I was never what you would call “hot,” but people always told me I had pretty skin.
That all changed in 2010, when I got rosacea, seborrheic dermatitis, and allergic contact dermatitis (a form of eczema).
The first dermatologist I saw diagnosed the rosacea, which causes facial redness, flushing, burning, pimples, and flat, red bumps called papules. The second dermatologist told me I also had seborrheic dermatitis, which causes redness, flaking, itching, and scaling. It felt like there was a fire burning under my face, yet I also felt horribly itchy.
Unfortunately, nothing those first two dermatologists did helped. I went to four more with no luck. The seventh dermatologist, Dr. David Cohen, happened to specialize in skin allergies and rosacea, so he offered to patch test me to see if I had any allergies that were making my skin problems worse. I didn’t think I was allergic to anything, but I was desperate. Getting patch tested means spending several days with chemicals in tiny aluminum chambers taped to your back. No showering.
On the first day, when they put my patches on, there was a guy there who was so sensitive that the tape made his skin erupt. For me, the itching started the second day and continued until the test was over.
On the fourth day they read my results: Surprise! I had a ridiculous number of allergies! I was allergic to:
1) two metals, nickel and gold
2) two preservatives found in cosmetics, diazolidinyl urea and methyldibromoglutaronitrile/phenoxyethanol (it took me a year to spell those)
3) cinnamic aldehyde, a chemical used for fragrance in skin creams, soap, toothpaste, mouthwash, hair products, and cosmetics (It’s also used for flavoring in candy, drinks, ice cream, and gum.)
4) bee propolis, a natural substance found in beeswax and raw honey
5) two dental materials used in composite fillings and crowns*
I had become allergic to almost all my haircare products and skincare products, as well as to most of my dental work.
I got the bee propolis allergy from a raw honey mask that was supposed to cure seborrheic dermatitis. I put raw honey on my face every other day. In only three weeks, I developed the allergy; propolis is a strong sensitizer.
A lot of people think you can’t develop allergies to natural substances, but certain plants contain powerful allergens. For example, cinnamic aldehyde comes from the bark of cinnamon, cassia (Chinese cinnamon), and related trees.
Because of my cinnamic aldehyde allergy, I use only fragrance-free products. When an ingredient list says “fragrance,” you really don’t know what’s in there, because manufacturers don’t have to disclose the individual ingredients (at least in the U.S.). Fragrances can contain anywhere from dozens to hundreds of ingredients, all lumped in under that “fragrance” label. Many of these are endocrine disruptors or allergens. Some common fragrance allergens are limonene, linalool, hydroxycitronellal, and geraniol. Even products labeled “unscented” often contain a masking fragrance. “Fragrance-free” is the label to look for.
Skin allergies tend to last for life (although, for a lucky few, they do go away). People can become allergic to any product, even something they’ve used for years. (It’s much more likely that people will become allergic to things they use every day.)
Since I have allergic contact dermatitis and food allergies combined with rosacea, a lot of my allergic reactions show up on my face. If I get a rash on my body I can sometimes hide it, but if I get something on my face everyone can see it.
When I was tested, Dr. Cohen’s office gave me a list of safe products from the Contact Allergen Replacement Database (CARD), but for two years I was too scared to put anything on my face other than moisturizer and mineral sunscreen (with rosacea, the sun is a trigger, as is heavy exercise, hot showers, alcohol, extreme heat and cold, wind, and pretty much everything). The sunscreen had a whitish cast (it has a lot of zinc oxide) that slightly masked the redness. And rosacea and seborrheic dermatitis flare and subside, so sometimes I was really red and didn’t want to leave the house, sometimes I was moderately red, and sometimes I looked almost normal.
Because I took medication, cut out dairy and gluten, used distilled water to wash my face, and avoided my skin allergens and as many rosacea triggers as I could, by early 2013 I had improved. I felt brave enough to try foundation to hide the remaining redness. But the list I had gotten from the dermatology office was now three years old, and companies change their product formulas all the time. Luckily, Dr. Cohen told me there was an iPhone and web app that updated the safe products list to reflect changes in ingredients. Update, February 2015: The app is currently not working with iPhones 5 and 6, and the home page does not seem to be accepting new accounts for the app’s web-based version. I will update when I know more about what’s being done to fix these issues.
With allergic contact dermatitis, previously enjoyable activities like shopping become an exercise in frustration—nope, can’t use that, nope, not that, oh wait, what about that … probably not. Instead of thinking, “Will I like this product,” you think, “Will this product give me an itchy, burning rash that will last for weeks, if not months”? I obsessively read every label, trying to remember all the names of all my allergens (cinnamic aldehyde is also called cinnamal, cinnamaldehyde,
3-phenylpropenal, 3-phenylacrolein, benzylidinacetaldehyde, cassia aldehyde, etc.). This is when the app was helpful; it screened for all the names of the allergens and cross reactors (related chemicals that people with my allergies often react to).
When I looked for foundation, the app showed me a few mineral brands and a few liquid brands.
With rosacea, it’s better to use products containing as few ingredients as possible, because even if I’m not allergic to something, my skin is so hypersensitive that a lot of ingredients, like talc, can cause a flare-up.
So, for the liquid foundations on my list, the two Physician’s Formula brands had 23 and 16 ingredients, respectively, the L’Oreal had only seven but was impossible to find, and the CoverBlend Exuviance had 22 ingredients. And some of the ingredients looked like this:
Nylon-12 is actually nylon; it’s used in cosmetics as a thickener. Bonus points: It can cause allergies! Polyethylene is “a product of petroleum gas or dehydration of alcohol; one of a group of lightweight thermoplastics.” So far we had nylon and plastic, and only two ingredients in. Butylene glycol (not pictured, farther up the list) “has a similar toxicity to ethylene glycol, which when ingested may cause transient stimulation of the nervous system, then depression, vomiting, drowsiness, coma, respiratory failure, and convulsions; renal damage may proceed to kidney failure and death. One of the few humectants not on the GRAS (generally recognized as safe) list of the FDA…” (Ruth Winter, A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients, 2009).
Yeah. Maybe time to look at the mineral makeup.
I noticed the mineral foundations on my list, Bare Minerals and La Bella Donna, had the same ingredients: bismuth oxychloride, titanium dioxide, iron oxides, mica, and zinc oxide. I was nervous about bismuth oxychloride because I had read it caused rashes and acne, but the other ingredients seemed OK. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide were already in my sunscreen, and my skin didn’t react to them (there is research linking lung damage to titanium dioxide, but it’s believed to be safer** in makeup that doesn’t use nanoparticles). I started researching mineral foundations with similar ingredients, and I found one, Alima Pure, that had titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, iron oxides,*** and mica,**** but no bismuth oxychloride and no nanoparticles. Also, a friend with multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS) used it occasionally. And many of the reviewers on the company’s website sounded like me: They had rosacea or contact allergies, or they were just looking for less toxic products.
Buying mineral foundation online is confusing. Alima Pure has 61 shades. My previous foundation-buying experience consisted of finding the shade closest to ghostly white and taking it to the cash register. Alima organizes colors by range, and colors in the lightest range, the “zero,” were way too pale for me. I couldn’t imagine anyone wearing these, except maybe for Goth makeup or Halloween costumes.
Since Alima is Internet-only, they will send you samples until you find a match. But you have to figure out if your undertones are pink or yellow. I thought the rosacea would make undertones a no-brainer, but no, rosacea is considered an overtone. I spent a lot of time peering at my jawline, my neck, and the inside of my arm in various types of lighting and annoying people by asking them if I seemed more pink or more yellow. I even bothered J.
After three exchanges of foundation samples, I figured out that I had some pink undertones and some yellow undertones, and I could wear two shades, Neutral 1 and Beige 1 (the “one” range is the second palest). I bought them both (I have no sales resistance). Neutral 1 matches my neck perfectly, but it has some pink undertones, so if I’m having a “red day” I have to wear it with Alima’s green color-corrector powder (which I don’t like as much as the foundation). Beige 1 has a yellowish undertone that cancels out redness, but it doesn’t match my neck as well, although it’s close enough to be unnoticeable.
Note: I have no financial affiliation with Alima Pure, except I cleaned out my wallet buying their stuff, because I was so happy to find something that didn’t make me react and that made my skin look normal. And they just had a winter sale, so I spent even more, dammit. (The foundation isn’t cheap: It’s $25 a jar, but it lasts a long time.)
I did buy the foundation brush, which I liked because it allowed me to apply a smooth coat of makeup with one or two swipes. With Bare Minerals, you “buff” the makeup in, which can be irritating. Also, the Alima brush is synthetic, so it’s softer than animal-hair brushes. The downside: The brushes are dyed black, so you will sometimes get one that bleeds dye for the first wash. (That sort of thing gives me a mini nervous breakdown, so I called customer service and they sent me a new one, which I washed about 800 times before using it, just in case. It’s good now!)
I’ve been using the foundation since last April, and I haven’t had any reactions. It hides the rosacea pretty well with a regular coat, but if I want to look like I’m wearing blush I just put a very light coat over my cheeks. I was at a makeup counter several months ago buying a gift certificate for a friend, and a woman looking at blushes asked me what shade I was wearing. “It looks so natural,” she said. “Thanks!” I replied. “It’s actually a skin disease.” She said she hadn’t seen a color called “skin disease” and asked where she could find it.
I couldn’t make this stuff up.
Note: To find a dermatologist who does allergy patch testing, visit the American Contact Dermatitis Society page and click on “Find a Physician.”
*I did a separate patch test for dental materials.
**Nanoparticles and micronized particles are the worst, but it’s best to try not to breathe in any mineral makeup that contains titanium dioxide.
***Iron oxides can contain nickel because of the mining process. Some people with nickel allergy react to them. I haven’t reacted to the iron oxides in this makeup, but that’s just me (I haven’t tried any other makeup since getting allergic contact dermatitis). I have a lot of allergies, but my nickel allergy is not as severe as some people’s. I always patch test a sample of everything first, as one person’s amazing product is another person’s hellish rash.
****Some people with nickel allergy react to mica. My dermatologist recommends patch testing for no less than two weeks on the inside of your elbow.
28 thoughts on “Eczema Chic: Finding Allergen-Free, Rosacea-Friendly, Nontoxic Foundation”
What scares me is that these American fragrance companies don’t have to list the ingredients in there products.
It infuriates me that companies get to use blanket terms like “fragrance.” With allergies seemingly becoming more common, I hope this will change. It would sure make it easier for those of us with sensitivities and allergies.
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Yeah, they can get away with using many ingredients because formulas are considered a “trade secret.” In the EU I think (I’m not positive) there’s a list of allergenic fragrance chemicals that manufacturers are required by law to include on the label. Overall I think the EU and Japan have much stricter regulations about the use of certain chemicals.
Glad you found something that works for you after all that!
It’s mind boggling how lacking in true info most labels are allowed to be, especially fragrance. Over 3000 ingredients used (or rather voluntarily disclosed) and more than a few of those are quite toxic.
I decided (after being forced into it many years ago) to love my “au naturel” look (as well as everyone else’s), which works better for me anyway, because I forget to look in mirrors most of the time, and that made for some embarrassing moments back in the days I did use make-up…
All I use on my skin now is organic jojoba oil, and wash with a little bit of baking soda.
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I love using jojoba in homemade hair products, but I can’t put any oil on my face … it makes the seborrheic dermatitis have a wild party. Baking soda I am not sure — I think it might have a high nickel content, but that could be baking powder. I have a friend who uses it as shampoo and detergent.
Amazing how different we can all be!!! Diversity is amazing!
This was a great a-ha post for me! I have MCS and that usually provides enough problems to solve that I have been ignoring my exzema and seborrheic dermatitis for quite a while (obviously a milder case than yours if I am able to ignore it by putting a hat on). But you’ve provided some very useful info here so my skin problem solving can now be more efficient – thanks so much. Also, you are making me laugh which might have even more value!
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Hi Island Girl,
I’m glad I could be helpful and make you laugh. Interesting that the hat helps — mine also gets worse in the sunlight. MCS is a nightmare … I have allergies and sensitivities to many chemicals, but I don’t think I have full-blown MCS, although I have several friends who do. If you want more info on seborrheic dermatitis go to this forum and click on similar and co-existing conditions: http://www.rosaceagroup.org/The_Rosacea_Forum/ (Be careful of that raw honey mask though!)
Raw honey goes in my mouth, not on my face- check. Your post was my first attempt at using my new gravatar and apparently I missed some critical settings the first time around. So now you’ve helped again by making me realize I had some updates to make!
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[…] I rarely use makeup, but I may do it more often now that I have purchased some Alima Pure products. The company was founded by a mother who wanted a different option for her teenage daughter that was safe for both her and the planet. The products have no parabens, no gluten, no dyes, and no nano particles. The matte foundation I am trying has four ingredients – all natural pure minerals. That’s it. Love them – thanks Miss Diagnoses! […]
Hi, I noticed you said you cut out dairy and gluten. Do you have a specific allergy to dairy or gluten or is it related to one of your other allergies? I just did a patch test and I am allergic to nickel and gold.
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You too, huh? Nice to “meet” you–I haven’t met another person allergic to nickel and gold! I’ve only met people with nickel allergies. This is exciting! LOL. Anyway, yes, I am allergic to dairy and I tested intolerant to gluten on three tests (with different doctors). I believe there was recently a study that claimed to debunk non-celiac disease gluten sensitivity, but I think they only tested IBS patients and applied it to their symptoms. Not sure.
In the post I was not implying that cutting those out changed the nature of my skin allergies, but it did help with my rosacea redness, as did avoiding the skin allergens. Rosacea can have a strong allergic component. It varies according to the individual.
I have also patch test to over 15 things. Metals, cobalt, chome, and titanium dioxide. I can’t find anything wash with and allergic to all shampoos etc. My allergies are to formaldyhyde, propylene glycol, cocomidebetadine etc. Finding razors to use is out, and I react to wax. I have a i phone 4 and was wondering about the app for phone. Also what medicine you take. I have allergic contact dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis and mcs. I am allergic to ACV, coconut oil. I believe I might have iiritant contact dermitis. It seems like everything I use, i become allergic too. Inknow you saw Dr Cohen, I wish I could see him but I live so far away. Could you tell me what medicine you use to help. Thanks, I enjoyed the article.
I wrote earlier and it was lost, so I’m back. I have metal allergies too, cobalt, chrome, and titanium, and I have patch test positive to over 16 chemicals and metals, and natural things like organic shampoo and organic cotton, all shampoos and most clothing. I can only wear silk. I keep getting more allergies with everything I put on my face. I have mcs, seborrheic dermatitis, allergic and irritant contact dermititis on my face. I have problem with oil too. I have heard of Dr Cohen, to be good. Can you tell me what medicine you take for all. I have problems taking Medicine. Do you knowof anyone that will make shampoo and other products. Can you tell me about the phone app for products? Thanks for making me laugh too.
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Poor you! I use Avalon Organics shampoo but it has a lot of botanicals and not everyone can tolerate it. It hasn’t bothered me yet although it has linseed oil, which has nickel. A lot of homemade shampoo recipes have baking soda and I believe that has nickel too. Have you tried DHS shampoo? I know some people who use that.
Unfortunately the phone app no longer exists. A different company bought the company who created it. The new company is called SkinSAFE and I believe they are going to create another app. The address is http://skinsafeproducts.com.
For medicine I take antihistamines (but they don’t work for a lot of people) and supplements to improve my methylation. You should get a doctor to test you for genetic mutations affecting methylation.
I have had seborrheic dermatitis since I was 14 and it was on my scalp. I was the worst case my doctor had ever seen. It was literal cradle cap to wear my scalp would bleed.
-The things that worked: – gluten free diet
-Not a lot of sugar I’ve actually read that seborrheic dermatitis is related to a candida overgrowth in the body
-tea tree oil is a must!!! Shampoo and essential oil. If you have sensitive skin dilute it.
-Castor oil works extremely well! I used it topically on my scalp and I didn’t have any new breakouts.
-MSM is really great too it’s a sulfur agent which fights candida. Just be weary of how much you take.
-detox tea works but it can make your symptoms worse before they get better.
I recently developed eczema as an allergic reaction to raw garlic (1-3 cloves a day as a cure for a uti) garlic can help but you can develop allergies if you’re sensitive to it.
For my eczema I’ve been using Apple cider vinegar and it works very well. It’ll sting but it definitely works.
Also salmon oil pills are excellent for healing skin issues!
Hope I could help! 🙂
We have much in common! I am glad to have stumbled upon your blog. I’ve been suffering for over 2 years searching for the cause of my severe eye issues. After 12 drfferent drs, I found myself in Dr. David Cohen’s office as well! Patch testing revealed allergies to: Gold, Nickle, Cobalt and Shellac. He also diagnosed Ocular Rosesea and seborrheic dermatitis. I’ve been struggling to figure out what my triggers are but my sense is that it’s food. I am also Gluten Free and have been for 2 years now. Cutting out Gluten. Dairy and eggs 2 years ago resolved many of my symptoms. In fact within 2 weeks of the new diet I thought i was “cured” and attributed the itchy, watery, gritty, swollen, red eyes and peeling and puckering skin around the my eyes to food intolerances. Sadly that state only lasted a few months and then i experienced another flare. I go through phases of flares and remission periods. My struggle is how much exposure to Nickel/Cobalt do I really have to be concerned with and is it physcial contact or is it food? Do I need to avoid Stainless Steel? Do I need to avoid all jewekry? The most perplexing thing to me is – my symptoms are all on my face so how could that be related to something I’m touching? Wouldnt my hands be effected too? I guess I havent found the balance just yet and believe me I’ve tried everything! I am currently trying to adhere to a low Nickel diet to see if this improves anything. I’ve also switched a lot of my makeup and will look into Alima Pure. Also on topical cream and 3 months of low dose Doxy. Anyway, thank you for your post it made me laugh!
So glad to have found your blog! we have much in common! I see Dr. David Cohen as well. More to follow…
You are a true warrior. Thank you for all this amazing info. Unfortunately that SkinSafe app does not break down all the chemicals. I am allergic to Cobalt Chloride and Octyl Gallates. Probably more since original diagnosis. 😢
Any luck with Jane Irredale make up?
This post is really old and the app I was talking about does not exist anymore. It was the CARD app. It was better than SkinSafe. I can use the Jane Iredale PureMatte powder (I’m not sure if they’re still making it–I bought a whole bunch of it at once in case they discontinued it or changed the formula). I’m still using the Alima loose foundation, but they now have fewer shades and they have a new pressed foundation which has fragrance(?!). I think generally Jane Iredale is good. A lot of people like 100% Pure but it has so many botanicals. Did your patch dermatologist put your personal code into the app? I think it is called a UPAC code. There’s not a Facebook group for your allergies specifically that I know of, but there are groups for nickel and some people in those groups have allergies to other metals. Some people can’t do mineral makeup at all but I have much better luck with it than liquid.
I do have number codes, but I find the list to not be very current. Plus I still react to stuff listed on safe list.
Sorry it took so long to respond.
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I’m sorry to hear that! Yeah, they really do need to update the lists, especially CAMP. Try the Eczema and Contact Dermatitis Facebook group. You might get some guidance about your specific allergens.
I am in Scottsdale getting more patch testing Done at Mayo in Arizona. I know I already am allergic to 3 metals, bacitracin, and a few others.mThe doctor I am seeing is the the one responsible for Sknsafe.
It is discouraging hearing that skin safe is not reliable.
What is one suppose to go by, that
Has Multiple allergies and irritants?
Skinsafe and the CAMP list are the only things we have–possibly the contact allergen research database also if it still exists. I don’t think they are completely unreliable, but the CAMP list isn’t updated often enough in my opinion and Skinsafe needs to include a wider variety of companies. If you are allergic to nickel (I’m assuming that you are–I don’t know anyone with a metal allergy who isn’t allergic to nickel), have you also considered reducing it in your diet? You can go to the Nickel Allergy Facebook group for suggestions. Also check out the blog nickelychallenged.com for the diet. other than that I would just say keep a list of the alternate names of your allergens.
Thank you. Saw dermatologist yesterday. Waiting now to go back for patch test. I have always wore makeup. Kind of scared to go cold turkey with no makeup until we figure out what Iam reacting to.
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It is scary, but there are a lot of companies who make safer makeup. Also check out VMV Hypoallergenics. Then there are 100% Pure, EccoBella, and tons of others. After you find out what you are allergic to check out Whole Foods beauty section too.