I have many allergies both food and seasonal, but of all of them, I find that coconut is one of the hardest to manage. Coconut is in so many things from food to cosmetics, to lotions, to hand creams and hair products. As I understand it, it is unusual to have a coconut allergy but in trying to find coconut-free products, I have realized that I certainly am not alone.
Let's talk coconut
Coconut is a fruit, not a nut. In fact, the American College of Asthma, Allergies & Immunology says this about it, "Coconut is not a botanical nut; it is classified as a fruit, even though the Food and Drug Administration recognizes coconut as a tree nut. While allergic reactions to coconut have been documented, most people who are allergic to tree nuts can safely eat coconut. If you are allergic to tree nuts, talk to your allergist before adding coconut to your diet." Many people can freely enjoy the benefits of coconut...but not me.
Again, as far as food goes coconut is a fruit, not a nut; however, in 2006, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began classifying coconut as a tree nut. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) is required to list all of the specific tree nuts on labels, but FALCPA requirements do not apply to personal care items such as cosmetics, shampoo, mouthwash, toothpaste or shaving cream as well as many other items.
Here is an excerpt from FDA.gov about labeling requirements for food:
Be a food and product label detective
If you have allergies, being a label detective is an absolute requirement for your safety and maybe your life. I can't tell you how many times I thought a product was AllergyFree4Me because coconut was not declared, only to find a derivative of coconut listed in the ingredients. If you have a coconut allergy, thoroughly search through the ingredients listed on labels because coconut is present in many foods in the derivative form such as coconut oil, coconut rice, coconut sugar, coconut water, coconut cream, coconut milk, and more. Since personal products such as cosmetics, hand cream, shampoo, and toothpaste do not have to follow FALCPA rules for labeling, I definitely scour the ingredient list. Don't be afraid to research the ingredient list even if you have to google them on your phone while standing in the grocery aisle.
What's my perspective
Why do I care so much about searching labels for coconut or looking to see if coconut is found in its derivative form in a product? Yes, I am anaphylactic allergic to peanuts and tree nuts so that is one reason. But for me, even inhaling coconut oil found in hand cream that someone else is wearing will cause me to grab my crisis inhaler and the Benadryl bottle. Coconut is an inhalant allergy for me that causes an immediate asthma attack. I have been known to leave a room or hurriedly exit a Wal-mart aisle due to coconut in the air. I also have a reaction to coconut on my skin. Can you imagine what that means when it comes to hand creams, dish soap, bath soap or shampoo?
Researching for a coconut-free hand cream, led me to the website Women's Health & Wellness, which led me to write this blog post. As I was perusing through some of the hand creams checking out ingredients, I clicked on How Safe Is It.
I was so excited to see forthright labeling and, in particular, cautions like this clearly acknowledged. I could tell at a glance that it wasn't safe for me to use this hand cream. Woohoo! There is hope, my coconut allergy friends, that labeling will improve!!!
I titled this post "Coconut Allergy - Part 1" because there is much more I'd like to share regarding an allergy to coconut and how to survive in a world full of coconut-infused products.