Sunday, 18 September 2016

Quick (and slow!) skincare fixes: Part 2 - 'The eyes have (had) it': my brush with allergic contact dermatitis (aka eyelid eczema) prompts toiletries triage and cosmetics cull

Me, on a good skin day, dressed up for a wedding - but scroll on...!
I had been planning to do a post sometime on my overall skincare routine, having spent a couple of years now concertedly experimenting with various high end serums, night creams, eye creams, acid toners etc, and generally trying to up my game in terms of taking care of my skin, albeit very, very belatedly. But since the ill-fated day in April where I needed a quick fix before a gig for dark circles under my eyes, my whole dermatological regime has been thrown into total disarray and is only now starting to fall into (a very different) place...

For as well as buying that Clarins concealer mentioned in that post, in order to qualify for four free handbag sized items and a sponge bag to put them in, the sales assistant talked me into buying another skincare product, and I opted for a cream cleanser with gentian in it. I had forgotten to pack my usual Micellar water, which had actually started to sting a bit lately, so I was on the lookout for other eye makeup removing products that were suitable for sensitive skin. To the SA's credit, she said that this cleanser wasn't formulated specially for eyes, and might irritate some people, but that I would probably be okay. I was so keen to qualify for the goody bag(!) that I recklessly took a punt. 'It's Clarins, how bad can it be?' I thought to myself.

That night I took my make up off with this supposedly 'gentle, water-free formula for oily skin', that offered 'optimum comfort' and promised to leave my skin 'gently refreshed', albeit not necessarily my eyes, though there were no overt warnings not to use it on the eye area.  Well, as the next day wore on, my dark circles may have been history, but I swapped them for swollen eyelids that were both red and weirdly crepey - so-called 'lizard eyes'. It was a scary transformation, and not something I would have expected to happen while using such a premium brand.

Now you don't tend to see pics of women looking like s*** in any of the women's magazines, or even in some actual adverts for / articles on eczema products. Here is an image from an article in Allure magazine on the subject - she really has it bad as you can see...

But thankfully some of the beauty bloggers who suffer from eczema are brave enough to post pictures of themselves to raise awareness of the problem and its possible causes. Some have been lifelong sufferers, others, like me, have only started to have problems in later life.

So here goes - I would like to get the word out that some of the ingredients in so called 'dermatologically tested' and 'gentle' products are anything but. Or they can be for some people, say.

Moreover, this was not the first time I had had a bad reaction to a cleansing product, but over two years had elapsed, and I was fervently hoping the previous occasion was a one-off. I was down in Norwich, also at a gig(!), and had bought some 'emergency' cheapo, Spa brand 'cleansing eye makeup remover pads' the day before, prompting an identical flare up of the red, swollen, wrinkly variety described above. I spent half the evening hiding in the toilets at the venue, but at the end of the night when the lights went up there was no hiding place. I had warned the band of my dermatological crisis, and one of them, on seeing me, tactfully observed: 'You just engraved?' And trust me, that was being kind.

Spa?!?! Not as relaxing as it sounds

So while I was free of incidents between January 2014, and April of this year, I was starting to be aware of my skin's growing sensitivity in general. And now, since the Clarins 'do' in April, I have had frequent though intermittent problems, including one or two that were so bad friends said they wouldn't have recognised me! (Not that I left the house much at those times.)

I have now been 'under the doctor' since the beginning of August, and have had good results with a very mild hydrocortisone ointment. I know it has form for thinning the skin, but in a sufficiently low dose (0.5%) and used for a finite amount of time (two weeks), it really did help. But I did have a minor recurrence after I came off that, so the doctor put me on an immuno-suppressant called Elidel (pimecrolimus), also for two weeks.

It hurt like hell for the first week, as it is known to do, but my face got used to it after that and the cream has really made a difference. If anyone ever finds themselves in this unfortunate position, and is prescribed Elidel, I can definitely recommend persisting with it. The idea is that the medication turns off the allergic reaction to the affected area.

Irritating preservatives

Meanwhile, the doctor asked me to see if I could possibly identify what ingredients I might be allergic to, although I will also be going for patch tests at some point. Eyeballing the ingredients on the cheap wipes from 2014, my eye immediately lit on 2-BROMO-2-NITROPROPANE-1, 3-DIOL, a formaldehyde releasing microbial preservative, which is also in Simple wipes, would you believe? I have used those a lot down the years, but they were starting to bother me, now I think of it.

Then the Clarins cleanser has a controversial preservative in it called METHYLISOTHIAZOLINONE - that I can actually spell now without looking it up each time! I note that people suffering from an allergy to this have their own Facebook page, and it isn't pretty, like that pic of me below. The European regulations changed in 2005, allowing a much greater concentration of this chemical in beauty products, and dermatologists are witnessing an epidemic of cases of allergic contact dermatitis, especially in the past two years - perhaps these things have a cumulative effect, and are now just reaching a tipping point?

Here is a sobering article on the matter - I am that soldier, no question!

Truly shocking 'double decker' scenario - don't remember me this way!!

Now of course I don't know for certain that these are the two offending ingredients, but having done a triage of toiletries that have made my skin sting and those that don't, the pile containing one or other of these ingredients tells its own story. Yes, all unwittingly over the summer, I had regularly been using a hand wash (by The White Company!), a shower gel (by Molton Brown!), a supposedly nourishing shampoo with argan oil and a Micellar water, ALL with MI or some kind of formaldehyde-releasing chemical in it. Anything with 'urea' in the name is a giveaway of the latter. 

I also learnt in my reading up on the subject that there is a distinction between so-called 'leave-on' products (creams and to a degree also cleansers), and 'rinse off' products like liquid soaps, shampoos etc. The latter should be less of an issue in theory, as the residue is meant to be washed off your skin. In practice, however, I ain't so sure, plus there is the risk that you might inadvertently rub your eye with a finger that has just touched something really quite aggressive - which shampoos are as a rule. 

Very elderly shower gel on its last gasp

I should also say that my problem may not just be caused by preservatives in cleansing products, though they were definitely triggers. I sense that I may be guilty of contributory negligence of every stripe over the years, creating an underlying climate of intolerance which has finally blown! The other two villains in my triple pronged campaign of skin abuse may well be:

Using old makeup / skincare products

Hey, I have blogged about this more than once, have even been proud of myself for not being wasteful, and defiant in the face of the dire warnings of bad reactions to bacteria-ridden mascaras. Well, that was flagrant and chronic hubris on my part for which I may now be paying!

Using too many products at once

Certainly in the past two years, I have been testing and trying out loads of products in every skincare category imaginable, toggling between 2-3 serums or eye creams or toners in any given week, complicating my beauty regime to such an extent that my skin may not have known if it is coming or going! Goodness knows how Korean women get away with it, with their 21 step routines - but I think my skin was very possibly registering a protest vote...

After extensively reading blogs by fellow sufferers, I have now switched to a new set of skincare products, which also retains a few tried and tested favourites:

Facial cleanser / makeup remover - La Roche-Posay Toleriane and Fushi Organic Sweet Almond Oil (I also have their Coconut Oil, but have yet to try it.) I cannot speak highly enough of the Toleriane cleanser - it is totally bombproof, however sore my face is feeling.

Daytime serum - Olay Regenerist Daily Regenerating Serum (several years in, and counting!)

Daytime facial moisturiser - Nivea Light Moisturising Day Cream with SPF 15 (on cloudy days) and Paula's Choice Resist Super-Light Daily Wrinkle Defense with SPF 30 (for sunny days ;) )

Body lotion - Fushi Organic Virgin Unrefined Shea Butter. I would probably use most things, as it is only the face that is sensitive, though I would wash my hands well afterwards.

Shampoo - Dr Organic Vitamin E shampoo

Hand Wash - Marsiglia BioOliva with olive oil liquid soap, but anything wholesome-looking from T K Maxx will fit the bill

Night cream - either The Fushi Organic Sweet Almond Oil above or Dr Organic Manuka Honey Rescue Cream

Washing up liquid (for my dishes, I hasten to add!) - good old Ecover

And that's it so far, but I might gradually - and very tentatively - try to introduce a few other things at some point. Also, I don't think soap is the problem, nor perfume - oh, I do hope not! Nor parabens or SLS or other additives that often come under suspicion. I am just being really careful while I try to figure out if my hunch about the preservatives is correct.

Trusty staple Nivea has never been anything other than benign

And even now, I can't be sure if the dermatological demons were just resting on shoulder for a while or have dug their forks in for the long haul...But with my new armoury of truly gentle products, a policy of wearing only new-ish makeup, and not too often at that, I am least doing everything I can to keep them at bay.

Me today, not a scrap of makeup - first such photo on here in 7 years!

And the good thing to have come out of all of this? The fact that I have had to wear no makeup almost all summer. Unthinkable, really. And to my astonishment, I have still been served in shops and some friends have said they didn't even notice - whereas I thought I looked completely different. I haven't not worn makeup since I was 18. So the summer has been character building, and a real eye opener in a good way, as well as harrowing and depressing at times.

Have you suffered from eczema of any kind? Do share your own tips and remedies in the comments!


  1. Oh, oh, your *poor* face. How horrible for you. Am so glad to see that you are getting some relief via medics and the search-and-destroy campaign once you identified the most likely culprit. I'm lucky not to have had to deal with anything like that (though the everything-coconut-related-or-extracted sensitivity is tiresome, I only get short flare ups, and nothing on my eyes.)

    1. Hi crikey,

      Sorry you have even a coconut-related issue, which can be tricky I am sure. Anything on your eyes does feel personal somehow, and makes you quite self-conscious. I can laugh about it my worst I did look as though I had been fighting. ;)

  2. I'm happy you got it all under controll again. I've always thought one has to be born with intolerances and allergies, but I learned on my own that it's unfortunately not the case :-(. I react with itchy and red eyelids and under eye area when I can't resist something I rather shouldn't eat or drink (chick peas, tomatoes, aubergine, RED WINE, etc).
    I wanted to suggest La Roche Posay products, I had good experience with them - but I can see you found them already. I wonder though that your Nivea day cream has no nasty preservatives in it. Wishing you lots of patience, V.

    1. Hi lady jane grey,

      That is interesting - and bothersome - that you have similar flare ups linked to what you eat. I wonder if the patch tests will turn up any dietary triggers, but my working theory is still the cleansers. Nivea don't have either of the preservatives I think I am sensitive to, or not in that particular product I mentioned. I am not writing off whole brands, just taking care to read labels from now on. Thanks for the good wishes!

    2. I'm quite sure the patchtest will shown some "activities" 😒 - pls let me know (I didn't consider my skincare, because I haven't changed anything for a while, but that in fact is no argument...)

    3. I will report back for sure...we could find we each have some in a whole other category!

  3. As you know, little goes on my skin that doesn't come via the NHS. It's mostly for the sake of my hands, but I noticed about a decade ago that even the fairly minimal make up I wore was beginning to irritate - and decided that bare face was probably a better look than red-eyed and spotty.

    1. Hi Hazel,

      I do recall that it is your hands that are the main trouble. It is possible that there might be truly hypoallergenic products in the makeup line somewhere out there, but if you are happy as you are, I see no need to bust a gut to find them!

  4. Hello Vanessa, thank you for sharing so candidly. Good for you for going with your doctor's recommendation and sticking with it.

    Over the years I have become increasingly sensitive to sulphur-based chemicals like sulfates, first in food and over time in supplements and toiletries. I always read the label on everything I buy, so I can spell methylisothiozolinone, too. :) These long-named substances are in so many products.

    As I've reached a certain age I find that I have a mystery patch of red itchy skin that breaks out on my right elbow. So strange. It seems to be triggered by stress, and improves if I put something greasy on it like Aquaphor or Mom's Stuff salve, a wonderful skin soother.

    And thank you for sharing the products you use. I'm going to try the Olay for daytime. I like using another of their products at night. I've been looking for a sulfate-free shampoo and the Organic Doctor product looks to be a good possibility.

    1. Hi Tiffanie,

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your own issues with sulfates. Good to meet another label reader. ;)

      I am sure that stress can aggravate skin conditions of all kinds, this included. Speaking of your elbow and greasy things, I have also used Vaseline on my eyelids here and there over the summer - when I wasn't on the other medication, say. I have read about Aquaphor and gather it is in the same paraffin-y vein, but better.

      That Olay serum is the bomb - even Paula Begoun rates it highly and she is sparing with her praise of other brands. I find it very silky and non-irritating. It can be found for £10 on Amazon, with labelling in Greek or some such, so I never buy it at full price in the store. ;)

  5. Oh my gosh, I had no idea you'd been going through the skin wringer like this. So sore! And so itchy and distracting. Argh!
    I had a reaction to a shampoo about 18 months ago. Luckily for me it was one of those instant reactions, so I knew what to cut out straight away. But even once I rewashed my hair and body in something I knew was OK, I was still itchy and sore, and in some unexpected places, too. (How the hell did it get on my eyelid?)
    I scoured the internet for an instant fix for the itch and got a stack of different suggestions. I went with one from Jane Daly's blog, which surprised me but was cheap and easy to try: Dove original bar soap. I know it's heavily scented, but because I was pretty sure it wasn't fragrance that I was reacting to, I gave it a try - even for washing my hair and face. Worked really well, I was surprised to say.

    I'm really lucky because I'm close to Escentual's bricks and mortar store in Cardiff, so I can buy almost everything from a French pharmacy there. I went with the Aderma range, and was really pleased with their Exomega Emolient cream, which I used on all my skin everywhere with great success (it contains oatmilk, which I see as a recommendation for excema in a lot of places). I also got some Avene Cicalfate, which was fantastic on my eyelids and on areas of skin that were breaking down. I now keep a tube around just in case, especially when traveling; along with a bar of Dove.
    Paranoid? Me?

    And I'm now avoiding SLS in shampoos and am a fellow Ecover dishwashing liquid fan.

    1. Hi Lisa,

      Thank for your long and informative comment! Shampoo is notorious for getting everywhere, including the eyes, my doctor said. In order to work properly as a detergent it has to be quite harsh and the stuff migrates from your hairline into your eyes, he said. It is one of the first things he suspects when patients present with this, after toiletries directly slapped on the eyes, as in my case.

      That is interesting about Dove: I have a bar somewhere but wouldn't have thought to use it in these circumstances.

      And lucky you living near Escentual HQ! I am sure I would go mad in there like a kid in a sweet shop! I think I like the sound of the porridge oats delivered in 'oatmilk' form in that cream you mention. It is supposed to be very soothing. I shall look up that product and the Exomega one you recommend. I am avoiding SLS if I can, but it is hard to dodge entirely. Plus I am not sure it is a trigger as such for me.

  6. Oh my God, poor you!So, let me get this straight, the powers that be thought it was ok up lower the threshold for the amount of this METHYLISOTHIAZOLINONE in skincare products but think that oakmoss is going to kill us? I have a very bad word in my head right now. I am so sorry that you've had to go through this, Vanessa. And you look amazing with or without make-up. I recently had to go without it myself when I had a herpes infection on my eye (who knew!) that saw my eye area swell like a baboon's arse. Turns out nobody noticed the lack of make-up. Probably because they were all staring at my baboon's arse eye area, mind you. But since then, I've been going out without makeup and nobody's laughed or pointed at me once :-) I hope this is the beginning of some kind of liberation for you and that at least something good or life-affirming will come out of this! xxx Claire

    1. Hi Claire,

      Funny you should mention IFRA and methylisothiazolinone in the same breath as I nearly made that very point in my post. 'MI', as it is known for short, is more likely to provoke reactions than parabens apparently, but I found an article explaining why it is not as simple as just banning it. Maybe I am in a tiny minority, who knows? The chap in the article suggests labelling the more notable allergens in bolder type. That would be a good start, but you have to suffer first to know to avoid the things in question, if you do even find out where the problem lies!

      Poor you with your baboon's arse eyes. I know exactly how you must have looked. Herpes on your eye doesn't sound at all funny. But as you found, the going without makeup can be quite liberating. It's been a total sea change for me, though I shall still wear some slap for going out.


  7. Hi Vanessa,
    That was brave!
    I wonder is skin becomes more sensitive as we age? Mine certainly is more stroppy nowadays, it's possible that I am too. Oddly Clarins is one the brands that seems to work well for me though.
    Looking at the first picture of the angry (closed) eyelid, I must say, I'm reminds of a duo body part that women don't have! I feel empathy for your Clarins attack but I'm also chortling. xx

    1. Hi Sarah,

      I agonized long and hard about including the very gross photo, but if it can help increase awareness of the ill effects that 'some people' may experience when in contact with these allergens it will be worth it. Also, I remembered you had posted some pictures of your own laser therapy?

      Glad that Clarins works - there is no rhyme nor reason to this skincare lark. LOL at your analogy about my closed eye. I did in fact have a pair! Less hairy, maybe?

    2. My laser therapy photos were certainly a shocker! I remember my boss at the time saying that the purple dots made me look like a sweet cartoon character (in an attempt to make me face working the wards at the hospital). What an absolute load of eyelids! Aherm.

      Yes it's definitely worth sharing the horror re allergens. I think they should bring back common use of parabens. There is no legitimate evidence of them causing cancer and they were a reliable preservative. I'm sick of my favourite skincare products having a 6 month expiration date.
      I hope your skin is tip top now x

    3. I am not surprised you weren't feeling like a 'sweet cartoon character', and I chuckled at 'load of eyelids' in the light of your earlier commennt. ;)

      I don't think the parabens are bothering me, certainly and this MI stuff seems much harsher. My skin is 'quiescent' at the moment, thanks, but fingers crossed. Every day I wake up without two storey oedemas I count my blessings! Yours certainly looks fine and dandy now. x

  8. Oh, Vanessa, what a nightmare - I am glad that you are recovering. Never blame yourself for all this! I am afraid that as we "mature" our skin becomes thinner, drier and more fragile and thus becomes more susceptible to irritations. The irritants aren't the same for everyone as we are not all made the same way, but I have also had bad experiences with Clarins (which isn't quite as "natural" as we might think it is), some organic brands and Nivea. I would go as far as to say I think you might be better off ditching the Nivea cream as it might turn round and bite you in the bum, sorry, on the face .....

    Simple used to make a brilliant eye cleanser which was effective and so gentle, but of course they reformulated it and I didn't realise this until I used it and felt like I'd wiped my eyes with acid! So much for being kind ...

    I now use almost exclusively the French "pharmacy" lines, Avene being my particular favourite. Avene creams keep my skin on an even keel.

    Sometimes I yearn for a fancy product which contains precious oils from exotic flowers and fruits of the rain forest and which will transform my face into that of Helen of Troy, but I've learnt that happy skin is so much more comfortable than raging, inflamed epidermis! Besides, Avene is really reasonably priced too.

    And yes, you look great without makeup - isn't it funny how we think we need a mask in which to greet the outside world, and yet nobody even notices if we are barefaced or not?


    1. Hi Jillie,

      Thanks for your wise and helpful comments - the more I think of it, the more I realise that age has a big part to play in all this, and in fact the doctor said as much. He's seeing an epidemic of middle aged women suddenly manifesting all these problems, due in part to cumulative use of loads of different products, with a particularly irritating ingredient sometimes lighting the blue touch paper. In my case the doc is convinced it is the preservatives even before I have the patch tests, because he sees so many cases that turn out to be that!

      And it is so true that Clarins isn't as natural as we might think. I have ditched my Nivea Micellar water actually, as that stung, ditto the Garnier equivalent, and I did have a bad experience with two organic eye gels, so natural can be problematic too. It is just a case of trial and error, half the time, and people may not find the products I have recommended helpful necessarily, but they are something to consider. Simple is also now on my black list after using them for years - both the moisturising lotions and wipes are guilty of including one or other of these preservatives.

      You totally nail it with your comment about not overegging things and just appreciating calm skin even if you aren't able to try out all the latest anti-ageing stuff. I recently received a PR sample of a pot of Dr Sebagh cream that costs £145 but has an ingredient list as long as your arm! If I do try it at some point, it will be with caution and I may avoid my eyes...

      The going barefaced in public has been an absolute revelation and thanks for saying I have got away with it. ;)

  9. Yes, not wearing make-up is an exercise in openness. At least for me as I always seem non-existent in other people's eyes. I know it's only in my head but it took me ages to accept the way I look without make-up. :)
    Thank you for the research, I'll go and read the article you linked - I'm personally switching more and more to natural cosmetics as I can tell they are beneficial for my face. A woman I know does into natural (hand-made) creams, serums and oils so lately I buy stuff from her and I found a perfect cleansing oil which has now become a staple for me.

    1. Hi Ines,

      I can't imagine that you would be non-existent in anyone's eye - I think you have a very distinctive look! Interesting to hear you are going more the natural route and that you have had good results with the cleansing oil from this lady that makes up her own stuff. I do agree that once you find something that works, it is good to stick with it!

    2. I just read my comment now and I wonder how you made any sense out of it - I seem to have lost parts of sentences there. :) I guess it was too early for me. ;)

    3. No worries, I think I got the gist! ;)

  10. This post really shows the extent of grief you've been suffering, V. It also makes me think again about all the ingredients I'm putting on my face and body. My skin was very dry and itchy over the weekend which could be food-related or a result of too much acid exfoliation.

    As you know I'm looking at nuts being the trigger for eczema returning to my legs after 30 odd years but it occurred to me it could be diary as I've switched to organic butter from olive spread!

    Well done for narrowing down the possible suspects. That formaldehyde stuff sounds scary. I must say you look fantastic without make-up though. I look half-dead!

    The Toleraine and oils are a great move. I know beauty experts are dead against those cleansing wipes. Caroline Hirons says they should be used for the 3 Fs only - flights, festivals and fannies :)

    1. Hi Tara,

      I am following your nut exclusion trials with interest, and I hope you get to the bottom of it. If you think dairy could be the suspect, you may have to do some tests with that, just changing one element at a time so you know what is what.

      I am very scared to do acid exfoliation at the moment as those products are by definition a bit strong. My go-to acid toner called Bravura has 'urea' in, which is one of these formaldehyde chemicals, so if I reintroduce that it will be very gingerly and not on my eyes. ;)

      You do not look half dead without makeup, haha. You have such strong features whereas mine are very small by comparison. It's how we feel about ourselves that matters. If you had to go barefaced for weeks you might change how you felt about yourself - or at least get used to the natural look as I have gradually done.

      Yes, I caught up with Caroline Hirons' wonderful quote on wipes a bit late in the day, sadly, having used them for years and years already. But the Simple brand that was my staple are far from Simple in practice, sadly!

  11. I'm very sorry to hear you have been going through this.

    Thank you for the article and the pictures. I agree that you look great without makeup. Just a lipstick can do a lot to brighten a face.

    It's ironic that Methyl-etcetera is a replacement for the allegedly evil parabens. Fortunately I had read about it on Paula's website and avoid it in anything even shampoos. I hadn't known about the formaldehyde releasers or that, therefore, urea is a problem. I've only used it on my feet. Thank you for that info.

    Personally, I know I have to avoid hair products with wheat protein as they cause my scalp to itch. I have to admit that at first I thought it might be product used on your long bangs that had caused the issue.
    You can't always tell what's going to set off contact dermatitis and then whether an increasing number of products will do so. My sister developed it on her chest (due to those sticky pads used for leads on a heart monitor worn overnight). She got a very, very long list form her dermatologist of things to avoid. Some of them can be re-introduced over time.

    I have wondered sometimes about beauty bloggers who complain about the condition of their skin when they are constantly changing products. I'm of the school of "find something simple and inexpensive (after reading the ingredients) and stick with it." (But then I don't have to have things to write about.)
    Sadly, as Jillie mentions, you find something good and then it gets re-formulated!
    I think Korean women get away with 21 steps because they choose only one cosmetic line that they don't have a problem with. I always thought it was upselling when SAs told you to buy only from one line, but I think they may be right. I would, for instance, be willing to try more Regenerist products as the serum doesn't bother in any way. I'll probably prove myself wrong as some of their other products may have an irritating ingredient. Damned if we do.... Sigh.

    It is true that "natural" can be better, but those with essential oils can be problematic as we all react differently to them. Or even to benign carrier oils, as Crikey mentions for her it is products containing coconut. I think Gaia has mentioned being allergic to coconut as well.

    I don't have any advice beyond, it all amounts to a rather scary search for what each of us finds safe and effective.

    Difficult with the enticements of gifts with purchase. :-)

    Do keep us posted on how you're doing.

    -- Lindaloo

    1. Hi Lindaloo,

      Thanks for your lovely comments - I read about your own skincare experiences with great interest. I read up on that 'MI' chemical on Paula's website and there is a lot about it on the Net generally. I don't seem to react to parabens, which get everywhere, I see, unless you hunt down really quite obscure brands and products.

      Oh I say, I didn't know wheat protein could be a trigger, and you make a good point about my fringe possibly transporting shampoo residue into the orbital cavities! The immediate trigger of the flare ups I had was always when directly wiping my eyes with something, but the fringe or 'bangs' highway may have contributed to the whole escalation of sensitivity. And your poor sister to be given such a long list of things to avoid. As you say, it is a moving feast and it may be possible to revert to products you used happily enough in the past.

      I am not convinced that sticking to the same brand eliminates problems as those pesky preservatives may pop up in one product and not be there in others - Nivea is an example of that in the different formulations of their Micellar water versus the light moisturising cream I like.

      I think essential oils have stung me in the past - it is just a suck it and see scenario and a rolling one at that!

      I will indeed report back, whether I am successful at keeping this thing at bay or whether I have a relapse or identify more triggers. The patch test results will be interesting too.

  12. Oh, you poor thing - I had no idea you have been fighting this! :( Very glad to hear you have found some passable solutions for the moment at least.

    FUNNY thing: I adore some Clarins products, but all of their cleansing things have always given me some kind of a reaction! Don't know why. So I just stick to some of theirs, occasionally.

    As much as I love fragrance (and, I mean, you do know how much I do), the best products for cleansing your eyes and face, plus eye gels and creams have a mild scent. Essential oils in your facial skincare products are a terrible idea if your skin is sensitive. Best to go fragrance-free to be sure. Glad you've already found French pharmacy.

    Now, about those preservatives.

    The whole paraben scare was a massive myth. It started from dodgy science that was quickly debunked, but by then the chain emails and rumours had spread...

    The reason so many cosmetics companies started taking parabens out wasn't because there was anything wrong with parabens. The reason was because there was so much pressure from consumers to offer 'paraben-free' products. And by the time we started seeing 'paraben-free' as a positive thing, the circle was complete.

    Propyl- and methylparaben are the mildest, most broad-range, effective preservatives that were extremely useful to cosmetic chemists because they killed such a broad range of microorganisms, very rarely caused irritation and allergies, and could be dosed at very low levels.

    Almost all of the paraben replacements require higher doses (therefore more potential for problems) and do not cover as wide a range of mircoorganisms.

    Some have ended up being much, much worse.

    There is more paraben naturally in a couple of handfuls of blueberries than your body will ever absorb from a lifetime of cosmetic use!

    The paraben thing has been bugging me for years. It's an example of jumping from the frying pan to the fire, and for what?

    1. Hi Pia,

      Thanks for dropping in! I was so glad to get your take on this, as an industry insider with a much greater knowledge of what goes into all these products.

      I quite agree that essential oils are a bad idea in facial skincare products for those with sensitive skin - I remember using a Dermalogica exfoliating product that was meant to be gentle and had lavender in and some other things and which I found irritating even before all this kicked off.

      I knew nothing about parabens or the preservatives that have replaced them till I started to look critically at my own toiletries, and my experience plainly points to the new generation being problematic and the parabens being pretty benign, relatively speaking.

      I certainly feel I am in the fire, thanks to these harsh preservatives I have unwittingly been using routinely.

    2. Thank you Pia for your response to the issue of parabens. I share your understanding. It is sad to see more and more products going "paraben free," but not better.
      Also sad/bad is the growth of exfoliants using plastic micro-beads. Every line has to have one. May not hurt our skin but makes fish die when they mistake the beads for food.

      -- Lindaloo

    3. Pleased to say that those microbeads are being banned with effect from next year over here. It was announced just the other day.

    4. They are being banned here in North America, too.
      Was just checking the ingredients of an Yves Rocher Gardenia shower gel which is no longer made. Imagine my disappointment to find the evil Methyliso-etcetera listed.
      Happily, Yves Rocher is finally listing actual ingredients of the majority of their products their web site and it appears the evil one has bitten the dust in any of their shower gels.

      -- Lindaloo

    5. Ah, shame about that shower gel, but at least it is a thing of the past. I have a gardenia (Monoi) one by Yves Rocher that Tara gave me and it is happily free of the dreaded 'MI' villain and in current use. I wonder if we are talking about the same one? How many gardenia scented ones can they do? ;)

  13. Ouch Vanessa, that looks very uncomfortable.

    I'm happy to hear that you think you may have isolated the offending additive which I'm not going to try to spell. I have not had eczema but hives many times usually from makeup or sunscreens.

    I love Embryolisse which I've used for years, and Complex 15 which is scentless,simple, and never causes me to break out. I even give it to my daughter who has acne. Complex is inexpensive and great in summer and fall.

    For the record I think you look fine without makeup!

    1. Hi Blacknall,

      Ooh, commiserations on the hives. I had not heard of either of those products you recommend, and see that Embryolisse at least is available over here, whereas Complex 15 seems to be confined to your side of the pond.

      Kind of you to say I look okay without makeup. Tonight I had a bit of a flushing incident while chopping raw onion and garlic and peppers AND drinking red wine for the first time in a month, so I hope this doesn't mark the beginning of added food triggers, such as Lady Jane Grey above suffers from. That would be one more set of complicated variables to untangle!

  14. Dear Vanessa,

    I sympathize a LOT with your sufferings and I'm glad that you got better. Please keep being cautious.

    I've never had it as bad as what you've bravely demonstrated but I recognize the look of that skin: I had a reaction similar to what's on your first picture. OTC hydrocortisone cream helped.
    It's too late now (and I'm just off the plane), but tomorrow I'll start reading all the labels! And I will finally make that dermatologist appointment I thought of making after reading your previous skincare post :) (thank you! Keep writing them!)

    1. Dear Undina,

      Your sympathy is gratefully received. I will keep being cautious and am trying to remember to wash my hands every time I touch something a bit untoward, from metal objects to dishwasher tablets, because inevitably my hands stray to my eyes at some point, if only when I am asleep!

      Yes, hydrocortisone is pretty good, and I especially liked the ointment. I had to get the very mild version from the doctor though - even at 0.5% concentration it was most effective.

      Hope you had a great holiday! I am definitely a born again label reader. There are soooo many ingredients on a lot of high end brands you have to wonder if they are all justified / benign.

  15. I've had similar issues now and then. It's awful. The thing I've found that works pretty well is, believe it or not, diaper rash cream. The ones with zinc in them like Desitin. It works better than the hydrocortisone for me most of the time. That and Benadryl.

    1. Hi Poodle,

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your own remedies - sorry to learn that you have had similar trouble. You have reminded me to take antihistamines more regularly. I was going to investigate Aveeno Baby Cream next as it happens, and having googled your Desitin it also looks promising. Thanks for the tip!

  16. I highly recommend the book No more dirty looks by Siobhan O'Connor and Alexandra Spunt. It tells the truth about the ingredients in conventional skincare and it's not nice!