Cellulose and Its Possible Allergic Connections

Cotton Plant“Cellulose” refers to a polysaccharide coming from plant cell walls and vegetable fibre, whether it be from cotton, wood, hemp, bamboo, or something else.  Cellulose is the most abundant natural polymer, and is often reacted with other chemicals to form slightly different cellulose-based compounds conforming to specific needs.

Pure, natural cellulose is not considered an allergen, but sufferers of allergies to MI, other isothiazolinones, and other chemicals may need to look out for it in ingredient lists. Cellulose on its own is more likely to be an irritant if anything. Cellulose products like hydroxyethylcellulose are considered non-toxic and safe for human consumption by the FDA, and for most people they are used in small enough quantities to cause no ill effects.  Cellulose is also considered undigestible by humans, which is why it is often used in low-fat food products.

Unfortunately, the chemicals used to treat cellulose and modify it for specific applications can cause the cellulose to become less benign for allergy sufferers and those with certain other medical conditions like thyroid disfunction.  Treatment chemicals can be left behind, bonded to the cellulose, even after repeated washings, and modifying chemicals change its nature.  Even then, a skin reaction may not mean that you have any problem consuming cellulose-based products, and a food-based reaction may not mean you have any problems touching cellulose, but it could be something for which to watch if you have unexplained reactions.

Cellulose-based ingredients are used in all manner of products as anti-redeposition agents. In fact, cellulose-based products are the most common anti-redeposition agent used in cleaning products today. “Anti-redeposition agent” means that it physically connects with dirt and oils and prevents them from settling back onto the surface after washing, allowing them to be more easily rinsed away. Cellulose can also be used as a natural polymer to help products form films or hold foam, or to thicken them to prevent them from running and streaking down a surface. They can also be used in controlled-delivery medications and to help emulsify oil-water mixtures. One of the most common cellulose ingredients is methylcellulose or hydroxymethylcellulose. This ingredient often comes from the fine portion split from the processing of wood pulp at sulphite mills.

Common Cellulose-Based Ingredient Variants

  • Hydroxypropyl methylcellulose (HPMC)
  • Hydrocolloid hydroxypropyl methylcellulose
  • Hydroxyethylcellulose
  • Hydroxymethylcellulose
  • Methylcellulose
  • Cellulose
  • Hypromellose
  • Carboxymethyl cellulose
  • Sodium carboxymethylcellulose
  • Cellulose gum
  • Microcrystalline cellulose (MCC)

Toilet paper contains cellulose

Cellulose-Containing Products to Consider

  • Paper (newspaper, books, toilet paper, paper towel, tissues, cardboard, etc.)
  • Absorbent personal care products (diapers, feminine hygiene products, incontinence pads, etc.)
  • Home cleaning products, including laundry and other detergents and hard surface cleaners
  • Medications, such as nasal sprays, eye drops, solid pills, and capsules.
  • Personal lubricants
  • Body care products like body wash and liquid hand soap, lotions and creams, shaving products, styling gels, shampoos, hair conditioners, clear hair rinses, decorative cosmetics, and toothpastes
  • Gluten-free foods (used as a gluten substitute), low fat dairy, and other low fat foods, and other convenience/prepared food products

With Good Friday and Easter Monday taking many of us out of school and work this weekend, Default to Nature will be taking a break, too. We’ll see you back here next Wednesday, where we’ll pick up where we left off with another brand new post. Have a good Easter!

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