Friday, April 29, 2011

Balsam of Peru Allergy- Definition

After years of dealing with severe eczema on my face, neck and hands, I was recently was diagnosed by my dermatologist with a Balsam of Peru allergy. What exactly is this said allergy? Well, according to a quick web search and confirmed by my doctor, Balsam of Peru is defined as, "Balsam of Peru is a sticky aromatic liquid that comes from cutting the bark of the tree Myroxolon balsamum, a tree that is native to El Salvador."

Basically, Balsam of Peru is a flavoring/fragrance added to foods, cleaning supplies, scented candles, oils, etc. to give it it's flavoring and scent. Balsam of Peru is sneaky because it goes by many different names and can be found in just about EVERYTHING! Balsam of Peru can be listed in the ingredients column as follows:

Eugenol and isoeugenol
Component of essential oils obtained from spices including cloves and cinnamon leaf. It smells and tastes like cloves. It is also found in pimento, nutmeg, camphor, roses, carnations, hyacinths and violets.
Benzoin, benzoic acid, benzyl alcohol
Rosin (colophony)
Citrus fruit peel
Tiger balm (Chinese proprietary ointment)
Balsam of Tolu

On the no-no list of things to eat while trying to eliminate Balsam of Peru from one's diet:

-Products containing citrus (including oranges, grapefruit, mandarin oranges, jams, juices and bakery goods)
-Flavoring agents such as those found in Danish pastries or other bakery goods, candy and chewing gm.
-Spices such as cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, curry, allspice, anise and ginger.
-Spicy condiments such as ketchup, chili sauce, BBQ sauce.
-Pickles and pickled veggies
-Wine, beer, gin and vermouth
-Perfumed or flavored tea
-Cough medicines and lozenges
-Ice cream
-Chili, pizza, Italian and Mexican foods with red sauces
-Tomatoes and tomato-containing products.

In addition to topical medicines, I must cut out any Balsam of Peru containing food and severely limit my contact with any product containing Balsam of Peru in order to get my skin back to feeling normal. Living with severe eczema like mine gives a whole new meaning to not being comfortable in one's own skin!

It's hard to eat when EVERYTHING seems to be off limits! So, all of that being said, what is left for a girl to eat??!


  1. Hi Heather,

    Your post is very interesting to me because I was just told after a patch test that I am allergic to colophony. Before I was diagnosed I was convinced that my hand eczema (contact dermatitis) was due to a citrus allergy. After reading your post I am wondering if I might also be allergic to balsam of peru. How is Balsam of Peru related to tomatoes? I recently found out that citrus fruits are coated in colophony and that is why I must avoid citrus. I'm going to try omitting the things you listed above and see if that makes a difference. Thanks for posting. I hope you still look at this from time to time. If you could send me an e-mail i'd appreciate any advice you might give. Thanks, Sally

  2. Hi, I have horrific eczema (all my life), and many different allergies. I just was found by an allergist to be allergic to Balsam Peru as well. I'm trying to understand how and why the spices you mentioned (cinnamon, cloves, anise, ginger) as well as tomatoes and chocolate could be included in the "what to avoid" list. What if the above items are organic and unadulterated (ie, organic cinnamon or nutmeg, where the container states just "organic nutmeg" or "organic cinnamon")? Thanks!

  3. I was told on Monday (today is Friday) that I am allergic to Balsam of Peru. The problem is that I have no idea what to do. I was told to use trial and error and to do my best to figure out what to do about cosmetics and diet. I have always known that I am severally allergic to Pineapple and most citric fruit and even pecans and ketchup make my mouth itch and swell... so I just thought it was something random and I was weird. So how you I figure this out? How do I shop for food?? Do I carry around a list of names for balsam of Peru and check EVERY label as I go through the store or is there a list of products to avoid???? I need help!

    1. Hey Erin,

      It's all very confusing at first! But when you know what to look for it's pretty easy. I'm not surprised that ketchup has made your mouth itchy and swell - ketchup has spices in the ingredients! All spices, vanilla and citrus peel are your main culprits for an allergic reaction (I am surprised about the pecans).

      So yes you need to check the ingredients label for everything you buy. It's really not as bad as it sounds. I make a lot of things from scratch now and buying basic ingredients is not a problem, mostly ready made foods that are the issue. Avoid anything and everything with 'flavourings' or 'natural flavourings' in the ingredients list. I have found this mostly means vanilla (or vanillin) which is one of the main allergens.

      It's all good really, I hardly eat any processed foods anymore - very healthy! Anyway good luck with it all, I have just started a blog on the matter if you are interested where I will be posting advice, recipes, philosophies and bits of chemistry about Balsam of Peru -

  4. Has following a balsam restricted diet helped your eczema? I have been diagnosed with the same allergy but my main symptoms are chronic puffy eyelids, which can be very itchy. I have found some conflicting information on the internet about what to avoid. Is apple cider vinegar okay as a topical application and to ingest? I am also unsure about whether I should be avoiding citric acid, as that is pretty much in everything including many cleansers and shampoos. If anyone has any advice I'd really appreciate it!

    1. I am not happy to hear that your eyes are puffy-but it explains my puffy eyes-

    2. Hi, today I have been diagnosed with the same allergy. What I find strange, earlier this year I had blepharitus (inflammation of the eye lids) round my eye which caused men to have a big puffy eye. Seems strange others with the same allergy have similar symptoms. Could this be another effect of this allergy?????

  5. If it's any consolation (Iknow it won't be) I'm allergic to balsam of Peru, chromium, carba mis, thiuram mix and hayfever (grasses) so I'm basically allergic to life.

    With balsam of peru alone it is very difficult cos you naturally assume organic or all natural food is edible but for us it's a very different case, having said that however, so long as we avoid spices (especially cinamin), citric fruits and benzyl products we do ok. AT first you do have to carry around a list of chemicals/foods/spices/things you can't have but after a while your eyes just get used to seeing the names and you know what to put back onto the shelf (one of my allergies means a react to paper to had to laminate mine and looked like a right idiot! lol)

    I found this websire the best for information but unfortunately there is nothing that gives you a product list you can use or a foods list you can use so it really is down to us and websites like this to help each other out.

    You might find that you react to some balsam of peru synonyms and not the others but I react to them all and I'm sure there are some I haven't found yet, lol! I'd put the list on here but don't want to scare anyone further. I've been living eith it since 2011 and still don't have all the answers... can tell you I found a shampoo "e45" shampoo is free from all of the synonyms like citric acid, benonates etc but if anyone on here can suggest a shower gel or toothpaste I could use it would be greatly appreciated :oD

    1. I have balsam of peru and chromium allergy. I use "Free & Clear" shower products by Vanicream. The many shampoo, conditioner, hair spray and soap as well as lotion. I use baking soda to brush my teeth. I found a substitute but it tasted like soap! Baking soda doesn't really have a taste and it rinses well.

    2. Vanicream makes sunscreen too. I've used it and it's very good.

  6. Oh, Cordelia! So sorry to hear about all of your allergies! It's rough, sometimes, isn't it? Hang in there and thanks for reading!

  7. Thanks :oD

    I literally may have just found a brand to help us with our Balsam of Peru issues. It's not 100% as some of the products have benzonates in them (either sodium benzonate or C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate) but generally they look great, I've emailed the site asking to double check ingredients (as I found the suncream twice without C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate and once with so wanted to be certain) but some of the other stuff shampoos, conditioners, day cream, night cream, face wash, toner & hand and body wash look great! (steer clear of the sun cream though until I get a response just in case! They even have a concealer, check it out if you get any time:

    I haven't felt this satisfied shopping of wash products since I had to stop using smellies and they do sample sizes so you can try before you spend a fortune! Fingers crossed for the sun cream, if you know of a sun cream we can use I'm all ears :oD

    1. Hi! I've also just been told, by my allergist, that I have an allergy to Balsam of Peru and am now trying to find out as much as I can on how to avoid it. You mention you may have found a brand that may be good for those with this allergy, but I did not see a brand name in your post. Could you tell me which it is and if it really works? Thanks so much. Liz

  8. I am allergic to colophony. I have a four page list of items both foods and products that contain it. I am still trying to figure out what foods I can eat. It seems to be in everything and according to an email reply from the FDA, it can be listed under natural flavors. So the only way to tell is basically to eat it and react to it, then don't eat it again. Which is getting old because I am tired of feeling sick and having blisters on my face. Its hard to search the internet for it because there are companies with the word evergreen in their name and they come up instead of information you're searching for. Basically anything made from evergreen or that is an evergreen: pineapple, bananas, peaches, nectarines, tea, chocolate, coffee, milk, ice cream, coca cola, fruit drinks, citrus fruits, and the list goes on. I have a word press blog called colophony that has the list.

  9. I am allergic to balsam of peru and chromium. Like everyone writes here, it is very difficult to narrow down what you can and can't have. Basically, you need to go on and elimination diet which means, for at least three weeks, eat the same food every day. This is food that you know you won't react too, like chicken and rice. After three weeks, when your symptoms have cleared, you can add one new item every per week. It is very difficult to stick to but once you do, you really feel much happier because you can find "oh, I can have this now" as you try new foods.

  10. Hi I've been diagnosed with balsam of peru allergy for ten years, after thirty trying to work out why I reacted badly to so much. I moved to organic stuff and making food, as my daughter was diagnosed with food colouring allergies at the same time. It was fun teaching a three year old she wasn't allowed candy or orange squash but her child minder was fab and she would tell everyone no if offered. Even now she drinks only water, decafe coffee and hot choc. Give her a coke and she is running hyper for hours, give me a coke and I throw up. Families you've got to love them.
    Anyway I don't know of a toothpaste, but maybe research what our ancestors used as that would most probably be ok ( before victorian I mean). I use warm salt water to gargle and for ulcers. It's a hell of a lot cheaper than what my dentist would rather I take even when I remind her I have this allergy every time.
    My consultant recommended Dove. That was ten years ago so I expect formulas have changed by now. Dove deodorants is usually ok if you get the none frangance one.
    I currently use SIMPLE, from bigger boots, and probably online. They do shampoos, conditioners, shower gels and deodorants. All totally anything free. I suggest buying in bulk so you don't run out at inopportune moments and have to finish off with something else in the house that might set you off.
    Anyway good luck and stay strong. It's horrid when it flares up but don't panic.

    1. I can't find a "bigger boots" line of products, can you provide a link, please?

    2. I think she means that the SIMPLE products are carried at the chemist or pharmacy named "Boots".

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