What is Allergen-Free?
Whether you are visiting a pharmacy, a cosmetics store, or browsing e-commerce websites selling skincare products, you will constantly be exposed to the term, “allergy-free products” or “organic skincare”. While these tags are not novel, they have gathered a greater level of consumer attraction. Brands have taken it upon themselves to manufacture and market products, which fall under this category of adult and baby skincare essentials. However, what does this tag indicate? “Allergen-free” simply refers to a product being manufactured without using ingredients that may cause an allergic reaction. Unfortunately, in India, there is a dearth of awareness concerning allergies and even fewer detections of severe allergic tendencies.
Let us first understand what “allergy” and “allergic reaction” mean. “The term ‘allergy’ was coined by Clemens von Pirquet in 1906 to call attention to the unusual propensity of some individuals to develop signs and symptoms of reactivity, or ‘hypersensitivity reactions’, when exposed to certain substances” (Galli et al., 2008). These substances referred to are called “allergens”, which cause these inflammatory reactions, which are also known to be “abnormal adaptive immune responses” (Galli et al., 2008).
Allergies are usually caused by three categories of allergens:
- Food-based allergies
- Contact-based allergies
- Inhalation-based allergies
There are 8 major food allergens that are also known as the Big-8; they are milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, wheat, soy, peanuts, and tree nuts. These food allergens usually cause more aggravated allergic reactions in children than they do in adults, and the most common symptoms of food-based allergies are the presentation of hives, rashes on the skin, diarrhoea, vomiting, swelling of the lips and the eyes, and in extreme cases, anaphylaxis.
Contact-based allergies are caused by allergens that come in contact with the skin of an individual and cause an allergic reaction. Some of the common contact-based allergens are dyes, soaps, solvents, jewellery, polishes, solvents etc. These allergens cause visible reactions on the skin surface and present themselves as inflammation, redness, rashes, blistering, and scaling.
Allergies caused by inhalation of allergens are among the most common types of allergies. These occur seasonally for most people, and the biggest culprit is pollen present in the air. Pollen is a powder-like substance released from plants, and it triggers a reaction in pollen-sensitive patients. Along with pollen, the other allergens under this category are mould, grass, fungi, pet dander and dust mites.
Based on the information shared regarding allergies, allergens and allergic reactions, it is evident that there is a need for products (both food and skincare) that do not cause any allergic reactions. A study conducted in 2015 on the Indian population found that approximately 20-30% of the total Indian population suffers from at least one allergic condition (NHP CC DC, 2015). This number is estimated to have arisen in the last 6 years, which makes it more important to develop allergen-free products for the Indian market. With respect to food, an allergen-free food should not contain the major allergens, i.e. peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, soy, fish, shellfish or wheat. It is also important to note that “organic” does not mean “allergen-free” as there are several natural products that can also cause allergic reactions.
To prevent allergic reactions caused by skincare products, you should opt for products that are more natural than chemical-based, which discusses the various ingredients that are natural and least harmful to delicate skin. Apart from this, you should buy products that are free of parabens, fragrances, alcohol, sulphates and any other preservatives.
Newborn Care & Allergies
Everything about newborn babies is considered delicate, sensitive and vulnerable. Their internal systems are still underdeveloped and their outer bodies are susceptible to all types of harmful exposure. This makes them easy targets for allergic reactions.
The aforementioned three categories of allergens affect babies and sometimes leave parents wondering how harmless substances like milk or soap can trigger such worrisome reactions. Contact-based allergies in babies present themselves as skin conditions, such as eczema, urticaria, or hives and can be seen on any part of the body (Pietro, 2018; MedicalNewsToday).
Food-based allergies in babies are fairly common and can cause intestinal and digestive reactions, respiratory distress, or skin irritation and inflammation. When a parent is introducing their first foods to their babies, it is crucial to introduce only one new food at a time. This process helps a parent easily and definitively identify which food causes an allergic reaction in the baby.
Usually, allergic conditions tend to run in families, so a baby may be more likely to develop an allergy to certain foods if either of the parents or a sibling has been diagnosed with an allergy caused by the same or similar allergen.
Allergy Prevention in Babies
While no commercially purchased product can be 100% chemical or preservative-free, creating allergy awareness is the need of the hour. As parents, we need to have the right information and scientific facts about what causes allergic reactions and how we can create an allergy-safe environment for our babies. A few simple tips parents can follow are:
- Breastfeed your baby for as long as you can. “WHO also recommends exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months of age with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to 2 years of age or longer” (www.CDC.gov). Breastfeeding helps babies receive adequate and complete nourishment; it also builds their immunity, thus keeping them safe from all external infections.
- Always clean foods with water well before preparing them as complementary foods.
- Maintain personal and space hygiene at home, and keep all baby areas clean and dry.
- Clean bedsheets and blankets often with allergy-safe detergents to prevent any airborne allergens from coming in contact with a baby’s delicate skin while sleeping.
- Always wash your baby’s soft clothes with baby-safe and allergy-safe detergents.
- If your child shows any signs of preliminary allergic reactions such as rashes or redness or any breathing difficulties, always consult your medical caregiver at the earliest.
- If you are sensitive and prone to any allergic reactions, there may be a possibility that your child will present with the same hypersensitivity, and thus an allergic response. Discuss this family history with your doctor, so that any preventive steps can be taken.