Amy Brown is allergic to nuts and sesame seeds. Like any person who suffers from allergies, she checks the ingredients of any product before using it. She said she didn't recognize the Latin name of sweet almond oil, a carrier oil derived from almonds.
While 19-year-old Brown recovered from the ordeal, she requested the cosmetic and food industries to make their ingredients list much clearer.
"I want to alert NIVEA to the fact that not clearly stating that nuts are in their products could be extremely dangerous for thousands of people who suffer from nut allergies like myself," Brown declared in an interview. "We have standards for food labelling in regards to allergies, but cosmetic appear to be lagging far behind and I think it's time that more is done about it." (Related: Use these five essential oils to stop allergies dead in their tracks.)
Brown received a Nivea Luscious Lips gift box from her parents as a Christmas present in 2018. The set contained two containers of Lip Butter and another two small jars of Lip Balm.
Before using her new skin care products, Brown checked the list of ingredients on the main gift container for potential allergens. Her mother, Carolyn Brown, assisted her. Neither found anything suspicious about Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis.
Believing the products to be safe, Brown tried out the Blueberry Blush Lip Butter on January 7, 2019. She was alone at the time.
A few seconds after putting on the lip balm, Brown experienced the symptoms of a severe allergy attack. Her lips tingled and a rash spread across her hands.
After wiping the Nivea lip balm from her mouth, Brown took antihistamines, her asthma inhaler, and throat lozenges. Her attempt at first aid prevented the allergy attack from escalating to the point of resorting to the epinephrine injectors she always kept on herself.
Brown said the experience terrified her. She rarely suffered from allergy attacks because she knew what allergens to look out for.
Perplexed by the sudden allergy attack, Brown and her mother checked the containers for any allergens they missed. On the back of the container of the Nivea lip balm, they found sweet almond oil.
In contrast, the main gift box did not display "sweet almond oil." Instead, it bore the more ambiguous term Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis.
The Browns contacted Nivea about the company using an ambiguous label for a potentially dangerous allergen. The company responded that it complied with European regulations by printing the internationally recognized chemical name of sweet almond oil on the exterior of the main gift box.
"As stated in our conversation with the consumer, the INCI labelling of the Lip Butter gift box and the Lip Butter balm tin itself is in full compliance with the EU Cosmetic regulation provisions," a NIVEA spokesperson explained in the company's official statement. "In this case, the contained almond oil has been indicated by the respective INCI name Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis – both on the exterior gift box, as on the individual balm tin."
This isn't the first or last time that using makeup led to health issues. Other makeup products contain oxybenzone and other toxic chemicals that are harmful to health.