Natural beauty and unnatural poisons…

I had a bad allergic reaction to some hair conditioner a couple of weeks ago.


At first I couldn’t figure out the problem. My eyes flared up, and I thought I had a mild case of conjunctivitis. Then I noticed my scalp getting itchy,and some bad rashes all down my back and over my body.

I tracked it down, over a matter of days and a lot of detective work, to a new hair conditioner I was using. The moment I stopped with the product I immediately felt better, and now things are returning to normal.

When I mentioned this on Facebook, and the fact that the reaction had been so bad that, at its worst, I’d looked like someone had poured acid on my skin, I was amazed at the number of my friends who piped up about similar reactions they’d had to various cosmetics. Not always as severe, but severe enough to cause discomfort and, in some cases, pain.

Have you ever had a bad reaction to a cosmetic?

Natural versus synthetic

It’s not just “natural” versus “synthetic” either. Some of the worst offending products have entirely natural ingredients in them. Common allergens include:

– lavender (a potent cytotoxin that causes skin cell death and should NEVER be used in any well-formulated cosmetic!),
– lemon oil (ever got lemon in a cut when cooking? Ouch!),
– menthol (a very common allergen),
– peppermint (try putting peppermint oil in a mucous membrane and see how it affects you!),
– citrus extracts generally (everything from grapefruit to oranges causes problems for most people with sensitive skin, and many who don’t have skin recognised as sensitive)
– tea tree oil (nice and natural maybe, but a potent skin irritant in over 90% of people who come in contact with it)

And the list goes on.

From my experience, as someone with sensitive skin, I’ve found that, for the most part, products labelled “natural” tend to be the worst offenders when it comes to causing skin reactions. They’re usually highly fragranced, almost all contain essential oils (great for our noses, but often terrible for our skin), and also often poorly formulated.

I love the idea of “natural”, but my skin doesn’t. And, in the end, no matter how nice the claims on a product might be, if it causes me to have bad reactions, I’m not going to buy it or advocate it.


Problems with fragrance

Anything labelled “fragrance” is often problematic too. This was the case in the conditioner that left what looked like burns on my body, and my eyes so closed up and sore that I could hardly see.

What fragrance? What chemicals? According to law, the companies don’t have to tell us.

So we have no way of knowing what particular fragrance is causing any reaction we have, and can’t take care to avoid a particular fragrance ingredient. The only way to be absolutely safe is to avoid all products with fragrance in them.

The search for fragrance-free

As I found out, when I went to the chemist to try to find a conditioner that was fragrance-free, almost all products have fragrance in them. People like to smell like the cosmetics they’re using.

The chemist who helped me was surprised to find that, of all the lines he stocked in his store, only ONE was actually fragrance-free, despite all the “safe for skin” and “eczema-friendly” and ‘sensitive skin friendly” and “hypoallergenic” claims of the products on his shelf. He was amazed, and quite taken aback.

For the record, “hypoallergenic” means nothing. It’s a bogus claim that is not tracked or substantiated by any safety or health body. Don’t pay any attention to it.

In the end, my chemist found me a locally made conditioner that has no dyes or fragrance added, and seems to be good for my hair and skin, which has since calmed down. But it’s a sad state of affairs when there are literally NO hair care lines available in the supermarket that are fragrance free and safe for my skin.

It seems the beauty world is more intent on making products that smell nice than that are actually good for our skin and hair.


The outcome – what I learned and what I’m doing now

I learned a lot from this. To take care of my skin and hair henceforth I’m using a line of hair care products that are fragrance and dye-free (Dermalabs NZ).

Cosmetics-wise, I’ve been using Paula’s Choice (by mail order from the USA) for a few years now, and have found nothing better. Her products are all fragrance and colour free.

For moisturising, I’m using plain olive oil and coconut oil, and occasionally sorbolene. All are better – and cheaper! – than any moisturisers available at the beauty store. Coconut oil is also great as a sleeking ointment for my frizzy, dry hair. And I use coconut oil on my heels as a heel balm to stop cracked heels in summer.

One of the best tips to avoid dry skin I’ve learned is to keep the water temperature during showers down. I know – hot water feels great! – but it’s death for dry skin. And the fewer showers the better.

Finally, taking my regular capsules of omega 3 oils, plus eating lots of fruit and veggies really pays off in the health of my skin. Plus drinking lots of water and green tea.

Beauty shouldn’t be this hard. But for we allergic, dry skin types, it can be if we use products that cause a reaction. The old adage First Do No Harm seems particularly important when your skin is sensitive.

I intend to do no harm to mine.



3 thoughts on “Natural beauty and unnatural poisons…

  1. My doctor told me the same. Even though you would think all natural is great for you, it can give you the worst reactions. Beauty can be difficult, but it can be fun as well. I love the olive oil solution…it did work for the ancients for some time.

    1. I agree. I love the idea of natural beauty products, and I’m a sucker for that kind of marketing, but *everything* I’ve tried that was labelled and sold as “natural” has made me react. EVERYTHING! That’s got to be telling me something!

      From my experience, when I’ve looked at the ingredients lists of “natural” products, they’ve been filled with lots of essential oils a.k.a fragrance, which is probably what caused the reactions for me. Not good. I really wish someone would come out with basic, natural products that weren’t stinky and bad for my skin, but that doesn’t seem likely any time soon.

      Yep, olive oil is brilliant. Great on my skin, and it’s the only thing I’ll let my masseur use on me, as eerything else she used caused me to itch like crazy 😦

      1. That is very rough. I have only had problems now and then.

        I never thought to check for fragances specifically, but now I will. I would think that there would be something like thay out there. Simple, basic, natural, fragrance free…are marketers that obsessed with smell? I guess so? Now I need to see what I can find out there.

        I am going to have to try the olive oil. Appreciate the info. 🙂 I too have sensitive skin.

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