I recently had the joy of experiencing patch testing. My eczema was out of control – literally body-wide and even my GP was at a loss to explain it. Some of the reactions were pretty horrendous – and embarrassingly across my face. For some reason strangers felt compelled to comment. Apparently it’s perfectly okay to say to a stranger ‘wow…that looks awful’ or ‘what’s going on with your face?’ My response tends to be a steely glare, followed by ‘excuse me…do I know you?’ Repeated courses of prednisone got it under control temporarily but it kept coming back. I was, to put it simply, at my wits’ end. Lack of sleep combined with constant itching does just get exhausting.
So off to a dermatologist I went; and then off to Guy’s and St. Thomas’s for patch testing. Boy…that’s an uncomfortable experience! I can see why they don’t do it for children, as I was covered in little patches for several days. I was asked to bring in items I thought might be causing issues so that they could be tested along with a range of standard items. Ever since I was a baby I’ve suffered from eczema, so I’ve naturally drifted towards products designed for sensitive skin – no soap, very few shampoos – T-Gel shampoo is fine, but the new formulation of Head and Shoulders caused a nice rash, so that’s now off my shopping list. The dermatologist’s report confirmed that I had atopic eczema on my arms, legs and trunk; naturally, I realised this, but it was sobering to read it in black and white.
Sometimes it seems like it’s just an ongoing saga of itchiness with no end in sight. So I really had my hopes up for the patch testing. With food and environmental tests I come up with a lot of reactions – wheat, eggs, citrus, grass, tree, tree nuts, peanuts, dust, fur, feathers, soya … to name some of them. So I was rather expecting a similar list from the patch testing.
I could see a red reaction on my arm coming out from one of the patches, so was sure that was a positive. My back was itching in the shoulder area, so I was pretty sure I’d have a positive there as well. So…off I toddled to Guy’s for the big reveal.
The picture below shows the red circle on my arm after the patches came off.
This, apparently, isn’t an allergic reaction. It’s a sensitivity caused by Fairy Liquid. This is where us lay people find it difficult. Fairy Liquid makes my skin red and itchy, but I’m not allergic. But I can’t use Fairy Liquid without my skin being…well…red and itchy which rather feels like an allergic reaction. I suppose it doesn’t really matter what it’s called. I now know that I can’t use Fairy Liquid so that’s a result.
The one ‘proper’ allergic reaction was to something called Tocopheryl Acetate. I’ve spent some time googling and there isn’t a tonne of information on eczema web sites about this little beauty. Tocopheryl Acetate is a mixture of vitamin E and acetic acid. Acetic acid is a synthesized acid that is added to products such as skin creams, cosmetics, sunscreen, shampoo, lipstick as a preservative. Its commercial use is as an ingredient in glue, synthetic fabrics and old fashioned film developing! A nice summery is here: http://www.thedermreview.com/tocopheryl-acetate/. Acetic acid and water are the main components of vinegar of all things!
Armed with this knowledge I started to go through my cupboard. Like a lot of eczema sufferers, I have a tonne of over-the-counter creams designed to reduce redness and itching. From my GP I stick to Epaderm and Diprobase as moisturisers, so that was simple to check.
So…where did I find Tocopheryl Acetate? Well…straight away I found it in my Flexitol Hand Balm. The balm I keep in the handbag to moisturise my hands throughout the day. Then I took a look at my sun screen. Both Nivea Pure and Sensitive and Ultrasun ‘for ultra-sensitive skin’ have Tocopheryl Acetate so into the bin they go. Nail polish remover was another culprit. Then I took a look at my Dove anti-perspirant and guess what I found? Yep. Tocopheryl Acetate. Then over to look at my Bio Oil…and yes…there it is – Tocopheryl Acetate – beside which they have (Vitamin E) in brackets. My Simple Eye Make Up remover pads…yep – it’s there too, as well as in my Simple ‘Kind to Eyes’ make-up remover. Oh. And wait – my Simple ‘Kind to Skin’ light moisturiser SPF 15 has it as well.
Various other lotions (Boots No 7 for example) have Tocopheryl as do some other sunscreens. So my concern is this – how accurate is labelling? Do some products that have Tocopheryl as an ingredient actually have Tocopheryl Acetate? I’m going to avoid anything with Tocopheryl as an ingredient – which bizarrely includes my Cranberry supplement from Swiss Naturel which lists ‘mixed tocopherols’ in the ingredients. Time for some research into labelling laws and a massive shopping trip to Boots!
In the meantime, if any of you have had similar experiences please share! I’d love to know if anyone has had an allergic reaction to Tocopheryl, or if problems are restricted to Tocopheryl Acetate. After clearing out my cupboards I’m going to sort another appointment with the dermatologist to see what else I can find out.
What a journey!
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