Thursday, 13 June 2013

An allergic reaction to mascara

This blog has come about because I have been doing a lot of internet based, non scientific research into products that I use on a regular basis.

I have recently had a few bad allergic reactions to make-up that I had used. I've always reacted to lipstick in one way or another and have just avoided wearing it unless I have lip balm underneath. However, I recently bought new mascara and a week later had a reaction to that.

Because I've never reacted to mascara before I was interested to see what the ingredients were to see what I could have reacted to.

I am allergic to rosin or colophony (and all the similar products with various other  names  - hydrogenated rosinate, colophonium, tall oil, abietic acid, methyl abietiate alcohol and pentaerythrityl hydrogenated rosinate) but until then had not known that rosin would be used in mascara.

Rosin, in its natural form is a sap that is in trees.  I appear to be allergic to it in its natural and synthetic form.  It is found in numerous products including plasters, sunscreen, waxes, face paint, fake tattoos, ink and various cosmetics (DermNet NZ has a really good fact sheet about the allergy and what products include it).

It is surprising that it has taken me this long to get around to looking at what it is that I react to and finding out its chemical names so I can identify it.  But I think that may be because when you look at the list of names above it is a pretty hard task to remember them all and read the back of the ingredients list each time at the supermarket.  Unhelpfully they don't just say "rosin or a derivative".  The trial and error approach works 90% of the time.  Companies also change the formula of products and do not have to warn us.  So a risk is that something that I may have used for years will suddenly become infected with rosin and I'll end up with a hideous reaction to it.

Back to the mascara, while I was waiting for L'Oreal to send me the ingredients list I did some google searching to see if anyone else had a similar reaction to mascara.  The main reaction that was documented was an allergic reaction to shellac (see here).  This was a surprise - I knew shellac as a extremely long lasting nail polish and had heard it was used in wood glaze or floorboards.  I had not heard of it being in make-up.

This was the point when I started wondering what else was in make-up. If shellac is in make-up and no one bats an eye lash (ha ha) then what else is hiding in these products that we slap on our faces every day.  I decided I may as well write down these findings in case anyone else is interested, and for my own benefit as well.  So, that's the premise for the blog so far.  You never know, I may get sidetracked and begin blogging about cats. But for now it is a "What's Really in our Food" style blog about chemicals and household/make-up products.

From what I have discovered so far I think it is almost better to be in the dark about this! So read the posts at your own peril.  There are a number of products that I either thought were natural, or generally safe, but aren't really.  It is also interesting to see how much (read: not much) testing is actually done.  Websites that focus on the safety out ingredients (EWG's Skin Deep is a great one) don't often have much information about the products.  Considering the same websites also publish full studies when they have them I doubt it is for lack of trying to get the information.

Oh, and it turned out that the mascara that I used (Maybellene Great Lash, black, waterproof) contained hydrogenated rosinate so no surprises that I had reacted to it!

Photo credit: pumpkincat210 / / CC BY

Monday, 3 June 2013

Lucas Papaw v Vaseline

I've used Lucas Papaw cream for years so I was gutted to find out recently that it isn't actually all papaw.  Shouldn't be too surprising since it is labeled on the front of the tube: contains fermented papaw 39 mg/g. Which means 4%. That's right, there are 1000 mg in a gram...

So, if there is only 4% papaw, what makes up the other 96%? Petroleum jelly. It is interesting, the Lucas Papaw website only has papaya and petroleum jelly listed on its ingredients page (see here). However,  other websites have a longer list. The wellness warrior publishes a full list of ingredients which includes:

Fermented Fresh PawPaw Fruit, Rhus Succedanea Wax, Glycerine, Petrolatum, Canola Oil, Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Beeswax, Corn Starch, Potassium Sorbate (0.1 mg/g).

Apparently it is mostly petroleum based, which means that it is basically Vaseline... What's the problem with that?, you might ask. Well a few things.

First, knowing it is mostly petroleum jelly means it is a bit of a rip off. In Australia you pay on average $4.00 for a tube, NZ it can get up to $8.00 a tube. Vaseline on the other hand costs around $3.50 for 100g.  Remember that the standard red tube of papaw is 25g.  

Also, petroleum jelly may not be that good for our skin. Wikipedia has an interesting summary of the history of petroleum jelly (paraphrased below):

A chemist called Robert Chesebrough was given a block of black rod wax and took it to his lab to refine it. He discovered he could make a light coloured gel by distilling some of the lighter coloured oil and he later patented this product as petroleum jelly.  Chesebrough, a fairly determined guy it appears, travelled to New York and (this is my favourite part) "demonstrating the product to encourage sales by burning his skin with acid or an open flame, then spreading the ointment on his injuries and showing his past injuries healed, he claimed, by his miracle product" (Wikipedia).  

If the fact that it comes from an oil rig doesn't faze you, maybe the fact that the EU has banned all but cosmetic grade brands of petroleum jelly might. This article by Article Base is interesting. It sounds as though the reason many types of petroleum jelly were banned is because they were so unrefined that they were yellow/brown and contained a whole bunch of carcinogenics that are known to cause cancers. I haven't looked into what Australia/New Zealand allow but in the US pretty much anything goes and you can find lip balms that smell like petrol(!!) (check out this blog).

The end result is, I guess, that petroleum jelly isn't necessarily bad for you, but you should be careful. Lucas Papaw only uses pharmaceutical grade certified petroleum jelly, which is reassuring.

The interesting thing about petroleum jelly is that, although it feels like it is moisturising, it is actually a sealant.  So it creates a seal over the skin and moisture is trapped underneath rather than evaporating off skin.  This is why it feels like it is moisterising when instead, it is reducing moisture loss.  

Petroleum jelly is also not soluble in water.  Wikipedia recommends paint thinner or acetone as a method of dissolving it.  That's actually another thing that has put me off the Lucas.  Something that is only slightly soluble in alcohol probably shouldn't be used regularly on our skin!

After finding out about all of this, I have stopped using Lucas Papaw on such a regular basis and have purchased an organic lip balm - Suvana Paw Paw and Honey Organic Lip Balm. I highly recommend it, same effectiveness as Lucas, same size tube (just yellow) and its certified organic so you don't need to worry about any hidden chemicals.