Diagnosis – Facial Allergic Contact Dermatitis Patch Testing Results


For today’s post I’m going to be taking you back in time to one of the busiest points of last year (and possibly of my life!)

In June 2016 I had just bought and moved into a new flat (our first that we have owned), was knee deep wedding planning, was working crazy hours, and my face was a mess.

The allergic contact dermatitis that had appeared from nowhere in 2014 was at an all time, irritating high (or low!) My lips were dry and cracked, with red sore patches all around them, and perhaps even worse the small patch that had developed under my eye had returned with a vengeance whilst I was on my hen weekend. I had absolutely no idea what was causing it, and no way of regulating it other than plastering the most delicate areas of my face with steroid cream.

This was not how I’d planned on my face looking for my wedding day.

However, after months of waiting, I had been referred back to the hospital for more tests.

I wasn’t holding out a lot of hope to be honest. I’d entered the first lot of tests with lots of optimism, only to come away with zero results, and discharged. Case closed, unsolved.

However, something strange happened around 2 weeks after the tests – a small, square, very irritated patch appeared on my back. I called the dermatology unit, but they dismissed me, saying that it was far to long after the tests to be having a reaction. I went to my GP, who also said it was probably unrelated (despite the perfect, square shape), and sent me away with stronger steroid cream.

It was only when I went in for my smear (book yours now ladies!!) and was chatting away to the GP doing it about what I did for a living in order to distract myself that the subject of the weird, square rash that just wouldn’t go away came up. She took a look, and immediately referred me back to the skin centre.

It took (as ever) months for my appointment to come through, and in January I found myself in a room full of consultants, who all couldn’t quite believe the photos I was showing them (thank goodness I’d taken good photos, as the rash was long gone by January) and all agreeing that although unlikely, I did seem to have had an extreme delayed reaction to the patch testing.

The only problem was, the record of where the patches had been placed wasn’t good enough to be able to tell what had caused it. So the whole lot had to be repeated.

June and my testing appointment rolled round. It was very much like my first experience, however this time the consultant dermatologist was dealing with me the whole time. On the Monday I went in, had hundreds of patches applied to my back, arms and torso (including my own beauty products), and was taped up within an inch of my life. I returned on Wednesday, all the patches were taken off, and as before, no reaction.

However, this is where things started to be done differently. I was taken into a private room, and had a separate set of patches applied to my forearms, which were left for 20 minutes. When they were taken off, boom – hive city.

I was itchy. And overjoyed! It was like 3 years of worry and frustration had finally come to a conclusion – I had allergies!

That Friday I returned to the hospital on what should have been my final appointment. I was checked over again by the consultant, and again, no reaction. However, this time she instructed me that she wanted to keep seeing me over the next 2 weeks.

Sure enough, when I returned, square, irritated, sore patches had appeared on my back.

It was no wonder that keeping a food and product diary hadn’t helped me work out what I was allergic to (and that the original testing hadn’t worked) – I was suffering from a mixture of instant allergic reactions that disappeared within an hour or so, and delayed reactions that weren’t fully appearing until 2 weeks after contact.

So, what am I allergic to?

  • Cinnamon
  • Benzoates (a preservative)
  • Drometrizole (a sunscreen)
  • Citronellal, Limonene and Linalool (fragrances)

And they were in EVERYTHING I was using (and a lot of things I was eating!)

Cinnamon is probably the sneakiest one – yes it’s easy to avoid it in the obvious places (I was sprinkling it in my coffee most mornings!) but it’s also in spice mixes (anything labled ‘mixed spice’ may or may not contain cinnamon, unfortunately it’s not a recognised allergen so it doesn’t legally have to be individually identified like, for example, gluten), and in SO MANY beauty products – it was in my shower gel, my shampoo, and in multiple lip glosses.

Benzoates are also everywhere. They are seen as a safe preservative, and can be found in so many beauty products but also in food – often in carbonated drinks. It also doesn’t help that they are naturally occuring in many foods, and although I’ve found I can tolerate many, I do have issues with some, particularly avocado (which again, I’ve found is an ingredient in many ‘hypoallergenic’ cosmetics)

Dometrizole was the key ingredient in the ‘hypoallergenic’ sunscreen that I was wearing on my face most days (ironically, trying to protect my skin!)

And the fragrances? Well Limonene and Linalool in particular have proved a problem. They are both a naturally occurring part of most essential oils, and therefore appear again, EVERYWHERE. Completely fragrance free seems to be the only way for me to go.

As you can imagine, there has followed a major clearing out of products, and stripping down of my routine. And slowly but surely, my skin has improved.

I now have a whole 3 lipsticks that I can wear without reaction (Old me with a drawer full is screaming in despair, but new me is just happy to finally have some colour back on my face and in my life!), and am identifying products to introduce.

I’m so excited to share my new, sensitive skin friendly beauty journey with you. I know from all the comments and emails that I receive about these posts that I’m not the only one who has had problems in this area, so I hope that I can be of help.

Also, if you know of any fragrance-free, preservative-free beauty brands that you’d like me to review – please do let me know!

Here’s to 2017, and bringing more colour back into my life!

  • Oh gosh what a nightmare you’ve had 🙁 it’s terrible that it’s taken so long to determine what was causing it all. At least now you’re able to take control and avoid all that your allergic to. I had no idea that cinnamon was in things such as lip gloss! I’m excited to see what discoveries you make!!! xxx

    • Emily_Jayne

      Yup it’s not been fun! But as you say, I feel like I’m taking back control, and it really has made me pay attention to what’s in the products I’m using!

  • Millie Shi

    I am SO glad to have your blog just this morning. I’ve been suffering from dermatitis for the past year with the same backstory – it just flared up suddenly one day and no lip balm in the world helped, and it was so awful seeing my lips so red and flaky and raw. Somehow it took me the entire past year to realize this wasn’t something that was going away on its own, so I’ve started recording my foods/products. Although we might have different allergies, I’m definitely checking whatever I use for those ingredients just in case. But THANK YOU for documenting your process in such detail! Even though it’s a pretty common condition it’s so good to hear from someone else who has been through it.

    • Emily_Jayne

      Thank you so much for your comment – when I first started going through this I couldn’t find anyone else having the same problems, so I really wanted to document it all to hopefully help other people. I went through every lip balm under the sun trying to sort out my ‘dry lips’ – little did I know that they were all making things worse! Good luck with finding out what is causing your issues, I hope you get to the bottom of it quicker than I did, and I’d definitely recommend going to your GP.

  • Lori

    I can completely relate to your struggle; within the last few months my upper body has erupted into an allergic mess. Long story short I am allergic to fragrances, all of the ones that they patch tested. So I am also overhauling my life with fragrance free everything (I am a former makeup artist and makeup enthusiast in general so this has proven to be difficult). May I ask what brand of fragrance free lipsticks have you found?

    • Emily_Jayne

      It’s so hard when something you love is the thing causing the problem, isn’t it?!

      I’ve been getting on really well with the NARS Audacious lipsticks. My lips are still on the sensitive side, but I can wear these a few days on the trot with no problems so far – fingers crossed!

  • Hannah Montgomery

    Please give an update on this! Have you been able to cut out all your allergens? Have your skin issues resolved themselves as a result? I’m having a lot of problems myself and my dr has recommended patch testing. I’m feeling miserable and hopeless, I can really relate to how you were feeling when you weren’t getting any answers. I really hope things worked out for you and if so it will give me renewed hope for my issues and I will feel better about paying for the expensive testing. <3

    • Emily_Jayne

      Hello! My skin is SO much better since working to cut out my allergens. Fingers crossed, I haven’t yet had another recurrance of the patch around my eye, and my lips are pretty much fine on a day to day basis. They are still very sensitive (which is no wonder given what they went through!) and I still struggle to wear lipstick (I’ve pretty much given up at this point to be honest, but hoping that I may be able to tolerate it one day) but generally they are fine unless I accidentally eat something I’m allergic to (as I said, cinnamon is especially difficult to avoid!) or use a new product that my skin doesn’t like (I’ve very much pared back my skincare and makeup routines) So, everything’s not perfect, but in my case the patch testing was definitely worth it.

      I’m so sorry you’re feeling so down – I’ve been there and know it’s horrible. Such a shame you have to pay for patch testing, I’m forever grateful for our NHS. Hope all goes well and you get some answers x

      • Hannah Montgomery

        Thank you so much for this update! I just scheduled my patch testing for September. I hope it helps get to the bottom of this. You should indeed be grateful for your NHS, with my student insurance here in the US its going to cost me $400. That’s on top of the $50 I’ve had to pay for each of the dermatologists I’ve seen already (3) I sincerely hope there won’t need to be a follow up with more allergens…
        Oh! Also, that crazy British show Embarrassing Bodies has just hit Netflix in the US and there was an episode with a guy who had lip problems very similar to yours and he got patch testing and found he was allergic to cinnamon too! On Netflix it was season 2 episode 2 called “kids” (this guy wasn’t a kid) if you want to check it out.

        • Emily_Jayne

          No problem – best of luck with your patch testing (especially considering the cost!!) and thanks for letting me know about that Embarrassing Bodies episode – I’ll have to see if I can find it!!

          • Hannah Montgomery

            Well, if you’re interested, I had my patch testing. Kind of similar to what your experience was in that my doctor said I didn’t have any reactions of note. Very frustrating! Unfortunately, she didn’t do the immediate reaction test you had after that she just told me to go home and do “use testing” on myself. As in, rub some of the products I use on my inner elbow 2x a day for 2 weeks to see if I see a reaction. I’m not thrilled with this idea as that basically means I get to pay her $400 while I rub shampoo on my elbows every day…
            A big difference from your experience is that they never asked me to bring in any products I use and, although they had me write down what I used a long time ago, I don’t think anyone looked at the list. So the patches they put on me were just standard ones my insurance will cover. She said to come back in 2 months and to continue using the steroid cream… I’m feeling pretty defeated and thoughts of moving to Canada or the UK for a healthcare system that makes sense have crossed my mind. :'(

          • Emily_Jayne

            So sorry you had disappointing results – I know I was so upset when I got my first lot back and was also told to test on my self, and that was without the added cost! I hope you do move towards a diagnosis, and hopefully you will be able to get some answers when you return in a couple of months.

          • Hannah Montgomery

            Thanks for your support, it has been tough!