Coconut allergy 101 – everything you need to know to stay safe. Includes a list of common coconut symptoms, hidden sources of coconut in your life, and what you need to avoid to not have a reaction.
Coconut allergies are one of the more rare allergies and they are officially grouped in with tree nut allergies. As such, labeling in the US requires coconut be listed if included in the ingredients. However, more so than almost any other allergy, the coconut is one of the most insidious of allergies in how pervasive coconut has become in our food, healthy care, beauty routines, and home cleaning products under different names so to avoid having to mark the label with a coconut warning.
This article walks you through all aspects of what is a coconut allergy, symptoms, what to avoid, what you can still enjoy, and how best to manage your coconut allergy.
What is a Coconut Allergy?
A coconut is the fruit of a coconut palm tree found all over the globe in warm tropical environments. They are not a tree nut or a nut at all, despite the “nut” found in their name. As stated above, the US FDA classifies a coconut allergy as a tree nut allergy. If you have a tree nut allergy, it is possible you could also be allergic to coconuts.
The coconut meat and coconut oil can be found in any number of items of daily life. Food wise, coconut oil is often found in baked goods, infant formula, milks, chocolates, cookies, sauces, and alcohols. Further, coconut is found in many items like make up, body wash, soaps, shampoos, conditioners, all purpose cleaners, dish soaps, laundry detergents, and more.
Allergic reactions to eating coconut are pretty rare, however, contact allergic reactions to coconut are more common. So, if you are able to eat things with coconut in them, you might not be able to touch and use things with coconut.
I myself am severely allergic to coconut, in all forms. Even small particles in the air cause me to have an anaphylactic reaction. This has led me to learning how to do everything from make my own shampoo, all purpose cleaner, make my own face soap and moisturizer, and even my own hand soap.
If you are a fellow coconut allergic person, please leave a comment! I’d love to chat with another coconut allergic person!
Most children and adults will develop an allergic reaction either immediately, a few minutes, or as long as a few hours after coming into contact with coconut. Remember, some people are so allergic to foods that even touching the food or smelling the food can cause a reaction.
A list of probable reactions includes:
- Swelling, itching, or irritation of the mouth, lips, tongue, or throat
- Asthma attacks
- Eczema on the skin
- Hives, itching rash of the skin
- Nasal congestion
- Difficulty breathing
- Cramping and/or pain of the stomach or bowels
- Anaphylactic reaction
For some people, a life threatening reaction known as an anaphylactic reaction may occur after consuming, touching, or smelling wheat or wheat by-products. If this happens, please call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. Signs and symptoms of this include:
- Swelling or tightening of the throat
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain or tightness
- Trouble swallowing
- Dizziness or fainting
- Change of normal coloring of the skin
- for light skin, check for signs of dark blue tints in the mucous membranes (inner lips, gums, around the eyes, and nail beds)
- for medium skin, check for signs of a gray-green tint in the mucous membranes
- for dark skin, check for signs of gray or white tint in the mucous membranes
How to Manage
The best way to manage your coconut allergy is to avoid any and all forms of coconut and coconut by-products.
If after some time you feel you would like to test and see if you are still allergic to coconuts, consult your doctor and ask about doing a challenge test to gauge your reaction under the supervision of your doctor.
It is super important taht you only do challenge testing with a doctor present as coconut is considered a tree allergy – one of the more dangerous allergies to have.
Need to find coconut free body products? Check out these articles!
Safety at School + Work
If your child has a coconut allergy, make sure to let both the school and their individual teachers know of their allergy. Any medication they might need, including an EpiPen if the reaction is severe, needs to be kept at the school in case of emergencies.
In elementary school, when they have assigned seating, it is easier to maintain a clean workspace for your child. As they go through middle and high school and beyond, make sure to have them wipe down the desk before they use it as there could be oils on the desk after someone ate a granola bar, for example.
The most dangerous moments for your child will be during school parties when parents bring in sweet treats to celebrate. You must teach your child that they can’t participate in these events no matter how good the cupcake (or whatever the treat is) looks because we don’t know if it’s safe.
Another dangerous moment is at the lunch table. While you might pack a safe lunch for your kid, there is no guarantee that they don’t swap foods to share with friends at the table. This is another thing you need to teach your kids not to do.
In a work environment, you should inform your coworkers of your allergy and ask them to not eat coconut around you or your workspace, especially if your allergy is severe and anaphylactic. Making sure to wipe down surfaces is again important.
Learning how to read food labels is one of the most important things you can do after developing a coconut allergy. Always make sure that you read the entire label and not just quickly scan for coconut as ingredients can hide under different names.
Sometimes companies will place advisory statements on their label to say things such as, “May Contain” or “Produced in the same facility as…”. These are not required by law but are placed there at the discretion of the company. Talk with your doctor about whether you should avoid these food labels as well.
In general, I tend to avoid any and all food products that list my own allergies on these advisory statements. You never know if one day cleaning the machines, an allergen was totally washed away or not. I err on the side of caution with my health and suggest you do the same.
What to Avoid
When looking at a food label, make sure that the ingredient list does not contain any of the following items. The list of foods to avoid is long, and while I’ve done my best to include them all here, I am sure there are more being made and discovered each day. If you know of an allergy name that I’ve missed, write it in the comments below and I’ll be sure to add it to the list!
- Coconut milk
- Coconut water
- Coconut oil
- Coconut cream
- Coconut milk powder
- Coconut sugar
- Coconut amino acids
Hidden Names of Coconut
The most difficult part of a coconut allergy is how pervasive its use has become in goods that you don’t eat. Make up, shampoos, hand soaps, laundry detergents, and so many other products will now be off limits to you because of this allergy.
It sucks. I’m sorry. I’m right there with you.
Here is a list of chemicals and other names of ingredients that you need to avoid as they are all derivatives of the coconut.
- 1 2 Octanediol
- 2 Phenoxyethanol
- Ammonium Lauryl Sulphate
- Capryl Glycol
- Caprylic Acid
- Caprylic Glycol
- Cetearyl Alcohol
- Cetearyl Glucoside
- Ceteth-20 Phosphate
- Cetyl Alcohol
- Cetyl Esters
- Cocamide DEA / Coconut diethanolamide / diethanolamine / acid / CDEA – Other names for it: Calamide, Ninol, Witcamide
- Cocamide MEA
- Cocamide Sulphate
- Cocamidopropyl Betaine / CAPB / cocamidopropylbetaine / Lauramidopropyl betaine – * N-(carboxy methyl)-N, N-dimethyl-3-[(1-oxococonut) amino]-1-propanaminium hydroxide *, inner salt, source Tegobetaine L7, Cocoyl amide propyldimethyl glycine, coconut oil amidopropyl betaine source
- Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine – WiseGEEK says some manufacturers are replacing CAPB with this and that they claim it’s milder and more effective. I have no idea.
- Coco glucoside
- Coconut oil – Another name: cocos nucifera
- Coir (matting) – Contains coconut husks
- Decyl Glucoside – I have seen it listed on products as corn-derived, but it’s produced by the reaction of glucose from corn starch with the fatty alcohol decanol which is derived from coconut.
- Disodium Cocamphodiprop
- Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate
- Emusifying Wax
- Glyceryl Caprylate
- Glyceryl Cocoate
- Hexyl Laurate
- Isopropyl Myristate
- Lauryl Glucoside
- Lauryl Alcohol
- Lauramide DEA
- Myristic Acid
- Lauric Acid
- Olefin Sulfonate
- Organic Sodium Cocoate
- PEG – 7 Glyceryl Cocoate
- PEG -100
- PEG – 100 Stearate
- Polysorbate 20
- Sodium Cocoate
- Sodium Coco-Sulfate
- Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate
- Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate
- Sucrose Stearate
- Sodium Lauroamphoacetate
- Sodium Laureth Sulfate
- Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinat / Sodium Lauroyl Sarconsinate – I thought about adding ammonium lauroyl sarcosinate to the list, but I couldn’t find a source to confirm it. I just assume it would also be coconut-derived.
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
- Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate
- Sodium Myreth Sulfate
- Sodium Stearate
- Sorbitan Stearate
- Stearyl Alcohol
- Stearalkonium chloride
- Sucrose Cocoate
- Sucrose Stearate
- TEA-Laureth Sulfate
- Vegetable Cetearyl Glucos / Vegetable Cetearyl Glucose
- Vegetable Glycerine – Can be coconut or soy based. Make sure you check with the company.
Hidden Places for Coconut
It’s also important that you avoid coconut in home décor. Right now, it is popular to have coconut bowls, coconut roping and macramé, and even coconut utensils. While they are a good eco-friendly option for the planet, they are not good for us with coconut allergies. When purchasing a bowl, for example, please make sure you ensure it is not from a coconut tree.
Also, you want to make sure that if you purchase any new cast iron cookware, the oil used to coat the cast iron is not coconut oil.
- Perfumes are a place where coconut can hide.
- Make up
- Body paint around Halloween time
After developing or discovering your coconut allergy, how you eat and how you live is very likely going to change. Cooking from home is one of the safest options for you and your family as you can ensure non allergens come into contact with your food, and thus, not cross contamination. Make sure your diet is filled with simple whole foods, such as meats, grains, vegetables, fruits, beans, and lentils.
Living with allergies has gotten so much better in the past few years thanks to the requirements of labeling all food in grocery stores, as well as the sheer quantity of allergy free alternatives available in most stores.
As for what I use to clean, this is an ever evolving list. You can read how I make my own skincare routine, how I make my own handsoap here. Make sure you check out my 3 ingredient shampoo article! Coconut allergies are something I’m very passionate about as it’s so difficult to live life with one.
For a list of my favorite coconut alternatives, and when each will work best in what recipes, make sure you grab a download of my free Food Swap Guide! It’s filled with over 45 swaps and substitutions so you can keep making your favorite recipes with your allergies.
How to Eat Out
While not the biggest change to your life with a coconut allergy, there are some new considerations to make from the options available to you when dining out. No longer can you just go grab a quick bite to eat, nor will you be able to freely eat at a friend’s house.
The best way to avoid (or at least try to avoid) getting sick at restaurants is to research ahead of time. Most restaurants post their menus online, which gives me a chance to figure out if this restaurant would be a safe option. Even if the menu says “allergy friendly” you still should research, because it is really difficult to ensure that a chef or kitchen will wipe off any surfaces, open new bags of ingredients, or even use a different set of gloves when preparing food.
For coconut allergies in general, you want to be wary of Vegan and Asian inspired cuisine as they both rely heavily on coconut to flavor things. Candy coatings in places like ice cream and frozen yogurt stores are also of concern. When in doubt, call the company or restaurant and talk with them about your allergies and how you can be safe when enjoying their food.
When dining at a friend’s house, I will always ask if I can bring an option that is coconut allergy safe.
Note: All recipes on this blog are coconut free and you are safe making and enjoying any one of them. 🙂