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Food Allergies: How Can they Affect Our Skin?

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If you have a food allergy, then you’ll know the seriousness of the symptoms that can be caused if you accidentally consume a small amount of the food or ingredient that you’re allergic to.

We only need to look back at recent news stories of two people who tragically died from the symptoms of a food allergy after unwittingly consuming sesame in a shop bought baguette and peanuts in a restaurant made curry to know how serious a food allergy can be.

But tragic outcomes and risk to life symptoms aside, as sad as they are, for many of us, having a food allergy can mean that our skin becomes affected. Everyday life can be made difficult by havingeczema for example, or by having dermatitis caused by being coeliac (having an allergy to gluten found in wheat).

So in this week’s article, I’m going to discuss food allergies and their impact on the skin. But first, let’s look at the difference between food allergies and food intolerances...

What’s the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance?

The main difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance is the severity of the symptoms.

A food allergy causes symptoms,usually within a few minutes of eating a small amount of the food you’re allergic to. The symptoms can be fairly mild, but they can also be frightening and become severe.

Symptoms include itching and swelling within or around the eyes, face, mouth, tongue and airways, a raised, red itchy rash (called urticaria, or hives), vomiting and diarrhoea. In the most severe of cases, a food allergy can cause anaphylaxis. This leads to trouble breathing, swallowing and speaking and requires urgent medical attention.

A food intolerance on the other hand, causes no allergic reaction, and will therefore never be life threatening. But it can cause symptoms such as bloating, diarrhoea and stomach pains. These symptoms may occur after a couple of hours after eating a food that we’re intolerant to.

Often, we’d need to eat a significant amount of the food, such as a whole cheese sandwich (rather than just a nibble that can cause an allergic reaction if we’re allergic to dairy or gluten) to trigger these symptoms.

Food allergy vs food intolerance 

Each one of us is uniquely and beautifully different, so whether you have a food allergy or a food intolerance, you may be experiencing symptoms in your skin. Plus, you may or may not know that these symptoms are being caused by a food allergy or intolerance.

From now, we’ll talk about food allergies and their impact on the skin. But if you’re experiencing skin symptoms and you have a food intolerance, then the same advice will apply to you.

Similarly, it’s important to seek medical advice if you think you might have a food allergy that’s not yet been diagnosed, or a food intolerance. Your GP and specialist doctors can help you work out what foods might be affecting you and how you can avoid them. 

What causes a food allergy? 

Eating a food or an ingredient that we’re allergic to, triggers a reaction within the immune system. The immune system is a really effective defence mechanism against disease and illness. But sometimes it can become confused and think that something perfectly normal is a threat.

This can be for example gluten, a protein found in wheat and some other cereal products, or casein, a protein found in milk and milk products such as cheese.

When we consume them, if we have an allergy to them, the immune system will go into attack mode andrelease chemicals such as histamine that will ‘fight’ this invader. It’s this that then causes the symptoms such as itching, redness and swelling.

The most aggravating foods that cancause a food allergy include:

  • Gluten
  • Wheat
  • Milk and milk products
  • Eggs
  • Sesame
  • Mustard
  • Celery
  • Certain nuts, such as peanuts and walnuts
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Soya products such as soya milk and tofu

What are the common skin symptoms of a food allergy? 

So, what are the consequences to our skin of having a food allergy? Aside from general itching and developing the red, itchy bumps of hives, a food allergy can also cause other symptoms within our skin.

Symptoms can include dryness, irritation, redness and even full on skin conditions such asacne,eczema and dermatitis. These symptoms can affect both the skin on our faces and over our bodies including on the arms, chest and back.

We’d normally associate a food allergy with abdominal symptoms, such as bloating, stomach pain, diarrhoea and vomiting. But they can, and commonly do, cause problems with the skin.

This means that if you have a skin problem and you also have a food allergy, the two could be connected and it may be a connection you’ve never made before. For example, if you have coeliac disease, it could becausing your dermatitis.

Dermatitis associated with being a coeliac is usually a type of dermatitis calleddermatitis herpetiformis. This causes an itchy rash and fluid filled blisters that commonly appear on the elbows, buttocks and knees, although it can still form anywhere on the body.

Or, it can be common for a person who has an allergy to certain foods, including dairy products, eggs, gluten, nuts and fish, toalso develop eczema.

Any kind of itching, dryness, flaking, irritation, redness or swelling could be linked to a food allergy, but how do you know if they’re linked? 

How to know if a food allergy is causing your skin to react

The best way to ascertain whether or not your skin symptoms are related to your diet and any food allergies, is by carrying out anelimination, or exclusion, diet. But this isn’t a quick or easy fix.

Elimination diets can help you work out what’s causing your skin issues but they take time and effort. The best way to do an elimination diet is with the supervision of a nutritionist, dietitian or allergy specialist.

It involves removing a certain food or food group from your diet for a fixed amount of time (usually a few weeks) and noting down the effect on your skin. If the ingredient you’re eliminating, for example, gluten, is causing your skin symptoms, then your skin should gradually calm down whilst you’re avoiding eating it.

Then, gradually reintroducing gluten may then cause your symptoms to return. Then you may be able to say that gluten is directly linked to your skin symptoms. However, it’s difficult to completely remove gluten from your diet, as it’s hidden in so many foods that you wouldn’t suspect, such as sauces and soups. The same goes for casein from milk - why milk powder is added to so many types of crisps, I’ll never know! But a nutritionist or dietician can help you to do it the right way.

It’s important to be careful when carrying out a food elimination diet as by cutting out whole food groups for considerable lengths of time could mean that you’re at risk of developing a nutritional deficiency.

For example, if you avoid eating carbohydrates such as bread, rice and pasta (in particular the brown unrefined versions) then you could be missing out on important B vitamins and fibre. Therefore, it really is best to get the help from a qualified medical practitioner. Speak to your GP if you’re in any doubt or need advice. 

How Sönd skin care can help

Here at Sönd, we know what it's like to have skin that acts contrary and gets stressed out. We’ve suffered acne prone skin and the effects on our skin of having a food allergy.

That’s why we’re so passionate about theskin care range that we’ve developed to look after the needs of skin that doesn’t conform. Our range of creamy cleansers, moisturisers, toners and serums have been developed with alkalising silica salts as a hero ingredient that helps to nourish the skin deep within its lower layers to tackle problems at the root cause.

We also only ever use plant based, natural ingredients too, that are kind to your skin as well as the environment.

What’s more, we’ve also created aneBook full of easy to follow recipes and tips on eating to support our skin. Each recipe is free from gluten, dairy, egg, soya, sugar, fish and nuts and has a detailed shopping list of all that you’ll need alongside the cooking instructions.

It could help you to kickstart your healthy eating plan that will help to both calm your allergies and the flare ups you’re seeing in your skin. Sodownload it today and let us know how you get on!


Hannah de Gruchy BSc(Hons)

About Author

Hannah de Gruchy is a freelancer writer who specialises in health and wellness. She has a keen interest in the biology of skin and loves using her words to help separate the real science of skincare from the pseudoscience of some skincare brands. Hannah has a degree in Human Biology and many years’ experience working in laboratories around London. Using this experience, Hannah enjoys turning complex science into interesting, engaging and easy to digest pieces to read. In her spare time, Hannah runs, practices yoga and loves cooking plant based foods.

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