As you may know if you have been to this blog before my journey to motherhood was not straight forward – all the details about my fertility journey are in a previous post.
During this journey I changed many things in my life, one of those was food. I started cooking with coconut oil, I ate lots of almonds as snacks, drank more herbal tea and used more spices in my cooking. And about 6 months into this new diet I developed a rash on my face. I didn’t even notice it to start with and then it slowly became a major problem – all around my nose, chin, eyes. It was red and puffy and I felt horrible. No amount of makeup would cover it. And no one knew what it was….eventually through a long process of eliminating MOST of my food we worked out it was salicylates.
Something I had never heard of but I soon discovered was in almost everything….
What are Salicylates?
Salicylates are naturally occurring chemicals – they exist in plants, fruits and vegetables. They are what form part of plants natural defense system.
They are also synthetically made and are commonly found in cosmetics and aspirin.
Both natural and chemical forms have been found to cause reactions in some people.
What is a Salicylate sensitivity?
Unfortunately not too much is known about salicylate sensitivity. More research has been done on salicylate sensitivity in relation to aspirin but as a food sensitivity there is need for much more discovery.
Salicylate sensitivity is thought to be caused by an overproduction of leukotrienes, which are inflammatory mediators that have been linked to a variety of conditions, including asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.
We don’t have figures on what percentage of the population this effects but it does seem to occur more in adults than children.
There are no lab tests that can identify a salicylate sensitivity so it is often diagnosed through doing an elimination diet. Which is what I did – I ended up eating steamed chicken, potatoes and green beans….for days, weeks on end, especially as I was still trying to follow my fertility diet – no gluten, dairy or sugar – all three of which are low in salicylates!!.
Also, interesting to note that it is not considered an allergy because it doesn’t effect the immune system.
An intolerance to salicylates manifests itself in different ways for different people. For me it was a rash on my face. Seems to always start around my nose and eyes. It’s irritating and itchy and gets red, puffy and flaky.
But this is not the most commonly cited symptom.
More common are asthma – quite a high proportion of asthma suffers seem to have salicylate sensitivities.
Hives and sinus problems are also common issues. This means the diagnosis is often difficult and confused with pollen allergies.
Foods – high and low salicylate foods
This is where it gets really complicated….there is quite a bit of conflicting information about which foods are high and low in salicylates.
Everyone with salicylate sensitivity has different tolerance levels. For me I only get a reaction when I eat a lot of very high salicylate foods in a concentrated period. This has happened to me twice – first time was when I changed my diet and I was eating a lot of almonds – every day in my smoothies, for snacks and in some dishes. Second time was soon after I had given birth. I was suddenly eating different foods again – lots of dates and cooking in sesame oil.
Low salicylate foods – negligible very small amounts
Here is a table I have put together to act as a cheat sheet – when I was having issues with my skin I put my cheat sheet on the fridge to remind myself.
High salicylate foods
If you are amid a reaction avoid these foods altogether; if you are like me, once a reaction has gone I can slowly introduce these foods in but I make sure I do not use too many of them over a sustained period – it only takes a few days for my rash to come back if I eat a lot of these foods so I always have them in the back of my mind.
Cosmetics – how to minimise salicylate exposure
Salicylates in foods were my major concern but I was also using some cosmetic products with potentially quite high salicylate contents – all natural, plant based creams etc.
But it is not just natural cosmetics that are high in Salicylates. Many added preservatives contain salicylates like BHA and BHT – these two chemicals you wouldn’t want in your products regardless of a salicylate sensitivity. They are on my dangerous chemicals to avoid list.
Here is a fuller summary that you can use to scan ingredients lists and avoid:
Firstly anything with salicylate in its name 😉
- Ethyl salicylate
- Benzyl salicylate
- Acetylsalicylic acid
- Isoamyl salicylate
- Magnesium salicylate
- Phenylethyl salicylate
- Methyl Salicylate
- Choline salicylate
- Salicylic acid
- Sodium Salicylate
Secondly preservatives and other high salicylate additives
- Artificial food colorings
- Azo dyes
- Beta-hydroxy acid
- Coal tar dyes
Lastly natural high salicylate additives commonly found in personal care products
- Wintergreen oil
- Eucalyptus Oil
- Aloe Vera
- Make sure if you are using natural products that you avoid any products that also contain things that are in the high salicylate food list like apricot, almond, olives.
However, if you are really trying to go as low as possible you should look for a salicylate free brand (one that doesn’t also contain lots of other nasty other chemicals). The only one I found and used was Cleure – you get 20% off if you buy through this link. I have used some of their makeup – blush and mascara and shampoo & conditioner. Honestly it is not the highest performing product but for me it was necessary for 6 months or so whilst I reduced my body’s salicylate levels. Before I found Cleure I was completly makeup free – even at work in a cosmetics company…it was painful.
Now I am able to use any products but if my rash flares up again I will go back to Cleure. It is also great for anyone with hyper sensitive skin even if it is not due to salicylate intolerance.
Salicylates are either pretty irrelevant to you or extremely important. I imagine anyone who is reading this to the end has a salicylate sensitivity or knows someone close to them who might. I was very fortunate to be working with naturopaths to help me on my fertility journey which you can read more about here. So it was correctly diagnosed quickly because this can be the tricky part. Once you know what it is, it is fairly simple to manage – provided you are not traveling through India and only have curry to eat….
Hopefully my chart on low salicylate foods and the list of what to avoid in your personal care will help to navigate this area more easily.
If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to reach out to me below.