An Allergic Reaction Started My Garden Journey

So most have you have read my bio where you have learned I had a severe anaphylactic reaction to a chemical in hair color, which is ultimately what led me to living a healthier lifestyle.  I am a true believer that knowledge is power so I wanted to give you a little insight into the incident. If it helps one person identify that this could happen to them, it’s well worth taking the time to chat about it.  

In the US, we do not regulate chemicals and ingredients in our beauty and hair products as diligently as other countries do.  Per the NRDC,  “While there are over 80,000 approved chemicals in the US, none of these chemicals have been adequately tested for safety or toxicity in humans.”  Read it again . . .

It’s a testament that we should all take some responsibility in taking a few moments to evaluate what we are putting in and on our bodies.  At the end of the day, we are responsible for our own health.

Chemicals in Common Beauty Products

I started coloring my hair at 18.  I have some Irish blood and the grey hairs were starting to pop up. By 25, I was coloring it every four weeks.  My hair is a darker brown, so the grey hairs were noticeable and I was not ready to accept them as a permanent fixture on my head.  Coloring my hair was a mindless action for me; I didn’t think twice about it for over a decade.

Until late summer of 2016, when I started to sense something was wrong. After a trip to the salon, my feet and hands became uncontrollably itchy.  It lasted for hours and I felt a little nutty because there was no visible rash or hives.  I was uncomfortable and nervous, so I took some Benadryl and it went away.

However, it happened again the next time. After this appointment, the itching began immediately on the  drive home. Only now,  it had spread to my mid-section and back. I knew this was not a coincidence and started researching hair color reactions.  I stumbled upon the chemical known as PPD (para-phenylenediamine).  PPD is the chemical that covers the grey hair, but also was known to have caused severe allergic reactions.

Allergic Reaction to Hair Dye

My stylist is a dear friend, and she found a brand that had significantly less PPD.  We gave it a try, BUT it was too late.  My body had had enough. I was sitting in her chair after she rinsed me when the itching started this time.  Then came severe abdominal pain which, unaware to me, was a sign of anaphylactic reaction.

It took me about 10 minutes before my throat started to get tight and I realized I had to grab my Benadryl and EpiPen.  I had never, in almost 20 years, had to use my EpiPen.  Luckily, I carried one for my bee allergy and was religious about always having it on me.  However, I panicked a little, and forgot how long to hold the EpiPen in my leg. What can I say? The panic was real. Then the adrenaline rush hit and I was off to the ER. 

Fortunately, I was well taken care of in the ER, and told that the next course of action was to see an allergist. Meanwhile, I started to have troubles with my eyes.  My body was recovering from the trauma of the reaction and I felt like I had constant hairs in my eyes.  I soon learned these were called “filaments,” and they plagued me for over 6 months.  Steroids did not have a long-lasting effect.  The minute I stopped them, the filaments came back. Insurance didn’t cover the steroids and it was several hundred dollars a month. I was beyond frustrated and I felt like my health was totally out of my control. 

Know Better, Do Better: Making Changes & Living a Healthier Lifestyle

Meanwhile, I was seeing an allergist who was adamant that I shouldn’t color my hair anymore.  I was not able to accept that quite yet (and honestly, I’m still not).  I enjoy my hair color and there is no shame in that.  However, my new number one priority was to live a healthier lifestyle, so I started researching hair color lines, and did a deep dive into potentially toxic ingredients to avoid. 

Once I found a clean brand, my gracious friend entertained my request and ordered an organic line that was PPD-free.  Since no one wants a client slumping out of the salon chair with a EpiPen in their leg, it took a little convincing before the salon would let me back through their doors. My friend definitely deserves a shout out for continuing to color my hair after my little scene!

Anyway, I went back to the allergist for a patch test to make sure the new PPD-free hair dye was safe for my body.  I walked in with a big box of old and new hair color so we could confirm the old color was the culprit, a test for certain chemicals in the new color line.  I still remember the surprised looks on the staff’s faces. The doctor couldn’t believe I was so hell-bent on figuring this out.  I really had to push to get this accomplished, some would even say beg. I remember saying ‘I picked you because you looked young and innovative! Please help me with this!’ 

Finding Clean Products

You might be thinking “It’s just hair.” And you’re right, it is just hair and if I had to be grey or risk my health, there would be no debate.  However, if I could find a solution that allowed me to feel good, why wouldn’t I? Why not try? Why not support quality products and companies out there trying to offer us alternatives?

Well, good news!  That Monday, after not showering all weekend with patches taped all over my back, I was told the color line was determined safe. I was ecstatic – this hair was back in business, baby! As for the traditional hair color allergen test? Well, the results scarred my back for over a year. The little raised red squares on my back were a reminder to me of the journey to live a healthier life and the severity of these harsh chemicals.  And of how grateful I am to have had the Benadryl and EpiPen on me that day!

Take Your Health Into Your Own Hands

The moral of this story is three things:

  1. Follow your gut and your intuition.  When your body is alerting you to something, pay attention! Listen to your body, it has a lot to say.
  2. Take the time to look at your products and make sure you are comfortable with what you are exposing yourself to.  Our skin is our biggest organ. I know we all color our hair (or whatever the equivalent is for you) and that’s fine!  The majority of the population will not have my experience.  But the more we overload our bodies, the higher the risk of illness, disease and poor health. 
  3. When you feel like there has to be a possible solution out there, go try to find it! Nothing is off the table when it comes to you making the decisions that best support your path to living a healthier lifestyle.

Living a Healthier Lifestyle Today

Actually one more quick tidbit.  You should see a theme in my story: I’m encouraging you to be your own health advocate. Get your hands dirty, ask questions, educate yourself and dig in!  I’ve teamed up with a friend to create a healthy living guide with a bunch of clean products that we have personally tried, tested, and would recommend to a friend (a.k.a. YOU!). Living a healthier lifestyle starts one tiny change at a time. In fact, it can start today.

PS – My eye filaments cleared up on their own when I cleaned out all the chemicals in my products, foods and started supporting it with healing foods and supplements. If you want even more of the backstory, I shared it here with No Sidebar.

If you have nothing left to lose, you have everything left to gain. . .