Additives explained – Salicylate / Salicylate Acid

(Octyl salicylate (2-ethylhexyl salicylate), Homosalate (HMS or homomenthyl salicylate, and Triethanolamine salicylate)

**One that I am very familiar with – I too am Salicylate Intolerant, not just in the chemical form, but in the natural form found in herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables, as well as Wine (YEP), Beer, Cider (Pear Perry is safe), Cocktails.

What Are Salicylates?

Salicylates is the general term for chemicals that have salicylic acid as their base. Salicylic acid is a naturally-occurring organic acid found in a large variety of plants, fruits, herbs. These plants produce it as part of their defense system against diseases, insects, bacteria and environmental stress.

Salicylic acid is used as an ingredient in synthetic salicylates and a variety of other products. Aspirin, for example, is made by combining salicylic acid with a chemical called acetic anhydride. It is a natural pain reliever and used in most over the counter pain and inflammatory medicines.

Salicylic acid is also used in a variety of products for topical treatment of skin conditions. Most often used in acne treatment, salicylic acid is also used to treat dandruff, callouses and warts. Some of these products are available by prescription but others are available over the counter in soaps, shampoos or creams. Although most people can use these products safely, there are side effects and interactions users should be aware of.

Salicylate sensitivity — also called salicylate allergy — can cause difficulty breathing, nasal congestion, itching skin, stomach pain and headaches. In rare cases, especially when occurring in conjunction with chronic diseases, these reactions can be severe enough to be life threatening. People with asthma have a 5 to 10 percent chance of having hypersensitivity to aspirin, another salicylate, and may be at risk for reactions to products containing salicylic acid.

Signs and Symptoms of Salicylate Intolerance

  • Sinus inflammation and infection
  • Polyps in the nasal and sinus passages
  • Asthma
  • Hives – rash or lumps on the skin, throat, behind ears.
  • Fever
  • Tissue swelling – of the lips, eyes, facial membranes and throat, it can often be anaphylactic.
  • Inflammation of large intestine, which can cause abdominal pain and discomfort
  • Diarrhea

Salicylate intolerance is also more common among adults with asthma. It’s been estimated that 2–23% of asthmatics are sensitive to aspirin. The mechanism by which aspirin and other pain relievers containing salicylates affect asthma is not clear but it can have devastating consequences. In severe cases, a single dose of aspirin can cause a person to lose consciousness and stop breathing.

Use by Children

Think twice before using products containing salicylic acid on children. Children absorb more of the compound through their skin than an adult would which, when combined with their lower body weights, means they will experience larger doses and more severe effects. The amount of salicylates received is much less than in aspirin but the risk of Reye’s Syndrome, a potentially fatal disease, still exists. Anyone under the age of 19 should not use products containing salicylic acid if they have chicken pox or the flu.

Sun Sensitivity

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has reported that using topical products containing beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) or salicylic acid may lead to increased sensitivity to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. This adds to a person’s risk of skin cancer and the FDA recommends being diligent about using sun protection when using a product with salicylic acid.

Salicylates can be found in food, medication and cosmetics. Some examples of salicylate-containing substances include:

  • Shampoos and conditioners
  • Fragrances and perfumes
  • Herbal remedies
  • Cosmetics such as lipsticks, lotions and skin cleansers
  • Mouthwash and mint-flavoured toothpaste
  • Shaving cream
  • Sunscreens or tanning lotions
  • Muscle-pain creams
  • Antacids
  • Aspirin
  • Artificial food colouring and flavouring
  • Menthol
  • Mint
  • Peppermint
  • Spearmint

Foods that contain salicylates:

Fruits such as apples, avocados, blueberries, dates, kiwi fruit, peaches, raspberries, figs, grapes, plums, strawberries, cherries, grapefruit and prunes.

Vegetables such as alfalfa sprouts, cauliflower, cucumbers, mushrooms, radishes, broad beans, aubergine, spinach, courgettes, broccoli and hot peppers.

Herbs, spices and condiments, such as dry spices and powders, tomato pastes and sauces, vinegar, and soy sauce, jams and jellies.

Beverages such as coffee, wine, beer, orange juice, apple cider, Indian and herbal teas, rum and sherry, all cocktails.

Nuts, such as pine nuts, peanuts, pistachios and almonds.

Some sweets, such as peppermints, liquorice and mint-flavoured gum, and breath mints.

Ice cream, gelatine


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