Today my little boy came home from Kindergarten with a letter explaining that one of the other children in his class had been found to have head lice, and listed a few precautions we were to take. My mom, who has taken the baton for the last leg of our houseguest marathon, mentioned that nits are not big fans of hair conditioner. So as she bathed my my child, I grabbed my own conditioner from my bathroom, and we applied it to my son's already silky soft hair and let it sit on his head for a while as he blew bubbles in the bathtub.
After rinsing the conditioner off, mom noticed some hives on his back. She soaped up a washcloth and washed his torso, but they continued to get worse after the bath. We didn't know what they were from, and we all wracked our brains trying to figure out if any of us had been in contact with any unsafe foods. Finally I gave him some Benadryl, wrapped him up in a blanket, and let him go to sleep on the sofa in the living room, so we could keep an eye on him in case of a secondary reaction.
The only thing in my child's routine or on his menu that was the least bit different was using the conditioner. So I grabbed the bottle of Equate Pro Vitamin Conditioner ("Compare to Pantene Pro-V Classic Care!") and started searching for names of chemicals on Google.
INGREDIENTS: Water, Cyclopentasiloxane, Stearamidopropyl, Dimethylamine, Cetyl Alcohol, Quaternium-18, Panthenol, Panthenyl Ethyl Ether, Stearyl Alcohol, Dimethicone, Polysorbate 60, Cetearyl Alcohol, Benzyl Alcohol, Oleyl Alcohol, Glyceryl Stearate, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Fragrance, Citric Acid, EDTA, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, MethylisothiazolinoneJust as a comparison, let me list the foods that my child is allergic to:
Peanuts, Shellfish, Eggs, Cows Milk, Goats Milk, Beef, LambYou wouldn't think there would be any intersection between the list of ingredients in my conditioner and my son's allergies, would you? You would be wrong.
Quaternium-18 is derived "from fatty acids of tallow," i.e., beef or mutton fat.
Panthenol is derived from Pantothenic Acid, of which some of the best sources are "liver, kidneys, fresh green vegetables, and egg yolks."
Panthenyl Ethyl Ether can be produced from "corn oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, and caster oil."
Stearyl Alcohol is made from Stearic Acid, which can be made from any number of animal fats or vegetable oils.
Cetearyl Alcohol is "made by combining fatty alcohols from vegetable sources, such as coconut alcohol."
Oleyl Alcohol is derived from beef fat.
Glyceryl Stearate has a multitude of sources, such as "animal fats and plant oils including soya bean, palm kernel and corn oil."
I do realize that my child, like other individuals with food allergies, has an immune system that responds innapropriately to the proteins in specific foods. Derivatives from a specific food do not necessarily contain that protein, which is why those with peanut allergies may supposedly be able to consume peanut oil safely. (Even if true, I wouldn't want to trust my son's life to the the risk of of any contamination.)
What I do not understand is why is any manufacturer is allowed to put nonsense such as "fragrances" on a label instead of an actual ingredient. I also do not understand why we do not require plain language labeling which reveals an ingredient's source, such as "Oleyl Alcohol from beef fat." I highly doubt that was kosher beef, and I'm sure my vegetarian and vegan friends would also like that tidbit of information.
Even more frustrating is that FALCPA, the law which requires food labels to list in plain English the eight major allergens, "milk; eggs; fish such as bass, flounder, and cod; crustacean shellfish such as crab, lobster, and shrimp; tree nuts such as almonds, walnuts, and pecans; peanuts; wheat; and soybeans," as well as proteins derived from them, does not apply to medicines or health and beauty products. (The vast numbers of people allergic to corn or sesame, or like my son animal proteins like beef or lamb, are just up a creek.)
So if the Panthenol is derived from egg yolk or the Stearyl Alcohol is made from peanut oil, which are both Big Eight Allergens, they are still not required to be listed in plain English on the label, since hair conditioner is not a food. They might not have been covered anyway, if no proteins are technically included in them.
To top off the obfuscation, the manufacturer is under no obligation to give me, the consumer, any information on the components of the "fragrances" listed casually on the bottle. I can spend my money any way I please and refrain from purchasing any product that fails to meet my expectations, but I should be able to get the facts to base my decision from a label without a degree in chemistry and detective agency at my disposal!
The same problem plagues food labels that list "flavors" and "spices" as if the words revealed information about the product rather than concealed it. If you are allergic to cinnamon or garlic, best of luck to you. You will need it and the patience I have all but lost when you call the manufacturer.
No business should be able to claim any kind of proprietary secrets when it comes to ingredients that are meant to be consumed or applied to the bodies of the consumer. I've got a suggestion for The Colonel as far as what he can do with his eleven herbs and spices.
List them on the label.