I was reading Vee's piece on weaves and she started talking about product and what balances cost with effectiveness and I went from being really interested to being kinda jealous. This is one of those areas of my life that people don't realize is complicated, so read this to learn about how I pick product*. TW: picture of my skin that may make you itch

You guise may or may not be aware, but I have super-mega-allergies. It has major lifestyle impact. It requires that I bring all of my own food to every party, avoid outdoor activities, drive my car and park near events or take a cab rather than take public transit, avoid a lot of cleaning chemicals in my home, check every restaurant menu before I go in, ask for substitutions at most meals out, and still risk allergy attacks. Beauty products are the absolute worst.

There is No Such Thing as Hypoallergenic

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The word hypoallergenic is a marketing term for which there is no usage standard. It is also misunderstood. The hypo prefix means "less," so the word is used to denote that buyers won't be allergic to it, even though it actually means that the chance of allergy to it is low. I'm allergic to Claritin, Zyrtec, and my own sweat. Marketers, stop trying to make hypoallergenic happen. Hypoallergenic is not going to happen. It's like "organic" or "GMO-free;" without a standard and a way to enforce that standard, you can put that label on literally anything. Essence of poison ivy? Hypoallergenic! Wheeeee!

I once bought "hypoallergenic, for sensitive skin" moisturizer at Target on the advice of a stock person and 2 bystanders, because the one that my allergist told me to buy wasn't available there. Every time I put it on, my face got itchier, so I put more on. After a few days, my face was one solid hive and I wondered if the moisturizer might be making it worse. I checked the ingredients. Macadamia nut oil. Macadamia is a tree nut, which makes it one of the big 8 allergens. I have a life-threatening allergy to macadamia nuts. I learned that lesson. Always read the label.

Oh, Sales People, Please Stahp

You know those people at the mall beauty kiosks and department store beauty counters whose job it is to entice you to try their product because if you try it, you'll like it? My conversations with them usually go like this:

Them: You look like you have sensitive skin. We have a great moisturizer that will really help you out!

Me: I'm allergic.

Them: No! It's hypoallergenic!

Me: There's no such thing as hypoallergenic.

Them: No really, it's lab tested as hypoallergenic. It's not possible to be allergic to it! It's as gentle as water!

Me: I'm allergic to hot water and I smell from here that I'm allergic. Hypoallergenic literally does not exist.

Them: But it's really hypoallergenic! It's lab tested! But not on animals!

Me (now yelling from a distance): I promise that I know more about my skin than you do. You really need to stop using that word.

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It's like the guys in bars who deny that you are married when you are wearing a wedding ring and you spent the last two hours hanging on a guy who just left for the bathroom. No. Just no.

Let's Look at the Problem for a Minute

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This is my face. The first thing to look at here is the red and black arrow. This is a zit. This is the only zit. Every other red dot on my face is eczema. That blue circle? That is the part of my face that is unaffected by the eczema. This is how my entire face would be colored if I were on cortisone right now, with the exception of that one zit.** The white arrow pointing to my lip? One side of my lip is currently bigger than the other because I have a spot of eczema on that side; it's slightly swollen.

Now, I say that this is eczema; that is the official diagnosis, which took over 10 years of treatment to come to. Like many things that my allergies cause, a specialist looked at it, said "Wow, I've never seen that before" and went to get the department head for a consult. In this case, because I knew that the flareups got better with cortisone and I was treating it with topical cortisone cream, the dermatologist guessed that it was probably "atypical eczema" and prescribed a stronger cortisone cream; if that cream worked, then it was eczema. It looks like hives. It itches like hives. The only reason that it's not hives is that hives are temporary.

The good news is that it only itches when the flareup gets worse, so it's only as uncomfortable as it looks for a few days. The bad news is that this is the allergic reaction present in my skin while on 4 OTC antihistamines and prescription cortisone cream. This is a huge improvement over what it used to be.

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Recommended Products and Treatment

When you have sensitive and allergic skin, your diagnosis comes with a handout of how to manage the condition and a list of which products are recommended as the "most hypoallergenic available."

Skin Treatment

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Wash your face twice a day in tepid water. Do not exfoliate. Pat dry; do not rub. Wash your face and hands after coming in from outside or petting an animal. Unless you are allergic to tea tree oil, try Basis All Clear. If you are or All Clear doesn't result in an improvement, try Basis Vitamin Bar. If this still doesn't help, go to straight glycerin soap, with no oils, perfumes, colors, chemicals, or additives of any kind.


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Apply any cream medication to affected areas after patting dry. After it has been absorbed, apply Vanicream to entire face and neck area, plus any other areas affected by hives or eczema. For the love of your sanity, do not ever use something other than Vanicream. Yes, I know you can't buy it in a store and you have to order it online even though pharmacists literally have vats of the stuff behind the counter because it's the compounding agent for cream medications. Just get the tub with the pump already, sheesh.


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After the Vanicream has been absorbed, apply base to the entire face and neck. You need one with sunscreen and you will need to test several brands to find one that you are not allergic to. Make sure that the brands are expensive, because they're less likely to contain cheap, harsh ingredients. Try to get SPF 20 if you can. After the base has dried, apply loose dry powder with a brush. This makeup is not to make you look pretty or to hide that your skin is a fright; this is to form a protective layer over your face when you leave the house.

(I use MAC base and powder when I do wear makeup because I'm not allergic to most MAC makeup. I am, however, allergic to the powder, so if I don't apply the base first to the entire powdered area and let it dry, my skin becomes unbearably itchy and I will wash my face in a bar bathroom to get it off. I usually don't wear base and powder out because seriously, how long am, I supposed to take to get ready every day? Jeez.)


Apply Sunscreen Everywhere Else Too

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Just as a protective layer so no allergens can touch your skin. You may want to spend an hour or two in the Whole Foods sunscreen aisle sniffing all the sunscreens and spot testing the ones that don't smell terrible on the inside of your wrist. Now, you may be allergic to the active ingredient of some sunscreens, so try the Zinc ones first. Pray that you're not allergic to coconut because coconut smells beachy and fun!

(I'm allergic to coconut.)


Do Your Lady Bits Itch Too?

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The first rule of vulva hives is we don't talk about vulva hives. The second rule of vulva hives is we don't talk about vulva hives.

Perfume

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Don't. Just don't.

Seriously? You're going to anyway? Fine. Spend 18 hours sniffing perfumes until you find one that doesn't make you retch, then spot test that one on the inside of your wrist. If you don't have hives in the next 20 minutes, it might be worth the risk but really don't.

(I use MAC MV3. It is not flowery or spicy and thus does not set off my flower smell reaction or my spice smell reaction. Because I am allergic to flowers and spices, the smell of many perfumes will give me anxiety even if I'm not allergic. Because I have friends who are sensitive to perfume, I only wear it on special occasions that I know they aren't attending. Otherwise, no hugs for me!)

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You Know What Else You Might React to?

Only use unscented because duh, but also... some people are allergic to the active ingredients in some deodorants. Arrid XX has a different active ingredient than many of the others, so if you get armpit eczema (like I do!) try switching to a deodorant with a different active ingredient.

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OMG You Have Hair Too? What is Wrong with You?

OK fine.

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Available at fine Kaiser pharmacies everywhere and online. What do you mean you've tried that one and the conditioning rinse leaves your hair feeling blah? You mean you want product that works? Honey, you're going to need to learn to be less picky. You have skin issues.

OK then, go to the grocery store and go up and down the hair aisle until you smell something that doesn't smell gross, then do a spot test on your arm and if you don't react, buy it and take it home. Don't blame me if 3 days later your face itches because you're allergic to your hair products. You're the one complaining about DHS. Geh.

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Pantene Pro-V Classic works for me. Recently, Pantene did a reformulation with rebranding and my grocery store stopped selling this variety so I had to try others. I was allergic to every one of them. I tried 4 at home. It was terrible. It has a new label and it's harder to find, but I can find it occasionally and then I stock up.

Companies change formulations and labels way too often. I know you have used that shampoo and conditioner before and it's been fine. Smell it every time anyway and make sure it smells the same. This stuff, for instance, was not always called "Classic." It used to just be labeled Pantene Pro-V and now something else is labeled Pantene Pro-V.

I have a friend who can tell when I'm near because she's allergic to Pantene Pro-V Classic. Your mileage may vary.

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Oh by the way, I don't know if I told you this but you'll also be coming in contact with your boyfriend's hair and that may require that he switch to your shampoo and conditioner— not to save room in the shower— so you're not allergic to your boyfriend. I hope he's not picky. He may need to change soaps too. Good luck.

About Your Hairstyle...

Your hair is going to need to be long enough to pull back, no bangs, no short hair. You need to braid it before you go outside and if you don't, you need to take a shower and wash your hair immediately after you get inside. When you are outside, you will get pollen in your hair. Braiding it tightly will lessen the amount of pollen that you get in your hair and washing will ensure that pollen that you track in will go down the drain instead of getting in your pillowcase.

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Oh and now you want to style your hair? What the...? OK fine. Go to Sally's and spray every hairspray in the area onto your skin and hope for the best. Good luck if you're allergic to apples. (I am.)

Bonus points for this one: smells like bubble gum.

Oh, but don't get any on your face because you'll have to wash it in tepid water and pat it dry and reapply all the shit without getting anything on your newly styled hair.

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Oh, Did You Come Home Tired Because You're Having an Allergy Attack?

Shower anyway. Buy a shower stool and a handheld shower or something. Don't look at me for answers. You're the one who left your house.

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Oh, Are You Allergic to Hot Water?

Why do you think we said to wash your face in tepid water? Shower in tepid water.

What, you wanted choices?

PS Buy a HEPA filter for every room of your house, for your car, and for your office.

*And it's seriously OK Vee! You're not why I'm sad! Don't you apologize for being you!

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** Also important to note: look at my adorable nose! I have cute nose privilege.