Coconut Conundrum


When was the last time you were exposed to coconut?

I bet it was was within the past 24 hours.  Seriously.  It was in your shampoo, or your soap, or your tissues.  I had no idea that coconut is more pervasive than soy!  I have been driving myself crazy for the past week trying to find a coconut-free shampoo for E and I am ready to give up, which is really, really hard for me to do.

Let me back up a bit.  E has always had sensitive skin and eczema. I remember going in for a well visit when he was about 2 months old and mentioning that his baby acne seemed pretty bad.  The doctor’s response, “That’s not baby acne.”  He then promptly prescribed a topical steroid to treat moderate/severe eczema.  He also recommended we start moisturizing with Aquaphor.  Thus begun our thrice daily ritual of slathering the greasy ointment on his entire body.  He used to love his daily massages and I loved the connection I felt to him as I tickled him and watched his smiley face while giving them.  But his skin didn’t really get better.   When E was about 4 months old (right before he was diagnosed with the milk allergy), his cradle cap became infected and required antibiotics.  At that point the pediatrician recommended that we replace the all-natural moisturizing body wash/shampoo that we had been using his whole life with good old Dove bar soap.  She told us to wash his whole body, including his head (he didn’t have much hair at the time) every day with the Dove.  Thank goodness the skin cleared up and we went to an every-other-day bathing schedule (bath time is not my favorite) but we have continued to use the Dove.

Well now that he has “real” hair, the Dove soap isn’t working so well.  His hair is feeling coarse and doesn’t seem to be very clean, so we decided it might be time for real shampoo.  Over the past several months I’ve learned that oat is an ingredient in a lot of moisturizers and I have also learned to assume that soy is everywhere, so I started to read shampoo ingredients. Just to be clear, topical exposure to allergens isn’t usually a concern for FPIES. For the most part the food has to be ingested, which generally isn’t a concern for shampoo.  However, sometimes it seems that my son’s only goal while in the bathtub is to drink the bathwater.  You know, the gross, soapy, dirty water, in which he also often pees. That water is apparently more delicious to him than anything I’ll ever serve him in his highchair.  He will use any toy as a vessel to get that water into his mouth.  He’s really quite creative.  (Please tell me other children do this). So, I just figured it would be best if his shampoo didn’t contain any allergens.  I also had no idea how hard that would be.

First I went to the Vanicream website because I knew they made good quality hypoallergenic products for sensitive skin.  I hoped they made a shampoo. They did! The ingredients didn’t list any of E’s allergens.  But something made me double check the FAQs, where I saw this: “Some shampoo or cleanser ingredients may be made from coconuts.”   Ugh.  So I went back to the ingredients and looked again.  This time I noticed that it contained coco glucoside, which seemed like it could be connected to coconut.  After about a minute of googling it was confirmed – coco glucoside is a chemical derived from coconut.  This is when it occurred to me that much like milk has several synonyms, maybe I better figure out what types of chemicals are made from coconut, perhaps it was more than just coco glucoside.

Luckily, I quickly found a great blog, coconutallergy.blogspot.com, which included a post of all of the coconut-derived ingredients – THERE WERE 73!!!! And I thought it was annoying to have to be on the lookout for “casein” and “whey” in addition to “milk.”  How on earth was I supposed to know that Sodium Lauryl Sulfate was made from coconut, let alone 1,2 Octanediol, Cetearyl Alcohol, PEG -100, and the 69 other chemical names on the list?!

After a bit of frustration and panic, I took a deep breath.  Knowledge is power, right?  Now I had a list that I could check ingredients against and avoid these things.  So I went to diapers.com and searched “shampoo.”  I figured that was a good place to start.  I went down the list, one by one, reading the ingredients.  Some were easy to eliminate – they had oat or soy.  Some actually (thankfully) listed “coconut oil” in the ingredients.  Others required cross-referencing THE LIST.  It took me an entire night but I managed to eliminate all of them!  All 160 items that diapers.com found for me (ok, some were duplicates, but still!).  Each one contained an allergen, and it was often a coconut-derived ingredient. By the way, the all natural body wash we lovingly bathed our newborn in – contained soy, oat, and coconut!  Oh and the Dove contains THREE (!) coconut-derived ingredients.


Ok.  I was frustrated and confused. I closed my laptop.  I walked away from the research and pretty much decided to give up.  Here’s my rationalization as to why it’s ok to give up on trying to find a totally coconut-free shampoo.

First, one doesn’t seem to exist.  But I haven’t scoured every last corner of the internet or tried to make my own yet, so that wasn’t a good enough reason for me.

Second, I’m not really clear on what “coconut-dervived” means.  I tried to do some research but it hurt my head.  I barely survived organic chemistry and the explanations of how these chemicals were derived gave me horrible flash-backs. The best, most approachable explanation I saw basically said that these things started out from a coconut that was processed until it became this useful chemical.  There were also a lot of mentions of coconut oil.  Oil, in general, doesn’t contain (many) proteins (aka allergens).  So if it was actually derived from coconut oil, then we are talking about a chemical that is a very processed form of a non-allergic part of the coconut.  Doesn’t sound that scary.  (Disclaimer: I still don’t totally get it and a lot of what I just said is based on assumptions that I may have created to make myself feel better).  On the other hand, there are reports of people with coconut allergies reacting to these coconut-derived chemicals and we have decided to avoid all forms of the allergens (including oils) in hopes of increasing our chances of outgrowing the allergy. It just doesn’t seem possible in this case.

Third, and maybe most convincingly, he’s been using products containing coconut-derived  ingredients for most of his life.  His skin has improved and his eczema is controlled while using the Dove.  So, it is unlikely he will react to the shampoo.  We may never know if that exposure prevents him from outgrowing the allergy.

So, I made my decision.  I’m going to try Say Yes to Baby Carrots Shampoo + Body Wash.  From what I can see, it only has one coconut-derived ingredient and no indication of other allergens.  It got good reviews and I also liked the philosophy of the company.  I’m relieved to have found a product that contains a lot of natural ingredients but few allergens.  I’ll let you know how we like it and whether we see any indicate of a reaction.

Bath Time July 2013

Maybe now I’ll be more motivated to prevent him from drinking the bath water.  Any suggestions?