A broad range of salicylic acid esters are used to flavour foods such as cake mixes, puddings, ice cream, chewing gum, and soft drinks. The mechanism of action of these agents is thought to be similar to that of aspirin.
Salicylates are also found naturally in many foods. Daily salicylate intake from foods is estimated to be in the range of 10 to 200 mg/day. Because this is very close to the level of salicylates used in clinical testing (usually 300 mg), dietary salicylate may be a significant factor in aspirin-sensitive individuals. Most fruits, especially berries and dried fruits, contain salicylates. Raisins and prunes have the highest amounts.
Salicylates can be found in appreciable amounts in candies made of liquorice and peppermint. Moderate levels of salicylates are found in nuts and seeds as well. Vegetables, legumes, grains, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products typically contain insignificant levels of salicylates. Salicylate levels are especially high in some herbs and condiments, including curry powder (turmeric), paprika, thyme, dill, and oregano. Although the intake of these herbs and spices is relatively small, they can make a contribution to the total dietary salicylate consumption.
Allergic contact dermatitis from Salicylates:
Most publications about allergic contact dermatitis (ACD) from salicylates are case reports describing only a few patients. However, patch-test studies document its occurrence as well. Various salicylates have different functions and can be listed on products as a perfume, ultraviolet (UV) absorber, UV filter, skin conditioner, denaturant, preservative, soother, keratolytic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic.
Salicylates are frequently used in topical products and drugs. Allergic contact dermatitis from salicylates in topical products is uncommon, and the degree of cross-reactivity among salicylates is unknown. In the case of allergens as rare as salicylates, it is recommended to test with the individual salicylates shown on the list of any product's ingredients.
Salicylates from various sources can contribute to urticaria. However, it is important to note that flavouring agents such as cinnamon, vanilla, menthol, and other volatile compounds, may produce urticaria in some individuals, along with food preservatives such as benzoates and sulphites. Emulsifiers and stabilisers such as polysorbate in ice cream and vegetable gums such as acacia, gum arabic, tragacanth, quince, and carrageenan can also be linked to urticaria.
If you suspect a Salicylate allergy:
A strict dietary analysis and a thorough evaluation of potential environmental sources of salicylates should be done to best avoid any possible allergic response. Testing individual products one at a time on the skin can be an effective way to determine if you are allergic to salicylates from your environment. Schedule an appointment with a health practitioner (e.g. Naturopath or Nutritionist) that treats immune disorders, food intolerances or allergies. You will then be put on an appropriate individualised diet and if needed be prescribed supplements and herbs to reduce the allergic response.
Mortz, C.G., Thormann, H., Goossens, A. & Andersen, K.E. (2010) Allergic contact dermatitis from ethylhexyl salicylate and other salicylates. Dermatitis, Vol. 21:2, E7-10. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20233542.
Pizzorno, J. & Murray, M. (2013) Textbook of Natural Medicine. (4th ed.). Churchill Livingstone: Missouri.
Swain, A.R., Dutton, S.P. & Truswell, A.S. (1985) Salicylates in foods. J Am Diet Assoc, Vol. 85:8, 950-960. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4019987.