Allergen, Not An Allergen Featured



Junk, Canned, Instant, Long-Lasting & Highly Processed Food

Chips, dips, canned foods, microwave dinners, chocolate spread, colas, instant anything, long-lasting anything…these foods contain lots of top contact allergens like dyes, flavors (which are related to fragrance), consumable substances from the compositae family, propylene glycol, and parabens, sulfites, benzoates, and other preservatives. Due to the equipment in which they’re processed and how they’re packaged, canned goods and processed foods can contain nickel. Aspartame might need to be avoided by people who have patch tested positive to formaldehyde and its releasers. Contact with these foods can result in reactions around the mouth as well as on your fingers from handling them. Eating a food with your contact allergens can also cause systemic contact dermatitis.

To find out if and how you are sensitive to ingredients in these foods, ask your allergist and dermatologist. Food allergies and skin allergies don’t always correlate. In food allergies, type B cells are involved, and the allergy is determined by a prick, scratch, or blood test. In skin allergies, type T cells are involved and the allergy is determined by a patch test.

These foods are bad for your health on many, many levels. They are cheap because they tend to be made with high-calorie, nutrient-poor ingredients and packed with artificial flavors that mask their poor flavor. They can contain harmful substances like trans fats (some FDAs allow the statement “trans fat-free” as long as the package contains less than <0.5 grams per serving — but this small amount does add up quickly), too much sugar and salt, and chemicals for preservation. They tend to not be processed well in the body and can build up. They also tend to addictive.

Note: organic, minimally-processed or raw foods are better for your overall health but this does not automatically mean that they cannot contain your contact allergens. Many natural foods and substances are top contact allergens, including mango, lemon, lime, orange, cinnamon, mint, and honey. For your health, choose organic and minimally-processed whenever possible…but if you have sensitive skin, be guided by the results of your patch test.

If you have a history of sensitive skin, don’t guess: random trial and error can cause more damage. Ask your dermatologist about a patch test.

To shop our selection of hypoallergenic products, visit Need help? Ask us in the comments section below, or for more privacy (such as when asking us to customize recommendations for you based on your patch test results) contact us by email, or drop us a private message on Facebook.

For more:

On the prevalence of skin allergies, see Skin Allergies Are More Common Than Ever and One In Four Is Allergic to Common Skin Care And Cosmetic Ingredients.

To learn more about the VH-Rating System and hypoallergenicity, click here.

Main References: 

Regularly published reports on the most common allergens by the North American Contact Dermatitis Group and European Surveillance System on Contact Allergies (based on over 28,000 patch test results, combined), plus other studies. Remember, we are all individuals — just because an ingredient is not on the most common allergen lists does not mean you cannot be sensitive to it, or that it will not become an allergen. These references, being based on so many patch test results, are a good basis but it is always best to get a patch test yourself.

1. Warshaw, E.M., Maibach, H.I., Taylor, J.S., et al. North American contact dermatitis group patch test results: 2011-2012. Dermatitis. 2015; 26: 49-59

2. W Uter et al. The European Baseline Series in 10 European Countries, 2005/2006–Results of the European Surveillance System on Contact Allergies (ESSCA). Contact Dermatitis 61 (1), 31-38.7 2009

3. Wetter, DA et al. Results of patch testing to personal care product allergens in a standard series and a supplemental cosmetic series: An analysis of 945 patients from the Mayo Clinic Contact Dermatitis Group, 2000-2007. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2010 Nov;63(5):789-98.

4. Verallo-Rowell VM. The validated hypoallergenic cosmetics rating system: its 30-year evolution and effect on the prevalence of cosmetic reactions. Dermatitis 2011 Apr; 22(2):80-97

5. Ruby Pawankar et al. World Health Organization. White Book on Allergy 2011-2012 Executive Summary.

6. Misery L et al. Sensitive skin in the American population: prevalence, clinical data, and role of the dermatologist. Int J Dermatol. 2011 Aug;50(8):961-7.

7. Warshaw EM1, Maibach HI, Taylor JS, Sasseville D, DeKoven JG, Zirwas MJ, Fransway AF, Mathias CG, Zug KA, DeLeo VA, Fowler JF Jr, Marks JG, Pratt MD, Storrs FJ, Belsito DV. North American contact dermatitis group patch test results: 2011-2012.Dermatitis. 2015 Jan-Feb;26(1):49-59.

8. Warshaw, E et al. Allergic patch test reactions associated with cosmetics: Retrospective analysis of cross-sectional data from the North American Contact Dermatitis Group, 2001-2004. J AmAcadDermatol 2009;60:23-38. 

9. Foliaki S et al. Antibiotic use in infancy and symptoms of asthma, rhinoconjunctivitis, and eczema in children 6 and 7 years old: International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood Phase III. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2009 Nov;124(5):982-9.

10. Kei EF et al. Role of the gut microbiota in defining human health. Expert Rev Anti Infect Ther. 2010 Apr; 8(4): 435–454.

11. Thavagnanam S et al. A meta-analysis of the association between Caesarean section and childhood asthma. Clin Exp Allergy. 2008;38(4):629–633.

12. Marks JG, Belsito DV, DeLeo VA, et al. North American Contact Dermatitis Group patch-test results, 1998 to 2000. Am J Contact Dermat. 2003;14(2):59-62.

13. Warshaw EM, Belsito DV, Taylor JS, et al. North American Contact Dermatitis Group patch test results: 2009 to 2010. Dermatitis. 2013;24(2):50-99.

14. Katta R, Schlichte M. Diet and dermatitis: food triggers. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2014;7(3):30–36.

15. Warshaw EM, Botto N, Zug, K, et al. Contact Dermatitis Associated With Food: Retrospective Cross-Sectional Analysis of North American Contact Dermatitis Group Data, 2001 – 2004. Dermatitis. 2008;19(5):252-260.

16. Lampel, H, Silvestri, D. Systemic Contact Dermatitis: Current Challenges and Emerging Treatments. Curr Treat Options Allergy 1, 348–357 (2014).

Want more great information on contact dermatitis? Check out the American Contact Dermatitis SocietyDermnet New Zealand, and your country’s contact dermatitis association.

Laura is our “dew”-good CEO at VMV Hypoallergenics and eldest daughter of VMV’s founding dermatologist-dermatopathologist. She has two children, Madison and Gavin, and works at VMV with her sister CC and husband Juan Pablo (Madison and Gavin frequently volunteer their “usage testing” services). In addition to saving the world’s skin, Laura is passionate about health, inclusion, cultural theory, human rights, happiness, and spreading goodness (like a great cream!)

Healthy Living

The Sweet Life Done Right

I love this photo of @JessArnaudin‘s friend’s homemade jam and fig bars!

One shouldn’t overdo the sweets, but what’s life without an occasional treat? As I repeat to my children so often they robotically complete the sentence:

Me: Life is what?
Offspring: Balance, mama, balance.

I’m of the school of thought that complete deprivation promotes obsession, so sweets in our house are allowed, but a) in moderation, and b) we try to keep the processed foods out and prioritize home-made whenever we can. Instead of store-bought granola, jams or snack bars, we make our own. We even make our own peanut butter now (ingredient: peanuts). It’s surprisingly simple and you’re spoiled with a choice of healthy recipes (for kids, for snacks, for desserts, etc.) online. Switch out white sugar for coconut sugar, white flour for coconut flour, cream for coconut milk, even butter for avocado and you’ve already upped the good and decreased the bad (and the guilt!)

Almonds, walnuts, shredded coconut, plums, apricots, raisins, bananas: it’s amazing how delicious healthier options can be once you stop eating processed foods. Sweet potato chips? Loads healthier. Coconut water? Puts sport drinks to shame. A chunky fruit smoothie with Greek yogurt and peanut butter (fruits, healthy bacteria AND protein!) is filling and is much more nutritious than a bagel and cream cheese (speaking of cream cheese, we’ve crossed over 100% to boursin or roule).

And here’s the kicker: healthy eating creates a virtuous cycle as much as junk foods create a debilitating cycle. Many junk foods and even processed foods like white sugar, rice and flour are highly addictive. The more you eat them, the more you crave them…like a bad drug. Our bodies don’t know how to process many of these foods and end up storing them as fat or buildup in the body and the brain. They do your skin no good either. Many of these foods and drinks are pro-inflammatory and inflammation is linked to everything from eczema to acne, psoriasis and even aging. At the urging of my mother (VMV Hypoallergenics’ founding dermatologist-dermatopathologist who does a lot of work on nutrition and skin — she never sees a psoriasis, eczema or acne patient without delving into their food and exercise) the entire family got serious about getting healthier. We expected a bit of a learning curve…

…but what we didn’t expect was that our taste buds would need to
relearn what healthy tasted like!

Processed foods make you crave them, but they also alter what your palate prefers or thinks of as delicious or normal. As you shift back to less processed options, don’t be surprised if your taste buds need a little time to adjust back to how food should taste. When my kids and I went back to pure maple syrup instead of vaguely named “pancake syrup,” we thought that the real stuff tasted weird — almost sour or fermented. When we started eating wheat pasta we thought, should it taste “rough” like this? Wild rice totally threw us for a loop — it had a “taste” or (proving the point) it wasn’t “sweet.” We rediscovered sardines (better oils, less toxins) and had to get over a bit of an “ick” factor because they seemed too, well, “fishy.” Our first attempts at homemade peanut butter were greeted with, “but it doesn’t taste like peanut butter!” And my husband thought that coconut sugar tasted too coconuty to use as a sweetener for his coffee.

After a short adjustment period, we noticed that our taste buds and bodies recognized these more complex textures and tastes as real food. Our cravings for white rice, colas and nachos stopped. We began to (really, vividly) taste the difference between homemade muffins versus store-bought. The kids and I decided to have a cheat day and used the old maple syrup…and immediately reached for the organic stuff after one bite. It tasted chemical. We discovered that roasting organic, raw peanuts first before putting them in the food processor was peanut butter perfection. My husband now knows when white or even brown sugar is in his espresso and prefers the coconut sugar. The more water we drink, the less we look for flavored drinks — and if we do want some flavor, we’ve noticed that even a little lemon makes a huge difference! It’s like our taste buds have “come back home.” And I consider it a major achievement that our kids don’t have a taste for colas or white rice.

My son still longs for donut or cookies but, hey, so do I. Again, balance. We’re only allowed such sweets on weekends. Dessert during the week is limited to fruit. We can add up to a tablespoon of peanut butter or dulce de leche on the fruit, but that’s it (still far less than all the stuff in a cookie or slice of cake). Even here, a few weeks of this, the kids forgot about these “toppings” and only occasionally ask for them. Because we don’t keep “sometimes foods” in the house, we don’t look for them. But we do look out for each other: there have been moments of weakness — when I’ve had an awful day, for example, and have proposed a cheat day mid week — and it’s the kids who have held me off, saying we’ll get something really yummy for the weekend.

Among the few legacies I want to try to leave my children are education, empathy (bullying is never ok), a strong work ethic, and health. Here’s wishing you and yours the same!


Laura is the CEO of VMV Hypoallergenics and eldest daughter of our founding dermatologist-dermatopathologist. She has two children, Madison and Gavin, and works at VMV with her sister and husband (Madison and Gavin frequently volunteer their “usage testing” services). In addition to saving the world’s skin, Laura is passionate about learning, literature, art, health, science, inclusion, cultural theory, human rights, happiness and goodness.