Allergic? Ditch the detergents and the antihistamines might follow…

If the fairytale character you’ve always identified with most is Sneezy, I can relate. Since childhood I’ve been one of those ‘allergic’ people, always bunged up with something, and usually inexplicably

People who suffer from this kind of sensitivity generally do so in more than one way;  sneezing, eczema, asthma and various other issues tend to go together.

After coming across a US study which found that regular exposure to harsh cleaning products significantly increased nurses’ risks of developing asthma, and another, Canadian piece of research that found excessive cleanliness using detergents was contributing to a huge rise in asthma, I figured the best place to start was in the home, by cutting down on unnecessary harsh chemicals.

Six months later, I’ve changed detergents, cleaning fluids and washing up liquid to natural alternatives, and swapped my high tech skin and haircare for more natural stuff…  and it has worked.

While this is only my personal experience – and medical advice is always a good idea when making lifestyle changes – the sneezing has stopped, I don’t need a daily antihistamine any more and even my hayfever has improved dramatically. Even if you have no such issues, fewer harsh chemicals in your life has to be a good thing.


I had read various pieces before about natural cleaning products, most memorably an old Darina Allen article about how all you need is lemon juice, bread soda and vinegar to clean your home. Now, I’m not the world’s greatest cleaner anyway, but I have to say, the bread soda defeated me. It left white marks on everything (except carpets – it’s still good for cleaning dog pee from carpets), while the vinegar leaves a weird smell. Plan B, then.

There are a couple of well-known ranges of cleaning products out there for the chemical-conscious, and are mostly based on vinegar, citrus oils and bicarbonate of soda. They’re ideal if normal detergents make your eyes water or your nostrils sting, and they are the strongest disinfectant you need in the vast majority of scenarios. The mania we have for disinfecting things is a recent invention, and while everybody wants to be clean, research suggests that over-sterilising isn’t good for your immune system, which needs some exposure to ordinary bacteria found in everyday situations.

Ecover is probably the best-known brand and is available in most major supermarkets, with more extensive options in health food shops.


My favourite is Lilly’s Eco-Clean, which is made in West Cork and contains similar ingredients. It really does tick all the boxes for health, the environment and even supporting local. The best thing about these products is how few of them you need to buy. Wash-up liquid, floor cleaner and all-purpose spray really has you covered for home cleaning.

For washing clothes, Ecover does a good range of washing powder, liquid detergent and a stain remover for more stubborn issues. I have found these pretty good although you may want to use a hotter wash than usual for badly soiled items.

Soap nuts, a type of dried fruit shell containing a natural cleanser, are available in most health shops and are perfect for freshening up lightly worn items (they aren’t great on heavy stains, however). You can add some scent using essential oils if you have favourites (I like some lavender oil for sheets and towels), and they are massively economical because they are reusable a number of times. You just put the required quantity of nuts into the muslin bag sold with them, add a few drops of your chosen oil and throw it in with your wash. Simple and cost-effective.


Finding natural alternatives for your favourite skincare, hair and beauty products is a bit of a minefield. ‘Natural’ can mean just about anything, so I tried to keep it to products that are free of artificial scents, paraben-free, and organic.

Luckily, the last couple of years have introduced some fantastic Irish brands to the market. My personal favourite for sensitive or combination skin is the gorgeous Anú range, made in Dublin by Emer Halpenny. All the ingredients are organic and the range is very lightly scented so it won’t bother sensitive skin or noses. I’d highly recommend the cleansing balm, night balm and the day moisturiser. It’s available on and a tub will last you for ages. They also do gorgeous soaps, candles and body moisturisers.

If you have dry skin and you’re looking for a body moisturiser, look no further than the Irish brand, Yogandha Oils. This is another 100% organic range made in Ireland and the scents are carefully blended to suit your mood. They are designed for yoga practitioners and the lightweight, luxurious formula is just delicious and very moisturising.

Other Irish ranges include the well-known Bia Beauty and Nía Natural Beauty, available widely and online. Bia Beauty has a wide range and some lovely fruity scents – but avoid the scrubs if your skin is very sensitive or eczema-prone. Nía, like Anú, has very little scent – their Just Balm is a real hero product and can do pretty much everything without upsetting sensitive skin, eyes or noses.

The toughest ask on personal care was hair products – it is very difficult to find anything ‘natural’ that’s half as effective as the synthetic stuff and not too expensive! Most health food shops stock the Jason, Avalon and Faith in Nature brands – I tried all of these but didn’t find any of them had brilliant results. With dyed hair (being blonde is one thing that’s impossible for me to achieve without the contents of a large, well-equipped laboratory), it’s hard to find something effective enough to seep into dried strands while not breaking the bank.

These are currently 20% off at Escape Spa at the Imperial, Cork. And they smell amazing!

These are currently 20% off at Escape Spa at the Imperial, Cork. And they smell amazing!

This is where the cost rose, for me. The Korres haircare range, available at Debenhams, is organic, and uses only natural scents, while on the more expensive end, Aveda (stocked in BT and Escape Spa at the Imperial Hotel) is organic, sustainable and also deliciously naturally scented. The salon brand Pureology is sulfate-free and 100% vegan. Aveda gets my vote every time on this one.

It’s been a long experiment, but I’m happy with the results. Try cutting the chemicals for yourself, and see how much better you feel. Let me know how you get on!

Published in the Evening Echo, 17.08.16.

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