Food allergens in cosmetics — time for regulation change?

Colourful bath bombs — might a food allergen be lurking in yours?

Milk is not an ingredient you expect to find in a bath bomb, and for 13-year-old Emelia, what was a planned bath time treat, turned into a severe milk-allergy reaction and hospitalisation.

She has bravely shared her milky bath-bomb nightmare with the papers — you can read the account in the Daily Mirror here — in order to raise awareness of the problem, and call for the 14 allergens to be emphasised in cosmetic products, as they are in foods and drinks. 

There’s even a petition with that goal in mind — which you can find here

While incredibly admirable, I feel there are problems with the proposal. Cosmetics regulations already name 26 fragrance allergens — often components of essential oils — which have to be specified on ingredients lists explicitly, as so many people with allergic contact dermatitis react to them. 

There are other potential allergens in cosmetics — preservatives, ingredients such as lanolin — which those with allergies might need to avoid. Singling out foods for special treatment, may distract and detract from these others. You could make them all highlightable allergens, but that might result in so much emphasis as to be confusing.

It’s worth noting too that the list of 26 fragrance components may well rise to around 100 in the near future — see my recent article on the Skins Matter site here

There have been other similar reports, of course, in the past, which does suggest that action of some form is needed. You may remember the reaction to a Nivea lip balm containing almond oil of Amy, a 19-year-old student, which The Sun covered two years ago.

At the time, I wrote an article — 14 Allergens in Cosmetics — highlighting several examples, and giving some of the potential ingredients in which the food allergens can hide. 


What needs to be done?

I can’t see cosmetic regulations being adapted to mirror those of food and drink: they are two different beasts, and each requires distinct considerations. Although of serious concern, life-threatening reactions to food components in cosmetics are rare.

In my view what would be helpful is the mandating of ‘plain English’ terminology for the food allergens, which are often expressed solely in Latin on cosmetics labels. Many cosmetics brands do this, but not all. Not everyone knows that ‘lac’ is ‘milk’, or that ‘arachis’ is ‘peanut’, for instance.

For a good example, see Kinvara Skincare’s 24 Hour Rosehip Face Serum, pictured right. Note the ‘plain English’ bolding of all botanical ingredients, and a ‘Contains Nut Oil’ declaration, for the benefit of people with food allergy. Clear allergy-considerate labelling can be done. And bonus marks for ‘no added dairy’ too. 

If you need a list of all the main food allergens in Latin, click through to the Cosmetics Allergies page on this site, and scroll down.

Remember that some expressions for ingredients denote derivatives of allergens, such as ‘lactoferrin’ and ‘lysozyme’ — derived from milk and egg respectively — which have cropped up in toothpaste. This is also a potential stumbling block.

Unfortunately, until any legislative changes are made, people with food allergies must learn what the Latin terms of their allergens are, scrutinise cosmetics ingredients labels closely, and question any ingredient which may potentially be ‘hiding’ a food allergen. 

Such a tough business, allergy management … 

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