Die, red dye

In all the excitement of Joel’s first weeks at home this summer, we were slow to notice a rash that seemed to be always present around Sydney’s mouth. She has very sensitive skin, and sometimes it seems like if you look at her wrong she breaks out in some kind of rash.

But when we went to Joel’s two-month checkup and the pediatrician asked what was wrong with Sydney’s face, I suddenly realized that there had been a rash around her mouth for weeks.

We tried treating it with Lubriderm, Vaseline, and chapstick and it would fade, but suddenly reappear at random times. It didn’t seem to bother her too much. We thought maybe she was reacting to her pacifier, which she still used at bedtime. But when we weaned her off of the pacifier, the rash remained.

I started wondering if something she was eating was causing the rash. Maybe oranges were too acidic for her sensitive skin? But it didn’t seem to be linked to oranges.

And then one day, Rich took Sydney to Sesame Place for a special Daddy-Sydney day. He sent me pictures throughout the day of the fun they were having: meeting Grover, going on the roller coaster, playing on the water slides. And then he sent me a picture of Sydney eating a huge cupcake with Elmo’s face on the top, all in red sugar.


When they got home from Sesame Place, the skin around Sydney’s face was covered in angry red welts. I started to wonder about red food coloring. I thought about things she had eaten and the pieces quickly fell into place.

We decided that Sydney must have some kind of skin allergy to red food coloring. I started looking at labels and was shocked at all the things Red 40 was in. Of course, things like maraschino cherries and fruit punch, which Sydney rarely had anyway. But also strawberry jelly (!!!!), Cheetos, canned fruit with cherries in it, vanilla frosting and cake mix…tons of everyday things. She had eaten a pb&j sandwich with strawberry jelly probably four days a week for the previous six months!

We did our best to eliminate all Red 40 from Sydney’s diet. It was hard, though, because it just kept popping up! Toothpaste, shampoo, sprinkles on desserts… One night we ordered Chinese and as I was cleaning up after dinner I realized that I was rinsing Bright Red sweet and sour sauce off her plate. Ooops. But with each of our mistakes, she kept getting the rash and we became more and more sure that she was, in fact, allergic to the red dye.

I did some research and found a bunch of links between Red 40 and hyperactivity and tantrums as well as a few links to skin rashes. I started wondering if some of Sydney’s strong will was actually a reaction to this chemical in her diet.

Finally we had almost gotten her face cleared up. She was looking great and we were being really careful. She couldn’t have foods that had even touched anything red. No picking out the red and orange M&Ms and just giving her the greens. No scraping red sprinkles off brownies and giving her the rest.

Then one day I picked Sydney up from preschool, and her face was covered with red welts again. I immediately asked her what she had eaten and she told me that her friend had brought cupcakes in with purple frosting.

That was her worst flare-up ever. Her rash blistered and bled, and I decided to take her to the doctor. Sydney’s pediatrician confirmed our suspicions, but reassured me that the skin allergy is different than a peanut allergy, in that it is not likely to get worse and is not dangerous.

Since the purple cupcake this fall, Sydney has been almost symptom-free. One time she did a craft with red paint applied to her feet, which gave her a mild rash. But she knows now that she can’t have anything red and will always ask me before eating it (even with apples and strawberries, so cute).

But now that Sydney has gone so long without a problem, I have started to wonder if she really is allergic to Red 40, or if it was just a fluke. So when she was invited to a birthday party today I decided not to bring her one of her special cupcakes. I figured that if the cake had a lot of red, I would just buy her another treat (the party was at Build-a-Bear in the mall, so we would be eating cake in the food court) and if it wasn’t red, I would let her try it.

The cupcakes were white cake with chocolate frosting and a few rainbow sprinkles on top. I scraped off the sprinkles and let her have at it. Tasty!

But when we got home, I noticed her cheeks looked a little too rosy.

And then tonight, she had two screaming, crying, irrational meltdowns. Meltdowns that we used to experience at least twice a day, that we have not had in several months. And now that I am used to Sydney without the tantrums, I can see that they were not normal. I feel horrible for her. How scary to completely lose control like that! But at the same time, I’m kind of glad that I let her try the cupcake, because now I am totally convinced of her sensitivity.

My child has a food allergy.

None of us should be eating that nasty stuff, anyway.

Do any of your children have food sensitivities or allergies? How did you find out about them?

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14 comments to Die, red dye

  • Mama Pickles

    Both of my sons have allergies. With my first son, it was mother's intuition that told me he was allergic to milk. My pediatrician told me he was too young to be allergic to milk at 4 months old. As soon as I cut milk out of my diet, I had a new baby. When my second was born we just avoided all the major allergens until he was old enough to be allergy tested.

    My oldest son also has a sensitivity to red dye. I haven't noticed any rashes, but his behavior- holy cow! I had heard about red dye causing horrible behaviors and looked into it some more. We decided to cut out red dye and again, he was a new kid. We can tell as soon as he gets even the littlest bit back into his system. The meltdowns and the rage, oh my goodness. The last time he had some red dye was in punch for a kid's birthday at school. By that afternoon he was insane. At 4 years old he told me he wanted to stop crying and screaming but he couldn't. That there sealed the deal for me. Red dyes are not allowed in the house and I'm trying to cut other dyes out too.

    Good luck and go with your gut! It's always right. :)

  • Jane

    For the past year, we have suspected that Jesse may have ADHD. We are in the process of getting him officially assessed now but in all the research I have done in the past year, red dye kept popping up as a possible trigger for hyperactivity.
    In general, we don't have a whole lot of junk around and I try to buy as much food without additives as possible (but you are right, red dye is everywhere!), but one week I decided to treat Jesse to an Iccee at Target to reward him for his good behavior. Within hours he was literally bouncing off walls and much more hyper than his usual self (and that is hyper!). A few days later, I got him fruit punch at Chic-fil-a and the same thing…I actually had to remove him from the playroom I thought he might harm other children, he was THAT hyper.
    So, we have been more careful, removing the red Christmas M and M's, etc. He is old enough he knows to look before he eats and determine whether something is made with fruit and not dye.
    Good luck to you!

  • daisy

    poor girl! I am so glad you guys figured this out! Was she ok with Ellie's cake? I noticed you made sure she got a piece w/o the icing, but was it ok?

  • Marcia

    I'm glad you are eliminating the red dye but did you know the other artificial dayes are made the same way–from petroleum? Because red is used the most, she was getting more of it. You may have seen the same thing if she ate the same quantitiy of the other dyes.

    THere is a great support group for this called the Feingold Association http://www.feingold.org

  • melissa

    I read this article a few weeks ago and I'm more convinced than ever that food dye is something we need to avoid…
    http://spoonfedblog.net/2011/01/22/the-color-of-trouble/

  • Katharine Swan

    Red 40 is terrible stuff! My nephews used to drink strawberry milk all day long, and they were like little terrorists. Finally we suggested their mom stop giving them strawberry milk, and the behavioral problems suddenly got a lot better.

    There are a number of other food dyes that have been linked to hyperactivity and tantrums in European studies, but red 40 is the worst. And actually, concerns about red 40 resulted in the red M&Ms being pulled for so many years — too bad they brought them back, huh?

  • Febmom02

    Thanks for posting! We have just started dealing with this, with our 9 year old son. He too has a rash on his face when he eats something red. I have been known to scrap off the sprinkles off a brownie, but it is not working. I am also investigating, just like you did and finding LOTS of foods with red 40. Pillsbury Creasant Rolls have red 40! Thanks again for posting, I am sorry that your little girl has gone through this, but reading your post makes me feel that I am not alone.

  • Anonymous

    I'm with you on the link between red 40 and anger. I usually eat all natural foods, and try my best to avoid un natural food coloring. I am also usually a non-violent person. Over the past few days, though, I have noticed that I am angry all the time. I snap at people! I want to physically fight with people, and hurt them and do as much damage to them as humanly possible! And this is towards people that I care about, and sometimes strangers who just happen to be shopping in the same store as me. Plus I'm depressed and have had at least 1 or 2 serious anxiety attacks where I have almost fainted and honestly was afraid I would die. While I was drinking the only juice we have in the house – the juice that someone else bought – I read the label, and guess what was there? Red 40!

  • Regina

    I just read your post and have to say, I am glad I am not the only one who has come to this conclusion and dome some research. We became aware of my son's allergy to red 40 because his teacher was concerned about his hyper activity. We had recent purchased a large tub of rainbow sherbet. Two days in a row he was bouncing off the walls and almost uncontrollable at school. As soon as we had our talk about his behavior and how it could possible be something he ate, I clued in the sherbet. I checked the label and, sure enough, it was loaded with food coloring. I washed it all down the sink. When he went to school the next day, he was a completely different person. Since that event we have done everything possible to eliminate anything with dye. My sons now check labels now too. They know they cannot have it.

  • The Lady of the House

    Pretty late to the conversation, but I will add that my 6 year old has suffered from stomach upset sometimes coupled with major vomiting from time to time. It had been going on for 3 years and finally at his 6th birthday party, I realized it was from red dye 40. Haven't had a problem since eliminating it.

  • Katharine Swan

    Red 40 is terrible stuff! My nephews used to drink strawberry milk all day long, and they were like little terrorists. Finally we suggested their mom stop giving them strawberry milk, and the behavioral problems suddenly got a lot better.

    There are a number of other food dyes that have been linked to hyperactivity and tantrums in European studies, but red 40 is the worst. And actually, concerns about red 40 resulted in the red M&Ms being pulled for so many years — too bad they brought them back, huh?

  • Regina

    I just read your post and have to say, I am glad I am not the only one who has come to this conclusion and dome some research. We became aware of my son's allergy to red 40 because his teacher was concerned about his hyper activity. We had recent purchased a large tub of rainbow sherbet. Two days in a row he was bouncing off the walls and almost uncontrollable at school. As soon as we had our talk about his behavior and how it could possible be something he ate, I clued in the sherbet. I checked the label and, sure enough, it was loaded with food coloring. I washed it all down the sink. When he went to school the next day, he was a completely different person. Since that event we have done everything possible to eliminate anything with dye. My sons now check labels now too. They know they cannot have it.

  • Kathleen

    Your detective work is making me wonder if my daughter's chapped lips are some sort of allergy?? Hmmmm???

  • [...] our screen time limits pretty much every day. She loves treats (although she is still allergic to red food dye so she is somewhat limited). She loves princesses, fancy shoes, playing outside, and wearing [...]

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