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Top 7 Sources of Hidden Allergens

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Updated June 22, 2007

It's easy to remember to look for allergens in your food. However, non-food items also can trigger allergic reactions if made with allergenic ingredients. While the biggest offenders are obviously items that are ingested, don't overlook substances on your hands, as most people touch their faces far more often than they realize. Remember: always read labels before using or ingesting a product.

1. Toothpaste

Could your toothpaste trigger an allergic reaction?  (Courtesy Stock.Xchng)

Most major commercial brands of toothpaste are made mainly from sodium-based chemicals and include few common allergens. However, all-natural toothpastes, which include some of the more popular fluoride-free options, often use natural fruit extracts as flavorings, including citrus and strawberries.

2. Hand & Body Lotions

Beyond milk, here are but a few of the most common reaction-causing ingredients found in hand lotions:

  • "Arachis oil" is derived from peanuts. Coconut, sesame, and tree nut oils are also found in many lotions.

  • Wheat, oats, barley, and other grains appear as extracts.

  • Citrus fruits are commonly used for scents, both as extracts and oils.

3. Makeup

Lipstick includes waxes and pigments that are, in and of themselves, usually not allergenic. Some formulas, though, include wheat, and others include oils (especially sesame) as emollients. Foundation can include soy protein, among others, while oat flour is used to make some powdered makeup like blush and pressed powder.

4. Medications, Vitamins and Supplements

While most supplements and over-the-counter medications will have full ingredient lists on the packaging, (pay particular attention to the "inactive ingredients") you may need to ask your pharmacist for the product information for prescriptions. Allergens found in drug bindings include lactose and starch, which may be corn, potato, rice, or wheat starch in medications unless otherwise noted on the package. Those with shellfish allergies should also avoid glucosamine and any calcium supplements like coral calcium that are made from oyster shells or other shellfish.

5. Hair Products

Shampoo, conditioner, and even hair dye can include common allergens. Celiacs and those with wheat allergies should take special care, as one of the most common allergens in these products is wheat, either in the form of wheat germ or as hydrolyzed wheat protein. Other allergens in widely available hair products include citrus oils and extracts, mushroom oil, almond and other tree nut oils, and hydrolyzed soy protein.

6. Fruit and Vegetable Rinse

Some versions of FIT fruit and vegetable rinse, sold in supermarket produce sections, include two potential allergens: "starch" -- which again, could include corn, potato, rice, or wheat -- and grapefruit oil.

7. Adhesives

Wheat is a common ingredient in all sorts of adhesives and glues. Be especially aware of its potential presence on stamps and envelopes, where it may be most difficult to confirm ingredients. (Those with wheat allergies may wish to invest in an inexpensive envelope sealer and use exclusively self-adhesive stamps to avoid potentially having to lick wheat-tainted envelopes).

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