integral part of the traditional Japanese facial beauty ritual.
- Carbohydrate seeds such as lotus seeds and oats are suitable for facial cleansing and face masks. Oats also control the itching of the skin. Oat green shoots are not suitable for sensitive skin.
- Flaxseeds are a real wonder of skin care. When used once a week, flaxseed really rejuvenates the skin.
- Seaweed does not contain the same plant chemicals as terrestrial plants. They can be used occasionally on face masks or to moisturize the skin. I recommend that you carefully test first if they are suitable for your skin.
Herbal extracts for occasional use only
To avoid sensitization to natural cosmetics, use products containing herbal extracts only occasionally. For example, you can get a herbal mask and use it only once a week. If you are not yet sensitized, avoid excessive use of herbal chemicals by purchasing milder products or by reducing the use of them.
Clean your skin thoroughly
I personally prefer activated carbon masks and clay masks for deep skin cleansing. Activated carbon is effective in attracting organic ingredients such as plant chemicals.
Let your skin rest, have cosmetics-free days
The skin may not need any treatment every day. Let the skin rest. Rinse skin only with lukewarm water and let it rest.
Walk along the seashore if possible or in the woods to improve the oxygenation of the skin and circulation of blood. Salty, fresh air and walking in the woods also eliminate stress. Stress is thought to be one of the reasons of allergies and hypersensitivity.
Natural cosmetics and herbs are really precious things to me.
You should not blame herbs for causing allergies and sensitizations. The reasons lie in the reckless use of herbs. More is better is not true in this case. As a herbal therapist, I know that human body does not need herbs so much. Only a small amount is enough. You just need to know when and for what purpose the herbs are used. We must also know how to choose the right herb for the right use.
I really hope that more and more natural cosmetics manufacturers are seeing the continuously growing allergy problem. Increasing sensitization to herbal chemicals can even spoil the reputation of natural cosmetics. It would be sad just when Natural Cosmetics has gained some shelf space in the stores. It is therefore important to face the problem in a time.
Regular, daily use of strong herbal products strain unduly the skin and interfere with its function. For example, many herbs are antimicrobial, which means they inhibit bacterial growth. However, the skin should always have a healthy microbiome in order to maintain its defence system. Strong antimicrobial herbs also inhibit the growth of good bacteria on the skin.
I do collect, dry, make and use plants, flowers and herbs for cosmetics
However, I just want to make natural, herbal cosmetic products. I use mild herbal cosmetics for very short periods, maybe only once to cure some annoying problem. This is how precious herbs are used correctly. This way I can also benefit myself of all the knowledge that I have acquired as herbalist.
Do you have experience about herbal chemicals and hypersensitivity?