natural-hairI’ve been natural since 1994, way before there were 50 billion blogs and YouTube tutorials dissecting the natural hair “movement”.  Everything I learned about my hair was done through trial and error. Plenty of errors, as a matter of fact. Up until this past year, I rarely made a visit to the hair salon, unless I was too lazy to do my own wash and sets, and even then I always brought my own products that I knew would work on my hair. I’m particular about the products I use in my hair because of allergies. As a kid, I discovered I was allergic to plenty of fresh fruits and was labeled with having oral allergies. Till this day, there are fruits and nuts that I know I can’t eat fresh, or I’ll go into anaphylactic shock.

Two weeks ago I paid a visit to a natural hair specialist to have my hair washed and retwisted. I actually forgot to bring my own shampoo and conditioner, but was familiar with the products she used. After I sat under the dryer for a about  30 minutes, she rubbed oil on my scalp. I was happy with my hair when I left the salon.

About 24 hours later, I was covered in hives.

When I started  seeing my stylist, I made mention of the various “natural” products I could not use because of my allergies. Shea butter, lemongrass, and tea tree oil are all on that list. Unfortunately, the oil she used that day had tea tree oil in it. It wasn’t anything benadryl couldn’t handle, but it could have been prevented. I would advise anyone to test out a product before they use it to make sure they’re not allergic to it. In countless hair forums, I’ve seen women complain about rashes, hives, swelling, only to find out it’s an allergic to reaction to their new favorite natural hair product.

Below are a list of common symptoms to a few popular ingredients in natural hair products:

Tea Tree Oil:

One common side effect of tea tree oil is skin irritation, especially if applied to broken or dry areas of the skin. Skin irritation can include stinging, burning redness itching or inflammation. In some cases, full strength tea tree oil can also cause mild to severe rashes to develop on the treated skin. Performing a skin patch test is recommended before applying. Tea tree oil can also cause a mild to severe allergic reaction to those who are allergic to the plant. If you are allergic to ingredients from the same family as tea tree oil, such as cloves, guava, eucalyptus, or allspice, you may be at a greater risk for having an allergic reaction to tea tree oil, states the American Cancer Society. The longer tea tree oil is allowed to sit and age, the more it also has a chance to break down into components that are more likely to cause an allergic reaction. Signs of a mild allergic reaction may include hives, rashes, itching, or congestion. More serious allergic reactions can include the same signs as a mild reaction plus possible cramps, diarrhea, light-headedness, flushing, vomiting, swelling, or life-threatening anaphylaxis.

Coconut Oil:

Allergies to coconuts and coconut oil are considered rare. They can take two forms: a food allergy or a contact allergy. A tree nut allergy isn’t necessarily related to a coconut allergy. Chances are higher of developing an allergy to touching things that contain coconut oil than developing an allergy to eating things with coconut oil in them. In both cases, your body is reacting to certain proteins it thinks are harmful. Your immune system responds by releasing an antibody called immunoglobulin E, and it tries to fight off the “dangerous” coconut invaders. When it comes to a food allergy to coconut oil, your likely symptoms are itching, hives, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, trouble breathing and swelling in your lips and tongue. A contact allergy to coconut oil — which is often found in moisturizers, shampoo and other cosmetics — can result in an itchy rash or blisters that develop within a day or two of touching the allergen.



  1. I feel your pain. I developed a nut allergy a couple of years ago, so I have to be really careful with natural hair products. I can’t eat coconut oil but I haven’t had any trouble with products that contain it, although I try to make sure it’s not listed in the first 4 or 5 ingredients. Almond oil definitely makes my scalp itch, and so does something in Shea Moisture curl smoothie (which devastated me because it made my hair look SO FANTASTIC).

    • That is what I heard if the ingredient is later on in the list you are good…Coconut oil makes my scalp itch..

    • Lisa

      What shampoos do you use without coconut oils? Finding it hard to find one w/o one.

    • rubypearl

      trader joes has shampoo, conditioner, body cream, and soap without coconut.. they work better on my hair than aveda did, cost next to nothing, and healthy ingredients.

  2. I too am allergic to many natural products. I’ve yet to break out in hive, however, my scalp begins to itch and my hair starts shedding. I don’t use Shea Moisture hair products. I do use their soaps. I use nothing containing jojoba, wheat grass, grape seed oil, nettle( did I spell that correctly) and I’m leery about shea butters. What can I do? Many “regular” products stunt natural hair growth. Right now I’m using a mild dandruff shampoo, store purchased Tea Tree oil, Curel lotion to moister my hair, and a hair growth shampoo which is pretty mild.

  3. Katharine Koeppen

    Dear Yesha Callahan:

Your information on shea butter is lifted, VERBATIM, from my copyrighted AromaBlog
    article dated April 14, 2010, This is called
    plagiarism, it is a gross violation of copyright law, and it is illegal. I
    never mind sharing information, provided it is done in an ethical manner. A
    good writer knows that the ethical way to share someone else’s work is to ask
    permission to copy, and at the very least, credit the source. Please remove
    this section of your post immediately.

  4. tanisha

    I am allergic to Shea butter it sucks I had to give my twin daughters all my Shea moisture and almost all my products and I’m a product junkie

  5. Medinah

    Hi, I use to have allergies to a lot of fresh fruits and dairy products and nuts.I thought it was something that would remain permanent and id have to avoid those foods for the rest of my life. But allergies are the result of a “leaky gut”. You can get rid of every single one of your allergies by healing your gut. Do research into leaky gut, GAPS Diet, Dr mercola articles etc.

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