By Mary Oquendo
Back when I was a teenager, I could never wear makeup. Every time I applied it, my face would break out in a rash. Not a good look when you’re 15 and sensitive about your appearance. Hypoallergenic makeup had just made its debut and even that would cause a problem.
Fast forward a couple of years, and sometimes a cleaning product, shampoo or fast food item I had eaten many times before causes rashes, broken skin and itching. Or I smell a gallon of shampoo and sneeze for the next half hour. Never any continuity to it. Sometimes a reaction, sometimes not.
My doctors feel it’s probably the preservative, dye or a fragrance, or any combination of the three the manufacturer is using. And as there is no rhyme or reason to it, the problem may actually lie in how it is manufactured or sourced.
What Is An Allergy?
An allergy is when the body’s immune system views a substance as harmful and overreacts to it. Your basic drama queen. It sets your immune system into overdrive. The substances that cause the reaction are called allergens. In response to the foreign invader (from a body’s perspective), the immune system makes an antibody called immunoglobulin E. The job of this antibody is to attack and neutralize the allergen. The symptoms that result from this process are called allergic reactions or responses.
What Are Allergic Responses?
Symptoms can range widely. Mild reactions can run the gamut from feeling mildly uncomfortable, to running eyes and nose, to sneezing, to rashes and hives, to discolored skin, to headaches, as well as in any combination of the above. More severe reactions can include difficultly breathing and/or swelling in mouth and throat areas. In addition, more serious reactions can result in life threatening conditions. And in some cases, the allergen is mildly reactive in the beginning, but over time can become life threatening.
How Do Allergens Make Contact?
- Inhalation: The allergen is released into the air. It may include diffusers, products applied to other people or something as simple as opening up a gallon of shampoo.
- Ingestion: The allergen is ingested into the body. This is usually food based.
- Absorption: The allergen makes physical contact with skin and is absorbed.
- Injection: The allergen is injected into the body. This is usually in the form of insect, spider or bee stings.
“I had issues with fragrances. Some just get me itchy, some get me sniffly, some give me a migraine, but others are really bad. I didn’t know I was so allergic to the citrus oils until my bather was washing a dog and turned around and freaked out. I could feel my face was irritated, but it was bad. Had hives on my face for four days, just being in the vicinity of the bath.” —Liz Tunstall
What Types of Products Can Be Problematic For Groomers?
Any of the products that we use or come in contact with on a day to day basis, as groomers, including shampoos, conditioners, spa products, diffused essential and fragrance oils, cleaners, clients overdoing perfume and so forth can be problematic.
How Can You Prevent Allergic Reactions?
The best way to prevent allergic reactions is to simply avoid the offending substance, but that relies on knowing what the allergen is and if it is listed on the ingredient label. However, that is not always an easy or reasonable option. As labeling is not regulated in the pet industry, we are subject to the honesty of the manufacturer as well. It’s generally a smaller population of people that have a problem with a particular substance, so it most likely will not be listed on the SDS (Safety Data Sheet) that is required on all products.
As an example, my father was deathly allergic to strawberries. Any product containing strawberries would not list strawberries as a hazard on the SDS because so few people have that particular allergy. Yet, he needed to know that. Peanut allergies are far more common and manufacturers need to note on all products if it was made in a facility that even processes nuts.
How About Using Hypoallergenic Products?
Providing it isn’t the preservative or shampoo base that contains an ingredient that is problematic for you, hypoallergenic products may work. As many shampoos use coconut derived shampoo base, it can be problematic for those with coconut allergies. In addition, some hypoallergenic products contain fragrances and dyes.
But I need to work! I can’t avoid my allergens!
If you absolutely cannot avoid the allergens that affect you, then this is a conversation you need to have with a medical practitioner of your choice to discuss desensitization, antihistamines, corticosteroids or epinephrine pens.
What to Do In an Emergency
If you have a known, life–threatening allergy, then a plan of action should be discussed with your co—workers, employers and employees. They need to be prepared.
If you work by yourself with a known, life–threatening allergy, have a medical alert call button and wear a medic alert bracelet. Or call 911. They have trained staff to walk you through an emergency situation or dispatch help.
Fortunately for me, avoiding those products that have caused a reaction is a reasonable option as they have never been life–threatening. But not everyone is so lucky. Being aware of the products you use and the possible effects is key to preventing allergic reactions.