Monday, April 13, 2009

Hidden Ingredients in Lotions

While we were in Mexico, my son and husband began calling me “Picasso.”

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking it was my natural artistic talents that earned me this nickname. My penchant for patterns. My love of colors.

You’re right. It was all of those.

Unfortunately, the canvas for my artistic endeavors was my family’s winter-white skin, and my paint was sunblock.

Every day, I would dutifully apply sunblock to myself, my son, and my husband. And every day I would miss a spot or two, which would reveal itself later that evening as another bright red patch in a place it didn’t belong. By the end of the week, we all looked like patchwork dolls pieced together from a dozen different red fabrics.

Artistic, perhaps. Smart, no. Attractive, even less so.

The resort where we stayed was quite nice, and it graciously provided a decent-sized bottle of “Gilchrist & Soames Chamomile Aloe Vera” lotion in each bathroom. As usual, there was no ingredients label on the bottle. There never is, on hotel-sized toiletries. So I don’t use those lotions on my son – I always bring my own small bottles of safe lotions and shampoos, because I never know when a manufacturer is going to use a nut oil in a cosmetic product.

I did use the lotion on my own sunburned legs, and it really felt wonderful – the aloe vera in it did the trick. I was tempted to use it on my son, because he got a bad sunburn on his cheeks, but instead I washed my hands and used my own lotion on him.

Turns out, that was the right decision.

When I got home from our vacation, I logged on to the manufacturer’s website, found a phone number, and called and talked to a very friendly and helpful woman. She didn’t have the ingredients list, but promised to track it down and email it to me.

The next day, the email arrived. Sure enough, the lotion contained sweet almond oil. Choosing NOT to use the lotion was definitely the right way to go. The lotion also contained sunflower oil and soybean oil.

I wrote back to the woman and explained that I was glad I didn’t apply the lotion to my son, because having an allergic reaction in a foreign country would be scary. I also let her know that soybean oil and almond oil represent two of the top eight food allergens that cause 90% of the reactions, and I politely asked if I could make a suggestion to include at least a small warning on their bottles about nut and soy allergies. I explained that since these lotions are found in hotels around the world, the people most likely to use them are always far from home and familiar medical help. It could be a problem.

The lovely woman promptly wrote right back and said she’d forwarded my email to her supervisor, explaining to him how serious nut allergies are for so many people, and she thanked me for taking the time to let her know.

She could have blown me off. That’s the typical response from customer service people these days. But she didn’t – she took the time to let me know she thought my idea and concern were valid.

I doubt we’ll suddenly start seeing ingredients labels on hotel bath amenities any time soon because of one little email on my part. But if we all start sending simple email requests to manufacturers whenever we encounter something like this, it might make a difference someday. I hate to think that somewhere in Mexico right now, a mom is putting lotion on her allergic child to soothe a stinging sunburn, and that simple remedy is going to make a good vacation day turn bad, when a simple label could have prevented that.

So use caution when you’re staying at a hotel, and avoid using those unlabeled toiletries. And apply sunblock twice as often as you think you need to. Unless you want to take over my role as “Picasso.”


Kendra_ said...

I would never have thought about that in a lotion. Definitely something that makes you think twice!

Kelley J. P. Lindberg said...

It's always amazing to me the strange places I find nuts. I found ground almond shells in my exfolliating soap several years ago, and had to stop using it. It wasn't labeled -- I had to check with the manufacturer on that, too. Thanks for writing!