Real-life talk. I can’t drink Tea anymore. Tea is basically Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract. Me and unsweet tea, we were pals like BIG pals. Best Friends. Inseparable. My only real vice. I gave up soda years ago – like 2007 – so me and unsweet tea, we were big BFFs. The only thing I drank besides water and my one cup of coffee (I’m still unsure about coffee being well-tolerated for me, more on that later), But for now, we’ve had to break up. Enter major sad face. Like I know, being diagnosed with Allergic Contact Dermatitis (ACD) isn’t equal to so many out there suffering from disease, and I definitely want to keep that in perspective. But these last few years dealing with ACD has taken me to new levels of extremes I didn’t know existed.
When I was first diagnosed in 2006, dealing with my ACD seemed like a huge relief – I hear many people say that. I had a REASON for the struggle. My terrible eyelid dermatitis had a reason. Finally, and for the most part, it was pretty straightforward. I made some changes and moved on. With each new day, I became more comfortable with my new personal care products, and I was mostly unaware of my ACD. (To note, if I hadn’t cut out my fragrance and formaldehyde allergens from my personal care products, I would have been in trouble, but I did, and life moved on.)
Fast forward to my Balsam of Peru Allergy diagnosis in late 2018. It came after a long year of major struggle with my ACD and out of nowhere. Such a struggle. I spent the better part of 2019 avoiding more foods than you can imagine. Anywhere a cinnamate, benzoate, vanillin, or ferulic acid could occur naturally; I cut it out. Balsam of Peru Avoidance Diet, they call it. I was ruthless. Determined. I’ll stop these reactions, I thought!! And I did. I was CLEAR! But eating such a small amount of foods seemed extremely challenging. Slowly, over the last few months, I’ve built back a few things into my diet. Progress seems good. But Tea. Yeah. It’s out, it seems, for the long haul.
What is Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract?
Tea, black or green, is Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, and it’s highly complex. It contains hundreds of individual chemicals, and some are either Balsam of Peru chemical constituents, cross-reactors to them, or fragrance chemicals. Not every person with a fragrance or BofP ACD allergy reacts to tea, but it seems I do. Several very conservative, allergen-free hair products contain Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, and they make me itch terribly. It’s so wonderful to be one of the special ones. LOL. Tea, after all, is very flavorful and full of aroma. We do know that these flavor and aroma compounds include chemical compounds such as:
- linalool and linalool oxide are responsible for sweetness
- geraniol and phenylacetaldehyde are responsible for floral aromas
- nerolidol, benzaldehyde, methyl salicylate, and phenyl ethanol are responsible for fruity flavors
- trans-2-hexenal, n-hexanal, cis-3-hexanol, and b-ionone are responsible for a tea’s fresh flavor-courtesy of https://worldoftea.org/tea-chemistry/
We don’t know exactly how much it takes to elicit a reaction, but the majority of this list is an allergen for me. For now, though, it appears I’m off tea.
Most recently, in December 2019, I had another patch test. I’d had a patch of dermatitis on my chin I couldn’t get rid of for literally months, no matter how extreme my avoidance. Enter my latest patch test. It revealed a few new allergens, including Sodium Metabisulfite. Basically sulfites. Wine, preservatives, etc. Another huge blow to my diet. I’m still figuring this new allergen out. It takes a while, by the way, to do that. If you’ve been recently diagnosed with a new ACD allergy, be patient with yourself. These things are quite complicated, and getting a handle on them is important but definitely takes time.
Reactions can be so hard
I woke up yesterday with a rash on my chin and a very swollen face, especially around my mouth. When this happens, I immediately go into the brain-racing mode. What did I do? Did I eat something I shouldn’t have? Did I change anything? Where have I been? I go into major overload on anything that could be the culprit. ACD is a delayed hypersensitivity immune response, and reactions don’t show up for 12-24 hours and sometimes up to 72 hours after exposure. When a new rash pops up, it could be literally hundreds of things. This time, all of this popped into my mind:
- My son Chase had a birthday, and I unwrapped his gift with him – a new vinyl office chair which literally reeked and caused me a headache – Friday night. Formaldehyde allergy???
- I ate Brisket at a restaurant, and it tasted delicious – Saturday night. Sodium Metabisulfite or BofP spice allergy????
- I’m patch testing a few new facial serums on my arm – Saturday morning. Fragrance/Balsam of Peru allergy???
- I hugged friends and family at my son’s basketball game – Saturday night. Fragrance allergy???
The list could go on and on, but when you deal with as many ACD allergies as I have, literally everyday life can be a minefield. I was sad and angry yesterday as I got ready for church. Like no one tries as hard as I do to remove allergens from their everyday life. I try SO HARD! I even shouted at my husband, who commented about my swollen face and how sorry he was about it. “You CAN’T imagine how awful this is!!” I shouted and then later apologized for the explosion. He also apologized for even mentioning it. But. Just ugh. It’s tough. I’m writing about it to you to bring awareness to the ugh. If you have allergies, you know it.
Today, as my face is scaly and bumpy from sloughing off the rash of yesterday, I’m thankful. ACD reactions suck, but with an avoidance lifestyle, they do clear up. They go away. At the end of the day, I’m thankful I know what to avoid. I’m thankful for a patch test specialist who sent me a 12-page document of his own thoughts on what to avoid, how it all maps together in this complex land of chemical constituents and cross-reactors. I’m super thankful for some friends I’ve found on Facebook that have been through this for about as long as I have and help me make connections to keep me reaction-free as many days as possible. So very thankful for it all.
If you know someone who has struggled with eczema or atopic dermatitis their whole life and they haven’t been patch tested yet, they are a great candidate for a patch test. What a gift a patch test dermatologist can be. You can find yours at www.contactderm.org