Contact Reaction to Hair Conditioner

I want to scream right now. I want to tear my hair out and gnash my teeth. I really, really want to punch somebody. Maybe somebody in the FDA. Then maybe someone in one of the industry groups that lobby for less regulation. I want to throw genetically engineered tomatoes in the face of every business owner who thinks it is remotely acceptable to sell a single product without every damn ingredient clearly listed in plain language on every damn label.
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, Methylisothiazolinone
Just as a comparison, let me list the foods that my child is allergic to:
Peanuts, Shellfish, Eggs, Cows Milk, Goats Milk, Beef, Lamb
You 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.


TxMom said...

I am so sorry. My daughter has had skin reactions before that I am sure were caused by shampoo, conditioner, or (a long time ago) diaper rash cream with one or more of her allergens hidden in it, and I get incredibly frustrated over this too. I am crossing my fingers that the FDA decides to require allergen labeling for non-food products. Good for you for looking up the components of the ingredients to the conditioner (what you found has icked me out!).

Funky Food Trisha said...

I'm glad your son is doing okay--poor baby. My favorite corporate encounter so far for my allergic kid was Tylenol. They said, they couldn't confirm or deny that some of their products may or may not have corn in them.


I'm developing a large hamster bubble for my allergic kid. You want one?

ChupieandJ'smama (Janeen) said...

I'm so sorry!!! I always read the labels of shampoos and conditioners, but for wheat and almond oil (usually plainly listed and in so many products) but I never thought of egg hiding in ingredients. It just churns my stomach that we have no idea what we use on ourselves or put on/in our bodies. No wonder allergies are on the rise. Thanks for posting!

Anne said...

Man that is so frustrating! I hope they change the labeling soon so your little guy and others like him can be safe! :)

Speedbump Kitchen said...

So sorry! My little guy became a big hive after Cetaphil cream "Every Age, Every Stage, Every Day, Dermatologist recommended" is what it says...except for the ALMOND OIL...or the MACADAMIIA OIL in the Cetphil lotion!

Speedbump Kitchen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Wow! All these years that I've been carefully reading the ingredient labels of shampoos and other non-food products, It never occurred to me that all those innocent-looking chemically-sounding things could actually be food derivatives!

I regularly see obvious food ingredients in this type of product, but I never worried about the other ingredients.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your informative post. I'm so sorry that you had to go through this.

Maggie said...

Ugh, I hope he was feeling better the next day. It's so frustrating when things sneak up on you like that. I've heard great things about using straight coconut oil for conditioner. Smother the little beasties!

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry you went through that. Products do need to be regulated more carefully. Simmi is allergic to soy and I know that a LOT of "vegetable oil" that may be used as an emollient may actually be soy. Soy isn't a veggie anyway, it's a legume, so why do they direct any labeling as "vegetable oil?"
We keep it really simple and don't deviate from things that we know work for her.

Thanks for investigating and listing these products.

FoodAllergyMom said...

This post and it's comments have given me a knot in my stomach! The nut oils in Cetaphyl is unbelievable. Just thought I would share one more for everyone to be on the lookout for. Asthma inhalers with dairy ingredients. I had a huge list and can't find it now, but the two I remember are Advair and the inhaler form of pulmicort. My daughter's doctor wanted to put her on a daily pulmicort inhaler. No one would have known about the milk ingredient if I hadn't thought to ask...the doctor didn't mention it, the pharmacist didn't mention it!!! For the record though, pulmicort respules used in a nebulizer are "safe". Thank you for this eye opening post!

AllergyMentor said...

I have been frustrated by labeling on body care products too! Really, is it helpful to list the chemically appropriate names for the average consumer? There are so many ways to hide allergens under chemical names that people don't think about. Even organic products are hard to decode. I'm so sorry your little guy had to endure that. (Should he get lice, there is a wonderful enzyme based product on the market so you can skip putting the harsh pesticide on his head.) And watch out for medicine too. Chewable children's Zyrtec has milk! So do several other allergy and asthma meds. Yikes.

Momma Chef said...

My son was recently prescribed an oral antibiotic (in liquid form). Despite telling the doctor and pharmacist about his food allergies (which include dairy), the medicine I received had lactose as an inactive ingredient. The medical community is clueless when it comes to FAs. I am afraid that if we're ever in an emergency situation, my son could "accidentally" be given a drug that will make matters worse. It really is shameful how companies can hide potentially harmful ingredients and get away with it!

Lia-tard said...

As someone who is struggling to figure out what in my hair products is making my life miserable - and ocassionally having to drag myself through work pumped up with benadryl - I empathize deeply with your son. Although I have no known food allergies, I do have a few prescription allergies (including many types of antibiotics), and I've found doctors are even pretty nonchalant about these when prescribing me new things. And they're completely at a loss for how to pin point a new allergy other than to stop using everything (including soap... raise your hand if you smell bad because of allergies?) and add them back one by one over the next year. Modern medicine? Pretty sure I could use this style of deductive reasoning without paying out the ear for health insurance.

Anonymous said...

I have been struggling with problems with gels, then conditioners and now shampoo too. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to wash my hair. I can't even use the conditioner I bought at the health food store that only has 6 ingredients (all plant based) anymore. So now I wash my hair with baking powder diluted in water and condition with apple cider vinegar also diluted in water. I just pray I don't develop an allergy to these products. My hair feels clean, but looks terrible. I have dry, curly hair. So I wear it in a pony tail. I am going to have allergy testing done with a dermatologist in about 1 month. Hopefully there is something I can buy.

Anonymous said...

While I am sympathetic to your concern, as a pharmaceutical scientist, I can tell you that what you find on the internet (with regard to raw materials) is often misleading, and occasionally quite inaccurate. The devil, you might say, is really in the details.
I only hit your page because I was checking for some information on oleyl alcohol and was puzzled by the connection of oleyl alcohol to beef. I can tell you that the preferred source of oleyl alcohol is not animal derived (look up NOVOL NF, from Croda). I can not speak to what other people do, nor to what cosmetic companies do, but the pharma companies I've worked for (including some of the biggest developers of topical products) avoid animal-derived ingredients.

This may seem relatively unimportant, given that almost any plant or animal derived materials can all contain some allergen that causes a problem for someone, somewhere. There is a curious dilemma here, because the products least likely to contain allergens are also frequently the least popular with the most informed consumers, petroleum-derived synthetic ingredients. When you go into the stores where I shop (organic food & natural products) the odds of finding something labelled "petroleum-based, allergen free!" are pretty much zero.

Anonymous said...

I just to add a comment as my daughter have 16,000 allegies. Some are eggs, milk, soyabeans, peanuts, fish, cheese, bremuda grass, dog poo,( all diary products) furry animails, heat, dust mold, vaseline and she has asthma to top it all.

Unknown said...

Hi found your article interesting, I in my mid-twenties and have only developed allergic reactions to pretty much all hair products about the time I graduated from highschool. Never had an allergy test, just been going through trial and error to find something that works, what products have you found that your child can use with out having a reaction, I'd love to know so I can try!

Anonymous said...

Having spent months a few years ago trying to figure out what was making my eyes swell up and leaving me with red extremely sore skin, I decided to do trial and error of leaving make up/hair stuff off and took ages to work out what the common thread was.
It was panthenol. Which is apparently safe!! I can't go anywhere near it.
I was really affected by the reaction again a year later on a girls holiday as my friend had hairspray with it in!
I'd suggest avoiding it and seeing if that works. It's typical of me to be allergic to something used for sensitive skin!
It makes buying make up and hair stuff so difficult and it seems to be being used in more and more products. Each time something runs out I dread going to buy a new tube/packet in case it's been changed and now has it in

Melissa said...

I, too, have had experience with nuts in products, like someone said before, I used Cetaphil lotion on my son, only to discover (because his legs started to burn and break out in hives) that it had macadamia nut oil. I was completely surprised, since it was dermatologist recommended and for sensitive skin. I was also mad at myself, because I am usually an avid reader of labels, cosmetics, soaps, etc...

My big concern is when my son starts dating and wants to kiss a girl. He is allergic to sesame and tree nuts. How will he know if it is safe and what girl, who doesn't have the same issues, would even think about what is in her lip gloss, lipstick. It worries me.

I also agree that there should be more transparent labeling.

Adam Pash said...

Hello, I came to your blog and have been reading along your posts. I decided I will leave my first comment. I have enjoyed reading your blog.

Hair conditioner

Anonymous said...

I agree, and as someone still dealing with figuring out my contact dermatitis (yes, I've had patch testing, but these labels!!!), it's so hard! For example, I am allergic to rose, but phenoxyethanol is rose ether. I am very concerned about the list of fragrance... what fragrance is it? I have trouble eating from my allergy! We need some help! And, I am allergic to the protopic from white wax, which is bees wax that I am allergic to. I think I am allergic to elidel now, but am trying to figure it out...