Sunday, 22 January 2012
Parabens and tocopherol
I have now heard from my future manager that full time hours are available, at least for a temporary period, although the contract that arrived for me to sign shows it's a permanent job but only 2 days a week. I have an appointment with Occupational Health to go through my vaccination history, and I even have a provisional start date, which I'm looking forward to with some trepidation. Other than short periods of 12 weeks it's been nearly 5 years since I had to get up and go to work every day, and more than 6 months since I actually did anything relating to Dietetics other than being interviewed, so I'm trying to prepare for the shock to the system.
I've also been speaking to the Occupational Health department about my skin sensitivity. I've had eczema on my hands since I was a child, and tried a number of ways to deal with it, including skin prick allergy testing, where the only thing I reacted to was the 'hypo-allergenic' sticking plaster they used to tape the samples down. Mostly, I wore cotton gloves to help stop the skin drying out, cracking and bleeding, and I remember wearing pale pink gloves during my O levels, where there were obviously concentrated periods of handwriting, so my writing hand would get cramp because I had to grip the pen harder than usual.
I also remember the intolerable itching, and to avoid scratching the skin away I would run water from the hot tap over my hands until the pain of the heat obliterated the terrible itching. There were periods when the eczema retreated, although it never really disappeared completely, and there was always a background itch, which I must have learned to ignore. Habits we adopted at home included mum generously peeling oranges for me, because the acidic juice would sting the raw patches on my hands. I was reminded of that last weekend, when I peeled an orange for her! And I never washed the dishes without rubber gloves, and always washed my hands as little as humanly possible during the course of a day.
Things started to change because of a sunny holiday in around 1995. It was something to do with either the suntan cream I used, or some preparation I applied to sunburn, but whatever it was triggered the thought that it was the lotions that were causing the skin rash, not the heat. And I stopped using them, and the rash slowly improved, and I wrote down all the ingredients of the lotions. I don't even remember how I came to decide which ingredient to avoid - perhaps it happened again and I compared ingredients - but that was when I started to watch out for the paraben family of chemicals.
That seemed to be quite successful, until I reacted to an antiperspirant that didn't contain parabens, and shortly afterwards to a massage oil that was also paraben-free. Both of those contained tocopherol, otherwise known as vitamin E, and widely held to be 'good for your skin' and therefore added to many beauty products. I don't regularly use anything that might be classed as a product relating to beauty, but it occasionally pops up in other things - luckily (at least in the UK) all the ingredients of any preparation that comes into contact with skin are listed, except laundry powders and liquids.
So I now avoid any contact with parabens and tocopherols, which are often found in products like soap, shampoo, bubble bath, lip, face, hand, foot and creams for any other body parts, very nearly all suntan protection except ludicrously expensive stuff for babies, anti-perspirant and anything else you'd routinely buy from Boots to apply to the outside of your body. I stick to the same washing powder that has been OK so far, and still wear rubber gloves for washing up when I'm at home. And I've been almost completely eczema- and itch-free for about ten years, although I still have a large tub of emulsifying ointment in case of the occasional accident, and I will be forever thankful for product labelling laws.
The folks in the Occupational Health department are going off to check the ingredients in the hospital soap. "Of course, if you find that it contains parabens or tocopherol I can always use my own soap," I said. But no, that would not be possible. Apparently, it is forbidden. If that's the case then I hope that we could agree on some reasonable compromise, because I can't believe that my employment as a dietitian could be derailed before it's even begun just because I'm allergic to the soap they use in that particular hospital.