Editors' Note: The following story is reprinted from Zel Allen's Nutgourmet Blog. We feel the information is so valuable it should be shared with a wider audience.
Tree Nut and Seed Oils-- a Benefit to Some-- a Vicious Tiger to Others
By Zel Allen
Because argan oil and shea butter have beneficial moisturizing effects on the skin, many cosmetic, body, and hair care manufacturers include them in a host of new products. They're in common use today and turning up everywhere, causing unpleasant allergic reactions in people who suffer from tree nut allergies.
Prompted by the comment about a previous post, "Beware the Cashew Allergy--and the Secret Mango Culprit!", I began to research the plaguing issue of allergic reactions from nut-derived ingredients, like tree nut oils, in body care and beauty products. What seems like a benign moisturizing lotion designed to soothe and comfort dry skin just might be the hidden culprit of a miserably itchy rash.
People with serious tree nut allergies are almost always super-vigilant about avoiding any kind of nuts or foods that contain nuts or nut oils, knowing that eating them will cause serious reactions, like anaphylaxis, that could send them to the emergency room. Serious tree nut allergies don't usually come and go--they are generally life-long.
But what about people who rarely eat nuts and don't realize they may have sensitivity to tree nuts and products containing nuts and nut oils?
Common tree nuts include Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pistachios, pine nuts, and walnuts. Uncommon tree nuts, used mostly in the form of oils in cosmetics and beauty, hair, and body care products include the argan nut, sold as argan oil, and shea nut, marketed as shea butter.
Rashes, eczema, and skin eruptions are no picnic
Manufacturers may say their product does not contain detectable protein residues from tree nuts, the trigger that causes allergic reactions, yet people sensitive to tree nuts and nut oils still react with eczema, rashes, and skin eruptions that drive them crazy with severe itching or burning.
Seeds, like sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, and flax, and oils from these seeds are also troublesome for some allergy sufferers and may cause similar reactions.
Ask the FDA for warning labels
While tree nut or seed oils used in cosmetic products may appear in the ingredient list, warning notations below the ingredient lists are rare and strictly voluntary. Just like foods containing tree nuts and other food allergens must be disclosed by naming the specific nut on the product packaging, the same ought to be protocol for body care and cosmetic products.
A warning on product labels like the following would be invaluable to those who must avoid these challenging allergens:
"Warning: This product contains oils derived from tree nuts and/or seeds."
Then, when Claude applied Cetaphil Lotion to alleviate his rashy misery, the rash worsened. Little did he realize that the macadamia oil in this product piled more fuel onto the raging fire. The product lists the macadamia oil in its ingredients, but Claude was unsuspecting that he actually had a nut allergy.
Here's the note from Claude:
"Then I bought Cetaphil lotion (has Macadamia nut oil), and the rash got even worse !!! Thanks to your blog, I'll stop eating cashew & pistachio. Will give away the Argan oil & Cetaphil lotion (recommended by dermatologists!!!)"
Argan oil is extracted from the almond-like nuts of the argan tree, Argania spinos, a fruit-bearing tree that grows wild in the desert regions of Morocco, Israel, and Algeria. The nuts, considered the fruit of the tree, are classified as tree nuts. Because argan oil is not highly refined and is cold-pressed, it may retain some or all of the allergenic protein that causes allergenic skin reactions in some people.
Allergic reactions to argan oil include skin eruptions that might resemble acne appearing on the neck, upper back, chest, and around the hairline. Other people may react with contact dermatitis, appearing as red, scaly and itchy skin.
One person loved the way her skin looked while using argan oil but reported having a sore throat and swelling of the tongue she never connected to the oil until she discontinued using it and the symptoms disappeared.
After using argan oil shampoo, some people developed severe dryness of the scalp, itching, and even pain.
Beauty in the Breakdown Blog reported dramatic breakouts with red, itchy, bumpy, and burning rash over the hands, face, shoulders and head after using argan oil on the hair.
Blog author Emily Bell says, " From my research, I have collected my own preliminary list of what to avoid in beauty products if you have a tree nut allergy: argan oil, almond oil, macadamia nut oil, shea butter, ginkgo biloba, and any derivation of walnuts such as walnut shell powder or Brazil nuts such as Brazil nut protein (in the Aveda Be Curly Style-Prep).
"In going back and inspecting all my beauty products, I have seen it all. There is also some debate on whether coconut oil should be added to the list, but I personally haven't had a reaction to it. (Update: There is also some debate on whether shea butter should be on the list. I absolutely love the smell of shea butter but have yet to determine whether or not I react to it.)"
Sold as a non-greasy oil for softening and hydrating the skin, the argan oil is used on the scalp and hair as well as the skin. As hair oil, it's used to prevent frizzing and split ends. With its high fatty acids content, the oil is thought to aid in preventing brittle hair. Because it contains high levels of vitamin E and antioxidants, some consider it to have anti-aging properties that help the skin retain its elasticity, softness, and youthful appearance.
In addition to being the source of oil used in cosmetic products, the argan tree provides other benefits in its native region. Its leaves are healthy food for cattle, while the wood becomes fuel for indigenous people.
The oil also has culinary uses in the regions where the argan tree is grown. Home cooks drizzle it on couscous and other native foods. The oil extraction process produces a thick residue that's sweetened by Berber cooks and used as a dip for bread, a traditional breakfast treat.
Medicinally, the oil is a good source of unsaturated fatty acids, tocopherol, and phenolic compounds considered beneficial in preventing cardiovascular disease, prostate cancer, and atherosclerosis. Some studies reported the oil helps to lower cholesterol, stimulates circulation, and improves immune function.
Shea Butter comes from a nut tree
The oil of the shea nut contains only a minimal amount of protein, the constituent in tree nuts that triggers allergenic reactions. It's not considered highly allergenic, but very sensitive people may want to exercise caution and avoid products containing shea butter. Though shea butter is not commonly used in cooking, it has sometimes provided a good substitute for cocoa butter used in chocolate processing.
Allergic symptoms may be as severe as anaphylaxis and asthma or mild as allergic rhinitis. Using shea butter can also result in annoying symptoms like dermatitis or hives, known medically as urticaria, resulting in itching or burning. Some people have even reacted with vomiting.
On the positive side, one health study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology in 1979 noted a medicinal value for shea butter in reducing nasal congestion in people suffering from rhinitis. Known mainly for its ability to soften and soothe dry skin, shea butter is often applied to calm skin rashes, dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis. Yet, for some people with tree nut allergy, shea butter is the cause of those miserable rashes and severe itching.
A note of appreciation
While my son is still plagued with itchy rashes that drive him a bit nutty, he is still sorting out troublesome ingredients that may be hidden in unexpected places.
Please do keep the comments coming. As new information comes my way, I'll gladly pass it on in this very nutty blog.
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