There has been a big increase in the number of people suffering from allergies of all kinds, and although there is a perception that the problem is bigger than it actually is it still remains a problem. Nut allergies are one of the biggest categories and we have all become used to pervasive labelling of foods including ones that don’t even contain nuts as regular ingredients. Traces of nuts are enough. So should you be worried about allergies to cosmetics containing nuts? Here are my observations.
- Make sure you actually do have an allergy. There is no easy way to say this without sounding insulting but make sure you actually are allergic to nuts. The actual number of people with allergies is not known precisely, but is in the low single number percentages.
- The chances of getting a serious exposure to whatever it is in the nuts to which you react from skin contact is low. The content of a nut oil is likely to be very low in the first place, and the amount that is going to get through the skin to your blood stream will be lower still.
- Cosmetics almost always use the purest grades of oil available, and these are the ones least likely to cause allergic reactions.
- Unlike food products, carry over from other products that contain nut products is really really unlikely. Cosmetic manufacturing plants clean down thoroughly between batches and cross contamination is very unlikely to happen in the first place, and would quickly be spotted and acted on if it did.
But having said all that, if you do have a problem with allergic reactions to nut oils it is not impossible that you could react to a cosmetic that contains a nut oil or a derivative from one. And you are going to be naturally cautious. Even if cosmetics don’t pose an actual risk to your immune system, they can still have an effect on your peace of mind. So what should you do? First of all, decide which ingredients you actually want to avoid. In principle anyone can react to anything, so if you want to be really safe you should not use any natural ingredients at all. This is however a little severe. The UK’s NHS identifies the following as the nuts most likely to provoke a reaction – cashews, pistachios, hazelnuts, brazil nuts and almonds. And of course everyone already knows about peanuts.
Here are the names as they might appear on ingredient lists.
Peanut – Arachis Hypogaea Oil
Cashew – Anacardium Occidentale Seed Oil
Pistachio – Pistacia Vera Seed Oil
Hazelnut – Corylus Americana Seed Oil
Brazil Nut – Bertholletia Excelsa Seed Oil
Almond – Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis Oil
This isn’t a universally accepted list, but it will do for now.
Botanically speaking shea butter and olive oil are just as much nut oils as any other but the consensus is that these don’t pose a big risk – though that doesn’t mean that there won’t be somebody somewhere who is allergic to them. But the problem seems to be related to proteins, so oils that are extracted in such as way as to have a low oil content seem to be less of a problem. This also applies to quite highly processed nut derivatives such as cocoa butter, coffee beans and indeed chocolate. Again that doesn’t mean that nobody is allergic to them, just that despite their similar origin they don’t seem to share the same potential problem as the other nut oils.
Overall the risk of a skin reaction to a cosmetic product for any reason is pretty low. The biggest culprits used to be fragrances and preservatives. Over the years the number of allergic reactions to fragrances seems to me to have fallen quite a lot. I think this is due to the way that the International Fragrance Association has gone about monitoring the research on the subject, along with research of its own, and has issued guidelines that enabled perfumers to avoid the worst offenders. Preservatives have not really seen the same improvement, but it is hard to see what can be done about them. The alternative of having unpreserved products is far worse.
Nut allergies would probably come in third, but in general the grades of nut oil used in cosmetics tend to be very pure and the level of use of the interesting ones that are more likely to cause problems is generally quite low. Embarrassingly low when you look at how much the packs talk about them.
So I think that even if you do suffer from a nut allergy I think that at the very least, your skincare is the last area you need to be concerned about.