Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Care and Treatment for Allergies and Sensitive Skin, and Going Alcohol Free: An Overview

I know I've not been around much lately and I could go on about my personal life and everything going on, but I don't want to bore you guys. You're here for skincare and makeup and to talk about sparkly things. This post won't be so much on the sparkly side, but a rather long overview of how I'm currently caring for my allergies, sensitive skin, breakouts, and how I've gone heavy chemical, sulfate and alcohol free in many of my body and skincare products.

I have to start off by saying that I am not a physician and you should not take anything I say here as concrete medical advice. Always consult with a physician before you begin any new or radical changes in your medications or skincare routine. I have seen a dermatologist and an allergist now, so I would highly recommend that if you suffer from allergies and skin conditions like I do, consult a doctor as they will be able to tell you what you need more than I can.


Many skin conditions are related to allergies. Most people don't realize that sometimes when they have chronic dry or itchy skin, they are actually allergic to something in their environment that is causing the issue. For me, my allergist recommended something as simple as dust mite covers for my bed and pillows, and I am curious to see if that makes a difference in my overall health. 

I consulted an allergist last week because I've had off and on allergies for most of my life. They usually involved skin and sinus reactions, but more recently I've had a few anaphylaxis reactions and it scared me into consulting an allergist. I had extensive testing done, including a scratch test involving approximately 90 pricks to my skin. But that's a story for another day.

ALLEGRA/ZYRTEC/CLARITIN: These are basic anti-histamine, Fexofenadrine based, daily pills. They are available over the counter now and the price will vary depending on where you purchase. Allegra and Claritin are 24-hour doses, but the Zyrtec is labeled as 12-hour, so keep that in mind. As this is over the counter, you do not need a prescription (this is in the United States but I'm sure the rest of the world has similar products) BUT you will want to talk to a doctor about the differences and what will work best for you. I take Allegra but my brother takes Zyrtec. I get mine from Costco for around $31 for 90 pills (a 3 month supply). This helps with day to day allergic reactions: coughing, sneezing, sinus congestion, headache, and can also help with physical reactions such as anaphylaxis and dry skin.

SINGULAIR/MONTELUKAST: Montelukast is generic Singulair. This is available only by a prescription from a physician. This works in conjunction with Allegra or Claritin to further help alleviate allergy symptoms. If you have occasional seasonal allergies, your doctor probably will not prescribe this to you. I actually have not started taking mine yet, so I cannot tell you of any side effects or how I feel about the medication. It is just what I was prescribed. (Price will vary depending on insurance and where you purchase it. I got mine from Costco for $27.49, 30 day supply. It was the cheapest place by far.)

VENTOLIN/ANY INHALER: I was given an inhaler due to my throat and chest tightening reactions from an unknown allergen. Many people with asthma also have allergies, and the asthma is a symptom of the allergic reaction. If you have EVER had the sensation of your throat tightening, chest constricting, or had difficulty breathing, you'll want to see an allergist and talk to them about carrying an inhaler. Keep in mind that just because the reaction wasn't severe initially, over time you can have more and more severe reactions to allergens, which can eventually lead to an emergency room visit or even a fatal reaction if you can't react fast enough. (My Ventolin inhaler was $40 with insurance coverage.)

Your doctor may also prescribe you an Epipen for serious allergic reactions. If during the allergy scratch test, you react severely at all, or if you've ever had an anaphylaxsis reaction, be prepared to receive a suggestion to carry one of these on you. They are incredibly pricey for most people, and I actually have not gotten one yet because of the price. The base price is $250.00. I won't go into too much about these, but I just wanted people to have the information.


I've had "dandruff" for most of my life, cycling in and out of not very bad to absolutely awful. I learned from my dermatologist that dandruff is actually seborrhoeic dermatitis, and can be chronic and constant in many people. Dandruff should not be confused with a dry, flaky scalp. Often dry and flaking scalps are from using products that are stripping oils from the scalp, thus causing excess dead skin to build up and flake off. Now, I do have patches of true "dandruff", where I get red and itchy scale sections on my head, but many of my flaking issues were from products I was using.

I found, like many have recently, that using sulfates on my scalp caused a lot of issues. Some people can use them their entire lives and never have single flake on their scalp, while others like myself go through periods of non-stop flaking, itching and discomfort. My mom, for example, can use the cheapest shampoo possible and has never had flaking problems. If you have a lot of problems with your scalp (and many think that they "only get it when winter comes around", and in reality need to change their hair care), you may want to consider what you are using on your hair. If you have color-treated hair, this becomes very difficult. The main culprit is sulfates, as I said above, in ANY form. Keep in mind that sulfates are not good for color treated hair as they can leech the hair color out faster. A little fun fact for you: all the sulfates do is make the product lather. Ever notice that you really never see sulfates in conditioners? That's why.

Going sulfate free is a long and arduous road, but for me it has made a huge difference in the condition of my hair and scalp. Watch out for some companies that don't use sodium lauryl sulfate directly, but will use "sulficcionate" and other related items. Google an ingredient if you aren't sure. Many of these derivatives will still irritate your scalp! I found that I cannot use L'Oreal Ever Pure even though it doesn't have any of the traditional sulfates. Whatever it has instead irritated my scalp just as badly, but it would take months of use to show up.

GIOVANNI MAGNETIC ENERGIZING SHAMPOO/CONDITIONER: So far, this is one of the best sulfate AND chemical free shampoos that I've found. If you aren't trying to go more natural, there are a lot more options out there for you in terms of hair care. With me wanting to steer clear of alcohol and other bad chemicals, I had a hard time finding safe options. I've been using this for about 3 weeks and I love it. I have not tried the conditioner yet, but am currently using the shampoo. I barely have to use conditioner with this as it leaves my hair that soft. Giovanni's range in general is fabulous, including Smooth as Silk and the Tea Tree Oil line, but when I went more natural I had to steer clear. I would highly recommend the brand overall for sulfate-free hair and body care. (Giovanni ranges from $5-$12 for their products. This shampoo was approximately $8.)

Other sulfate-free lines: L'Oreal EverPure, Aveeno, Pureology, Organix, Jason, Tigi (SOME products, not all), Alterna, Redken (SOME), and many others. Right now, many of the sulfate free lines are higher end and thus more expensive, but cheaper lines are starting to launch sulfate-free products. However, ALWAYS check the labels before you get sucked into buying any "sulfate-free", "gentle", or "color protecting" hair care. Sometimes they will label the product as such, but when you read the ingredients, you'll find that it has the same ingredients as all of their other products. Pantene is famous for this (and Pantene is also one of the worst products EVER for your hair!). 

MACADAMIA OIL HEALING SPRAY/TREATMENT: I've started using this to treat my ends as it's difficult to go silicone free like I did, as you will tend to feel like your hair is more dry. Unfortunately, silicones leave a coating on your hair and don't actually do much for the condition, so while your hair FEELS soft, it's actually quite often damaged underneath. Now, this spray does have some questionable chemicals in, but I've found that compared to others (Moroccan oil), it doesn't have AS many chemicals and silicones. This is also great for fine hair as it's quite a light oil. For me, argan/moroccan oil is heavy and I find it makes my hair greasy. There are versions of moroccan oil out there that do not contain silicones. (Approximately $30, but I got a deal on mine in a pack of 2 for the same price at Target. I don't know if they still carry it in a 2 pack.)

CLOBETASOL SOLUTION: My dermatologist prescribed me this for my scalp when I do have issues. I haven't had to use it much since I got it, but this is good to have on hand while you test out new haircare, just in case something irritates your scalp. My doctor gave this to me in a dropper form, and you apply it to your scalp after washing your hair to any itchy or painful areas. It has a slight cooling sensation. (Unsure of the price, I think it was around $14 with insurance.)

You'll also want to avoid ANY form of alcohol in your hair products. In all seriousness, no matter whether you care about silicones, sulfates or going natural, alcohol is terrible for your hair. The bottom line is that it is not necessary to put in a hair product. Alcohol is drying, and many companies put small amounts of it in their products supposedly to "thin" the consistency out, but as with many body lotions, it's ACTUALLY to keep you using the products. Your hair gets dry, you use the product and for a while, it makes your hair super soft and nice. So you keep repurchasing. And the cycle continues.


Many people with allergies also suffer from skin complications, from dry and flaking skin, to itchiness, to redness and sensitivity. I have all of the above, unfortunately. I went to see my dermatologist, and through his suggestions and my own changes to what I use, have found a routine that works pretty well for me using these products:

AMMONIUM LACTATE LOTION: There are generics of this behind the pharmacy counter, but there's also branded versions such as Amlactin. I found that Amlactin was pricey and my pharmacy carried a generic version for about 1/3 of the price ($5 versus $15). This is most commonly used to treat a condition called Keratosis Pilaris (or KP), and it is a form of eczema that appears as red or white bumps along the arms, face and legs. I have this condition on my arms and the tops of my thighs, but this lotion can also be used for general dry skin, flakiness and irritation. The chemical in the lotion helps to break down the skin nodules that build up on people with KP and other eczema. Mild exfoliation can also help to remove them as well, in combination with the lotion. I don't know about Amlactin, but I will note that the generic version I got of this smells a little funny. Just something to be wary of... it is fragrance-free but the petroleum base makes it smell a little plastic-like.

EUCERIN ORIGINAL LOTION: I use this as a general body lotion on anywhere I don't use the Ammonium Lactate one. I found it very difficult to find body moisturizers that again, do not contain alcohol. This is also fragrance and dye free. I've only used this a few times but I really like it so far. It's quite rich and emollient but not greasy at all. I use it before bed but can also use it after I get out of the shower, and I don't feel like it transfers to my clothes. (This was $12.99 at Rite Aid on a BOGO1/2OFF deal, but it's a very large bottle of it.)

NIVEA CREME: This comes in a large blue tub (and when I say large, I mean huge) and I know for sure that it is sold in almost every country in this form. Instead of being a lotion like the Eucerin, this is closer to a barrier cream. This does contain lanolin alcohol, but through my own research, I've found that lanolin alcohol is not drying like cetyl or stearyl alcohols. I was using this for a while as a general body moisturizer, but due to it's thicker consistency, found that it wasn't good in warmer temperatures or over large areas of skin. This is, however, great for elbows, knees, feet and hands. This is a good as a general skin protectant, especially if you expect that you will be in colder temperatures for long periods of time. (This is around $8 for a "very large tub".)

DOVE NUTRIUM MOISTURE BODY WASH - SENSITIVE: I just started using this about 2 weeks ago and I love it so far! In addition to being alcohol and sulfate free, it's also fragrance and dye free. It has some good things it in for your skin (coconut oil is one, if I recall correctly) and I've already noticed an improvement over using the crappy, super smelly Caress body washes. As this doesn't have sulfates, it doesn't lather and it more like a creamy lotion. I'm used to it, so it doesn't bother me at all. **I'm reading some reviews saying that this isn't fragrance free, but I do not have 'fragrance' listed on my bottle, so I'm not sure.** (This was around $9 for a large bottle.) NOTE ADDED 12/13/2012: I've looked at my bottle and realized that glycerin is the second ingredient in this, while it says 'soap-free'. It also has 'fragrance' yet says unscented on my bottle. I am contacting Dove's customer service and will update this ASAP.

EUCERIN CALMING BODY WASH OIL: This is another new purchase and as I've only used it once, I can't say much about it yet. It's definitely an oil consistency, which makes it a little strange to use, but it does "soap" up once you begin to rub it into your skin. On the ingredients, there is something that contains 'sulfate' on some listings online but my bottle doesn't say that, so I am concerned over what exactly this contains! I will also add that it smells funny... not in a slightly bad way, but bordering on a REALLY bad way. I'll get through it, but I'm not a big fan. (This was around $8.)

EXFOLIATION: Gentle exfoliation is good once or twice per week to help get rid of dead skin buildup and flaking patches. Never exfoliate open wounds or acne sores as you can allow bacteria into the affected area, leaving yourself open to a skin infection. I am currently using the St. Ives Apricot Scrub for Sensitive Skin, but I am switching away from that once I run out and find an alcohol-free exfoliator. A friend suggested the Tree Hut Sugar Scrubs, which as far as I can tell are alcohol free, so I look forward to testing them out.

- Random tip: Carry a small bottle of soap with you in your handbag if you do tend to have sensitive skin. Once you've found a soap that works for you, this is really helpful when you're in a public bathroom. I find that many generic soaps used in bathrooms irritate my hands like no other, but for some reason Bath & Body Works Soaps don't, so I keep one with me in a hand sanitizer bottle. I also have one at the sink in my office for when I use the restroom at work, so that I can wash my hands and not have to worry about the itchiness and hives that happen when I use the regular soap in the bathroom. 


This section will be short and sweet because I am still switching up my facial products to better items. It's a slow and grueling process!

NEUTROGENA CLEAR PORE CLEANSER/MASK: I personally use this only as a mask once per week. It works great for that purpose, but I admittedly have not tried it as a cleanser! I feel like it's so thick that it wouldn't work in that manner. This is alcohol free, light on chemicals, and leaves my face feeling smooth and cleansed. I've noticed a decrease in acne since I started using it. (This varies from $4-$7.)

CLINDAMYCIN PHOSPHATE SOLUTION: This is only available by prescription. This is a topical acne solution that can be used all over as a facial cleanser for widespread and severe acne, or as a spot treatment. I use it as the latter, on a q-tip twice per day on any acne breakouts. I have a love/hate relationship with this because it works on some breakouts and not others. Now that I've seen an allergist, I've learned that I may actually have a few spots of ongoing hives on my face, and that may be why at times this doesn't seem to work. If you get a regular acne spot on your face, this works pretty well to shrink it down within 2-4 uses (so 2 days). (I don't remember how much this was.)

If anyone has suggestions on a good alcohol and dye free facial cleanser and moisturizer, please let me know!

I hope this was helpful to some! I know that a lot of people have dry and sensitive skin and may not even realize that they should really consult a physician about those issues. Sometimes it's really down to what products you are using. Going alcohol, silicone, sulfate or general chemical free is never easy, but it's a decision that I'm glad I made as I see a huge difference in my skin!

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask!