How you sweeten your coffee, tea and foods is up to you, but if you have a persistent rash on your eyelids, there may be a connection to aspartame, which is the main ingredient in NutraSweet and Equal.
This possibly cause-and-effect first came to light in 2003, when Dr. Donald Belsito and the contact dermatitis group at the University of Kansas reported an eyelid rash that was linked to aspartame. Since then, several journal articles have examined the connection.
Researchers now believe that this rash is caused by formaldehyde, which is a derivative of aspartame. Formaldehyde is a very common allergen, and it’s found in nail polish, hair products and many other substances we come into contact with every day. Formaldehyde is only second to fragrance as the most common cause of skin reactions.
However, a formaldehyde allergy can be difficult to pinpoint because there are many names for compounds that contain it. In order to lower the concentration of formaldehyde in their products, many companies use formaldehyde-releasing-preservatives (FRPs) instead.
Among the most common are quaternium-15, imidazolidinyl urea, bromonitropropane and DMDM hydantoin.
While you can certainly scan your product labels for FRPs, aspartame can be found in many foods you might not suspect. Beyond those packets you find on restaurant tables, it’s also in diet sodas, breath mints, cereal, chewing gum, flavored water, ice cream, jellies, powdered ice tea and so much more.
You probably never thought the foods you’re eating could lead to that rash on your eyelids, so first, scan your skincare and haircare products for the ingredients listed above. Then, if you use artificial sweetener, try switching to one without aspartame. From there, start reading food labels carefully. If you don’t get relief after following this advice, see your dermatologist for other possible causes.
Dr. Leslie Baumann is a board-certified dermatologist, New York Times best-selling author and CEO of Baumann Cosmetic & Research Institute in Miami.