Have you ever woken up to itchy eyes? It’s a strange, unsettling feeling and one that greeted me on a sunny morning last week. When I looked in the mirror I was horrified to find my upper eye lids breaking out in scaly dermatitis. The delicate skin around my eyes had decided it was time to protest against a serum I had used, and the results were red, purple and angry. If you have every experienced dermatitis you will know the feeling I am describing. The worst part is that it takes days or even weeks to heal properly, with a lot of itching, scaling and peeling in between, and can cause hyperpigmentation.
I have been using only natural and organic cosmetics for many months, but after a day of particularly dry skin, and with my usual natural serum finished, I decided to pull out a hydrating serum that is not 100% natural from my bathroom cupboard. The serum contains 4 ingredients: water, sodium hyaluronate (hyaluronic acid), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), and phenoxyethanol (preservative). I figured that the percentage of phenoxyethanol in the solution was probably very minimal, so I decided to ignore that and use it anyway. How wrong I was… The result was not hydrated skin, but red, itchy skin. This is a brand that I know and trust, something I used on my skin for many years. I never use it close to my eyes – I know to avoid that. And yes, I checked and it’s still within its use by period so my reaction wasn’t caused by an out of date cosmetic. My only analysis is that after months of not using this, when I went back to it my skin was no longer used to coping with the synthetically derived ingredients in the formulation. Now I do accept that this could have been caused by food or other irritants, however I also know that I didn’t eat or do anything out of my ordinary routine last week, so I sincerely doubt that.
I’ve blogged about the potential effects of phenoxyethanol before. It’s a glycol ether that’s quite common in cosmetics these days as an alternative preservative to parabens. There are plenty of articles and blogs out there describing its ill effects, however let's focus on the research as gathered by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). According to EWG[i] the use of phenoxyethanol is restricted in cosmetics in Japan, and the EU classifies it as toxic or harmful and a potential irritant. In a 2006 study it was shown to be in the top 10 most frequent allergens[ii]. There are actually quite a few studies on phenoxyethanol (usually carried out in cell lines and not on human subjects), if you want to read up on it check out PubMed[iii]. If you need any help going through the research let me know…So after reading all the research I could find, I have decided to make my bathroom entirely phenoxyethanol free. But more on that in my next blog…
Right now I am concentrating on healing. While I've ensured that I am only using the purest, most natural skin care for sensitive skin (LUXE Botanics being one of them), the biggest mistake I made on this journey was using a very light over the counter steroid cream (DermAid 0.5%) on day 3 which just inflamed my skin even more and I believe to have been the cause of my skin almost "burning" (see the photos below and the peeling that ensued). This steroid cream should have actually been fine as its extremely mild, but I guess in my case my skin was just too sensitive already for anything topical to be applied. When the DermAid made it worse I finally went to my doctor, and with a course of oral steroids my skin seems to be slowly recovering.
Here’s what I’ve looked like over the past 5 days:
I've experienced redness, itching and flaking extending down from my upper eyelid onto my lower lids, that then went on to form a thick, smooth layer of skin all around my eyes that felt just like a heat burn. And then, it peeled... I would love to hear from you if you’ve had a similar reaction to phenoxyethanol or other synthetic ingredients - how did you cope? What did you do to heal yourself? How long did it take to get back to normal again…?
As always, read your labels, do your research and be aware of what ingredients affect your skin...
Jené, Founder of LUXE Botanics