Food Allergens in Surprising Places: 10 Products to Check Now

Food ingredients can turn up in very unexpected places. If you have a food allergy, you may not have thought to check for food allergens in personal care products, including cosmetics, skincare and even medicines. A reminder to always read the labels on not only what you eat, but what you use on your body.

Medicine, hand cream, soaps and lotions with text "10 Personal care products to check for food allergens"
Personal care products might contain food ingredients

In Australia there are strict rules about allergen labelling on medicines. I wish it would also extend to foods in beauty, cosmetic and personal care products too.

With many companies appealing to people’s desire to use “natural” and organic products, it seems as though we are finding foods allergens in personal care products more often. Milk (cows milk and goats milk), oats, nuts, seeds and fruits are common ingredients.

Here are 10 items to check carefully before you use them if you have food allergies. Or even if you don’t, and you or your child has eczema. Research suggests that people may become sensitised to foods through the skin. If your child has broken eczema skin, it’s best to avoid baby and skin care products made with food ingredients.

#1 Sunscreen

I’ve spent literally hours reading ingredients on sunscreens, trying to find one that is good for someone with eczema and food allergies.

Did you know that quite a lot of the “all natural” and “sensitive skin” sunscreens contain food ingredients? Zinc oxide based sunscreen can be great for eczema sufferers. But the zinc needs other base ingredients to help it spread easily, smell nice and feel good. Often the base ingredient used is coconut oil, which is a food ingredient. But I was quite surprised to find a well known brand had sesame oil.

If you are having trouble with finding a sunscreen for sensitive skin, read more about our favourites here – Choosing the best sunscreen for sensitive skin, eczema or allergies

#2 Nappy rash cream

The last place I would expect to find a major allergen is in a baby product that is applied directly to senstive baby skin. But one well known nappy rash ointment actually contains “Prunus amygdalus dulcis oil”. Even worse is that most people wouldn’t understand what this means. It is almond oil. While the almond oil might be very refined, to be careful we avoided using any food based creams on our baby with eczema – especially nuts.

#3 Ear drops

Some ear drops for softening and helping with wax removal contain arachis oil (peanut oil). Again, it would be helpful if the labelling on the bottle referred to peanut oil instead of the latin name. There is at least a precautionary label on the outer box for this particular brand warning that it contains peanut.

Ear drops with peanut oil
Arachis (peanut) oil in ear drops. Photo: Allergy Spot

#4 Moisturisers

There are so many different moisturisers on the market. Some of the products aimed at ‘sensitive skin’ contain food ingredients. Many are described as ‘natural’ or ‘gentle’ or suitable for babies.

One ingredient to look for is goats milk. Many people who are allergic to cows milk are also allergic to the proteins in goats milk. Some skin lotions and moisturisers aimed at people with sensitive skin or eczema contain oats. While not one of the top 10 allergens, we avoided using any oat based products on eczema skin.

Some facial moisturisers even contain peanut oil.

Many moisturising products contain shea butter. While shea butter comes from shea nuts – which are technically a tree nut – they are fortunately not a common allergen. See our post – Shea allergy: what you need to know about shea butter and nut allergies – for more information.

#5 Shaving cream

Using food in a product that is applied directly to the sensitive skin on your face doesn’t seem sensible. But a few shaving creams contain milk protein, either cow or goat milk.

The recent trend in more ‘natural’ products means there are also more shaving creams with botanicals, food oils or fruits added. Watch out for tree nut milks or oils like almond or macadamia.

#6 Asthma dry powder inhalers

Food ingredients are surprisingly found in medicines, including asthma medication. It’s important to note that this doesn’t relate to the familiar asthma metered dose inhalers (‘puffers’). Instead this is relevant to certain types of dry powder inhalers, called turbuhalers.

Some of these turbuhalers contain lactose, which may contain milk protein residue. This could potentially pose a risk to some people with severe milk protein allergies.

Always make sure that your doctor is aware of your food allergies when prescribing inhaled medication. And if you have any concerns about medication you are already taking, please contact your doctor.

Woman in black and white hat with sunscreen and basket of beauty products with text "personal care products & food allergies"

#7 Soaps and shampoo

‘Normal’ soap can already be a problem when you have eczema or sensitive skin. Some of the soap products marketed as more natural or suitable for sensitive skin contain oats or even wheat.

Handmade soaps often contain all sorts of food or ‘botanical’ ingredients, including fruit and vegetable purees. This can be a significant problem if you are allergic to fruits, like banana or kiwi fruit. Or even spices.

Shampoo is another common place for food ingredients. I’ve seen shampoo with:

  • milk
  • tree nut oils (macadamia, almond, argan and shea)
  • peanut oil
  • fruit (nectarine, avocado, banana and more)
  • coconut
  • honey
  • and even eggs.

These are products where it pays to read the label very carefully and even contact the manufacturer if you aren’t sure about all of the ingredients.

#8 Dental products

Tooth MousseTM is a product that dentists often recommend to help with enamel problems and protect teeth. This contains casein, a milk protein, and is not suitable for people with milk allergies. Be sure to let your dentist know if you have any food allergies before you have dental treatment.

#9 Hand sanitiser

With hand sanitiser now appearing at the entrance to most public places, it’s a good idea to check if it is safe for you to use. Some contain nut oils, for example.

Our local hospital and our orthodontist use the same brand of sanitiser made with macadamia oil.

#10 Condoms

Yes, even these! Many manufacturers use milk protein in manufacturing. Gives new meaning to being ‘safe’! Fortunately there are now more ‘vegan’ brands available which don’t use milk. (And while not a food, condoms can also be a problem for people with latex allergy.)

Are food allergens in personal care products actually a risk?

Sometimes the risk posed by food allergens in personal care products might be very small. For example, often the nut oils used in a shampoo are so refined that the food proteins (which cause allergic reactions) are removed. But I definitely prefer to be on the safe side and avoid food allergen ingredients. And the rise in “natural” and “organic” products which are less processed may increase the risks associated with food allergen ingredients in non-food products.

As always, speak to your allergy specialist about whether these products are suitable for you, especially when it comes to medications.

Finally, remember to always read the label – not just for packaged foods, but for all skin care, cosmetics, medicines and personal care products too.

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