ASK THE ALLERGISTA: How long does propylene glycol make you itch?

ask_the_allergista

Q:

Hi Allergista,

Thanks for posting about your experiences. I developed eczema a little over a year ago and about 3 months ago was patch tested and found to be allergic to Propylene Glycol.

I was hoping that knowing this would be enough for me to be able to control it (as widespread as it is) but of course it's not so easy with this chemical. While I'm not at my peak itchiness, I still can't seem to get rid of it no matter what I do. I'm rarely exercising because it dries out and enflames my skin, and the itchiness demands my attention throughout the day.

When I was diagnosed with PG allergy, my dermatologist handed me some literature that stated a contact reaction will trigger a two to six month reaction.

Anxiety also runs in my family and I have a personal history of it. I went off the maintenance medication I was taking as it contains polyethylene glycol, which I have started to deduce I may also be allergic to although this was not included in the patch test. (My face was turning red and is not nearly as red since discontinuing use).

As I'm still trying to understand the allergy, what I'm trying to figure out is the "why" I can't rid or significantly lessen the itchiness which is in many places on my body. In addition to religiously checking ingredients, I started moisturizing regularly. Like many people, it's the mental part of this that is equally tough.

From your experience, how long does it take to reduce the itchiness after an accidental exposure? Does the itchiness ever go away?

I am trying to figure out (a) if I'm somehow having a continued exposure without realizing it, despite my best efforts, (b) if I'm still itchy from my many exposures up until diagnosis 3 months ago, (c) if I'm experiencing a more general eczema impact i.e. skin drying out from the cold New York weather or (d) if my anxiety is contributing to and making the itchiness much worse that it should be.

My next steps are to go organic and to find a safe anxiety med but still feel need to understand the allergy better, too.

Thanks!

A:

Hi there! Thanks for writing me :-) And you are most welcome for me sharing my story. I'm very happy to do so!

Ok - to address the question of how long it takes your skin to stop reacting, that depends on two things: 1) how allergic you are to PG 2) how much PG is in the product. For me personally, as long as I can see a skin irritation... it's itchy. When the allergic reaction (aka allergic contact dermatitis aka a form of eczema) goes away, so does the itch. I also struggle with this answer because I know I have allergic contact dermatitis which is a form of eczema, but doctors also think I have atopic dermatitis which means skin reactions for no reason. I have spots on my body where SOME eczema is there 90% of the time: elbows, hands and lately my left foot. My left foot has been going on for about 6 months now. Very annoying.

Regarding your other questions: a) you could definitely be exposed to propylene glycol without realizing it. It can be hidden in other ingredients such as extracts, modified starches, and artificial flavoring/coloring. You'll find all of these things in food products as well as personal care products, so make sure you read the ingredient label on ANYTHING and especially make sure to avoid modified starches and non-organic extracts.

I actually had some vitamins that were making me nauseous and it was because they contained modified food starch. Once I switched vitamins, I stopped feeling sick after taking them. b) I'm generally itchy, but I'm allergic to so many things, that I figure I've somehow managed to come into contact with SOMETHING. I recommend using Cerave body cream all over - especially after you shower. Make sure your showers aren't too hot because that can provoke itchiness. c) Your skin being sensitive to the cold is definitely a possibility and it could be dried out from the winter. I recommend using a humidifier. I run one in our bedroom during the winter and move it to the middle of the house during the day on the bad days. d) Your anxiety is definitely not helping your skin. Stress is awful for skin. Make sure to make room to do NOTHING for 10 minutes each day. Just sit there and breathe and relax. Set a relaxing sounding alarm and just BE. Trust me, it's kinda nice. Also check out my board full of pg-free products!

Going organic is definitely a good idea. The more pure your ingredients, the better! A short list is a good list :-) Try out 100% Pure. They have a lot of great plant based products and I've loved every 100% Pure product that I've tried, no lie. Looking into meditation will also help give you ways to hold up a metaphorical stop sign to your racing mind and let you enjoy focusing on something more relaxing for a few moments. It slows down your mind and blood pressure and does wonders in general.

I hope that this little bit of insight helps. All my best goes out to you in dealing with this allergy. It can be frustrating... keep doing research online and keep a list of products / ingredients in which you'll find PG... it's sneaky!

Sincerely,

The Allergista