Money Down the Drain. Literally.

Image of Soaps from Unlimited Inspirations (via Google).
Image of Soaps from Unlimited Inspirations (via Google).

I have a confession to make: I spent one hundred dollars today at Lush. $104.92, to be exact. On 7 items. No, I wasn’t buying gifts. I actually don’t know anyone who’s ever used Lush products. It was all for me. And it could have been money completely wasted. Over the last few months I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on bath and body products.

Let me explain…

It’s been a rough year. Year and a half, to be exact. No, this isn’t going to be a post about how I’ve been treating myself because “I deserve it.” Bath and body products aren’t really my luxury of choice. For the past year and a half I’ve been having issues. Medical issues. I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time in my doctor’s office. One drug after the next. Nothing major, just ongoing infections. I found myself fearfully reading WebMD, googling possible diseases, coming across forums of other women discussing similar issues. Women who had been suffering for decades and could never find an answer. They were turning to desperate measures. I completely understand; just because it’s considered minor doesn’t mean you don’t feel like crap. And when you’re in a relationship, it makes it really hard to be in a relationship.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had these issues. But, it is the longest they’ve lasted. Not so coincidentally, this is also the longest relationship I’ve had. Cause and affect. Talk about frustrating! I was expressing my frustrations to my doctor when she asked the question that changed everything: Have you thought about seeing an allergist?

Ummm…. What?!?

Alright, allergies aren’t exactly a shock in my family. Spring and Fall, we’re all singing the praises of modern medicine. We all have foods that “don’t agree” with us. And hives? Yeah, they happen sometimes. Irritating? yes. Life threatening? No. At least no known ones. In all honesty, I’ve never actually gone to an allergist. Regular doctors can prescribe seasonal meds, although you can get some pretty good ones over the counter. For the most part my family has always been of the opinion that allergies are a part of life, and you just deal with them. Man up! My Mom did have concerns about my skin from a young age though. She asked about an allergist, but the pediatrician said I just had sensitive skin. Avoid harsh soaps. Use sensitive products. And, get over it!

So, I did. I tried to be careful about what products I used. I started wearing powder to cover the red splotches. I took medication every day, year round. Benadryl and hydro-cortisone cream were a staple in my purse. And I itched. ALL. THE. TIME. I occasionally rubbed my eyebrows off. Not on purpose. But God, they itched! My scalp itched so much I worried my coworkers would think I had lice. My family joked about my ridiculously sensitive skin. That’s life.

But what did allergies have to do with any of this? It turns out, everything. My doctor had a theory: What if I was allergic to soap? Or, more specifically, something IN the soap. My soap. His soap. Allergies create irritation. Irritation can lead to infections. All of my problems could be wiped away by switching soaps!

Honestly, this isn’t the first time as an adult that a doctor has told me to see an allergist. I just didn’t see the point in making a fuss about something that was my normal. I’ve been dealing with my skin issues for decades! I didn’t want life to become more difficult. Or have to take more drugs. Or worse, have to start getting shots. There are some things in life you just deal with. That is, until they start affecting someone else. Suddenly this wasn’t just my issue. It was affecting someone else, and impacting our relationship. So, I manned up, and made the appointment.

I could have killed someone for some Benadryl the week before that first appointment. That’s right, no drugs for one week. The office said it was standard to start with a panel test, mainly foods, on the first visit. It’s a scratch test. I’ve never been scratched or poked with anything that didn’t produce at least a few hives, whether it broke the skin or not. The doctor hoped the 20 minutes wait period they have before reading the test would give my skin time to calm down. The results? That I have really sensitive skin! The test was deemed inaccurate, since I reacted to 50 of the 55 things they tried. I am definitely NOT allergic to pears, tuna, lobster and dust mites. The 5th poke was the control. It’s likely I’m allergic to hazelnuts, white fish, turkey, soybeans and basil. Soybeans mean I also have to avoid anything containing “natural flavoring”. And basil means I should be cautious of anything in the mint family. Outside of that, well… who knows?

Not my back. I found this image on Google. But it's the same type of test.
Not my back. I found this image on Google. But it’s the same type of test.

Food allergies weren’t really why I was there though. I was scheduled for a chemical patch test. The test consisted of 72 little discs that are stuck to the back and covered with water proof tape. They stay on for 48 hours. No showering or getting them wet during that time, or for the 24 hours after they’re removed. The test is supposed to rule out the most common chemical allergies. The length of the test insures that skin sensitivities don’t affect the results. I was relieved to find that drugs were allowed before and during this test (just no steroids). Not so relieved to find that drugs offered little relief. It was an itchy 72 hours! Actually, 2 weeks, since it takes a little longer for some reactions to wear off.

The test was enlightening. I had a reaction to 10 items on the test. Two of the chemicals are components of rubber and latex items; one of which blistered terribly and took weeks to go away. I never thought I’d be sitting in a health professional’s office with them telling me to never, ever use condoms. I had reactions to several things I’d never heard of that are commonly used in dental and surgical implants and devices. That should be fun later in life!  And I’m allergic to cobalt. That means no blue makeup, avoid blue paints, pigments and dyes, and avoid cheap jewelry, since cobalt is often mixed with nickel. It was always assumed my issues with jewelry were caused by nickel.

Those results were interesting, but not really life altering. Sure, now I know why the last few bras I’ve bought have given me blisters; It’s those stupid rubber strips they’ve started adding to the bands. So I’ll stop wasting money on bras I can’t wear. But the real issues? The 6 chemicals that are commonly found in household items. Shampoos, conditioners, soaps. Toothpaste, deodorant, lotions, hair dye. Baby products! Detergents and fabric softeners. Candles! The lists go on and on.

The lists helpfully tell me some of the products I should avoid for each chemical. But they don’t make any suggestions on what you can use. And some of those ingredients rule out a lot of things. Cocamidopropyl betaine is in almost every shampoo and soap out there. Don’t see it? Well, it has like 15 other names as well. In fact, each chemical has numerous names that it could be hiding under. One of them is frequently stuck under the elusive name “fragrance”. That could mean anything!

On my first shopping trip, I found a shampoo I could actually use. A conditioning shampoo that didn’t need a conditioner! It was wonderful. For the first time in my life, my scalp didn’t itch. Not one bit. Amazing. And my hair? Well… it was weird. At first. And after a week? Well, then it just started getting gross. Really, really gross. Like, I finally got desperate and washed my hair with Dawn kinda gross. Hey, they use it on those oil covered ducks, right? Yeah, that was an itchy, rashy mistake. Desperate, I searched for other shampoos. I couldn’t find a single commercial brand that didn’t have SOMETHING in it that was wrong. Baby care? All Natural? Sensitive Skin? All no.

I went to the internet, hoping for some relief. And the problem is, the more outside common you search, the more unknowns you get. My allergy test was just for the most common chemicals. There are many, many more chemicals and ingredients out there. Sure, I can do further allergy testing. But that gets expensive, and time-consuming. Those tests are like $900 each! Of course, my insurance paid most of that, but still! It isn’t possible to test for everything that you might encounter. Some things are just trial and error. And on top of that, I do have sensitive skin! Even if I’m not allergic, my skin may react because the product is too harsh. So, I searched out more specialized products. I ordered products from Canada. Natural. Vegan. Environmentally friendly!

Over the last few weeks I’ve been toying with a variety of homemade recipes. Soap wise, we’re making due. Castile soap is too harsh for my skin, but mixed with some coconut oil, well, it sucks. But it works when you can’t find much else. Adding honey was a no, as were essential oils, and several other types of oils. I tried it for my hair, with terrible consequences. I also tried the baking soda, or “no-poo” method. I’ve read a million ways of using both as shampoo, but it isn’t working for me. Most of the articles espouse “giving it time for your natural oils to adjust”. Weeks they recommend, maybe even months. To which I respond: Where the hell do you work that you can walk around looking like you haven’t washed your hair for months on end?!?

I have to admit, I’ve been questioning how important the shampoo really is. I mean, if I washed my hair everyday in the sink instead of the shower, so the shampoo doesn’t run down my body, then maybe I can go back to the old stuff? Sure, my scalp would itch. And my face. And, since my hair is getting fairly long, my neck, arms, back, and anything else it touched would itch. It wouldn’t create issues outside of itching. And I’ve dealt with itching for 35 years! Man up!

Of course, after weeks of not itching (or itching much less often), I gotta say, it’s kinda nice not itching! And it’s that much worse now when something does itch. And yes, I am kind of spoiled. I want my hair and body to be clean, and not itchy. I want my hair to feel clean, and be manageable, and look good, and preferably not smell weird. Although my line on not smelling like a weird hippy is slowly starting to fade. Is it too much to ask to be able to buy soap and shampoo? In bottles? Made by someone else? So, I went to Lush today. And, on top of the hundreds and hundreds of dollars I’ve already spent on allergists, and products, and ingredients, I plunked down $100 to buy a variety of products with the hope that one might work. And if none of them do? Well, I’ll keep searching for something that does!

It hasn’t been perfect. The boyfriend has been surprisingly easy about switching soaps, and hasn’t had too many complaints. Of course, he has on occasion mentioned me being a hypochondriac, and called the allergist a “witch doctor”. But then, I’ve made a lot of comments about the weird smelling hippies. Health wise it’s like night and day though, so we both have to admit that it’s worth it. It’s incredible what a difference something as simple as soap can make. Or, something not so simple, as it turns out.

I wasn’t sure whether I should write this post. I mean, it is a little TMI. But then, it’s also something I’m struggling with right now that is having a huge impact on my finances. Okay, not huge. Soap isn’t going to bankrupt me, or even knock me off my financial track. But, it is where I’m spending a lot of my money right now, so it kinda is financial. And maybe, just maybe, another woman who is suffering, and desperate, will stumble across this post. To which I must ask: Have you thought about seeing an allergist?

– Cindy W.


  1. OMG OMG OMG this post is EXACTLY what my life has been like the last few years! I had the patch testing done too, after a couple years of being a red rashy mess all the time. It took patch testing and a ton of research and TWO FULL YEARS of running from doctor to doctor to figure everything out. Thank heavens I’m a medical librarian!

    My doc gave me a list of cosmetic products that I was able to use. Happy to share, just leave a message on my blog, link to my allergy post is below. I’ve had to change my diet dramatically. Unfortunately it has driven our food and cosmetics bills up for a while as I’ve figured out which products’ “natural flavors” are a problem for me since I’m allergic to cinnamon and all chemically-related spices and plants, the list of which is three freakin’ pages long.

    I completely feel your pain. I think our food and cosmetic budgets will eventually drop back down a bit, but they’ll always be a little elevated. For example, this is the best shampoo for us allergic-to-everything types: It’s almost $11 bucks for the tiniest bottle I’ve ever seen.

    Here’s all of the allergy mess that happened to me:

    I’m still in the trial period, too. Our food bill was $700 this month because now we make everything ourselves. It’s usually $350! On the plus side, homemade ketchup is super tasty.

    Best of luck to you. I know exactly how frustrating this is!!


    1. Thanks Zoe! Yeah, it’s definitely a frustrating experience. Who knew it could be so difficult to figure out? I met with my Allergist’s Nurse Practitioner who told me I should stop using everything for 1 month to “reset” my system. No shampoo, body wash, lotion, detergent, fabric softener. Nothing! And then slowly introduce things to see how they work. I was like “So, I’m not showering for a month? And am I naked in this scenario? I don’t think my job would approve.”

      We haven’t even messed with the food yet. Past dieting experience says that’ll be a much more difficult experience with the boyfriend. This kind of stuff is so much easier when you’re single! And I love the “chemically related” thing. One of my allergens is chemically related to tomatoes, lemons, beer, wine, chocolate, etc. and is commonly found in ice cream, sodas and anything vanilla or cinnamon flavored or scented. Seriously!?!

      1. shoot, you didn’t test positive for cinnamic aldehyde, did you? this one’s a real pain. But the good news is that I actually found a list: One big thing they’re missing on here is celery. If you’ll notice, celery tastes like cinnamon. Apparently one of the naturally-occuring polyphenols in celery is cinnamic aldehyde. I personally haven’t found high-quality chocolate to be a problem, or soy, or bleached flour.

        Hope it helps!

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