Does your baby have a nappy rash, cradle cap or eczema? These are common treatable afflictions among infants, but what countless parents are unaware of is that the ointments used to treat these conditions have been associated with a dangerous allergy.
Absorption through the skin
According a study titled Factors Associated with the Development of Peanut Allergy in Childhood, there are causal links between continued exposure to arachis oil (peanut oil) and developing a peanut allergy.
Read: 5 common hidden food allergens
The work was published in The New England Journal of Medicine and reaches the conclusion that a child who suffers from eczema is more likely to have a peanut allergy than an eczema-free child, seemingly as a result of continued absorption of peanut oil through the skin, coupled with some other risk factors. It sits alongside several other studies listed by UK charity The Anaphylaxis Campaign in a helpful information sheet regarding common allergens.
The sources of this research are useful but a bit dense, so we’ll break it down for you into what you need to know and what you should be on the lookout for based on these findings.
What do parents need to know about peanut oil used in cosmetic and medical products?
The most important thing to know is that there are different schools of thought regarding this topic. We spoke to Dr Lindsay Demes, a medical officer at the Mitchell's Plain Community Health Centre who confirmed the link, but placed more emphasis on other factors, stating: “Peanut oil is more likely to cause allergies in kids with skin conditions because they already have a predisposition to allergies, and if there is a family history of peanut allergies” (sic). He elaborated, saying, “Crude, less refined peanut oil is more likely to cause it (a peanut allergy) because the more refined peanut oil will have had most of the proteins removed that cause the allergy.”
Read: Infants with eczema may be more prone to peanut allergy
A statement echoed by the authors of the paper who acknowledge that there would be other factors, such as a family history of allergy, that contribute to the development of peanut allergy, but that treatments containing arachis oil should be avoided by eczema sufferers to avoid a possible new allergy trigger, a point reiterated by Professor Gideon Lack, a doctor involved in the study, who said: "My own view is that infants with inflammatory conditions should not be prescribed creams or ointments containing peanut or nut oils. However, patients must not stop any medications for eczema without first consulting with their GP or specialist."
Here are common household products that contain peanut oil (often listed as arachis oil) that you should be on the lookout for:
• Some brands of vitamins
• Ear drops
• Lotions, gels and oils for the skin
• Soaps, bath preparations and shampoos
Anecdotal evidence shows that certain art materials contain peanut oil, so always read the packaging.
Read: Causes and symptoms of allergies
The South African Department of Health has drafted amendments to the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act (1972) that make the listing of common allergens including peanuts a requirement on all packaging. The amendments were initially gazetted in 2014, but are still under comment and have not been signed into law yet.
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