Rash Decisions

Before I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease in 2004, one of the symptoms that plagued me was an eczema-like rash that flared up on a regular basis. It was most common on my arms, legs, face, and neck, but it could show up anywhere, anytime. Doctors prescribed skin creams, but nothing took it away until I eliminated gluten from my diet.

I had a blissful respite for about a decade. Then, a couple of years ago, the rashes started coming back.

At first, I assumed I’d been accidentally glutened at a restaurant. But on those rare occasions when I have accidentally ingested gluten, the first symptom that popped up was ulcers inside my mouth, and that didn’t happen. Still, clearly I was ingesting something that was making me sick, and I took a closer look at my diet. Everything I ate was gluten-free, as far as I knew, but that didn’t guarantee safety. (Some readers will remember the Wellshire Farms debacle in 2008; in that case, the company sold products labelled “Gluten Free” that weren’t. It was horrible, particularly because several of these products, like the Wellshire Kids’ Dinosaur Shapes Chicken Bites, were marketed for children. To this day, I refuse to buy anything made by Wellshire Farms.)

I started playing detective, trying to identify the culprit. When I found the cause, it was entirely by accident: I tried an eye-makeup remover made by Rimmel, and my eyelids cracked open. The good news was that my reaction, and the rashes, had nothing to do with gluten. The bad news was, I’d developed a contact allergy to methylisothiazolinone, a chemical widely used in toiletries, household cleansers, and other sundry goods.

Methylisothiazolinone is used as a preservative and a biocide. It has the dubious distinction of being named the American Contact Dermatitis Society Contact Allergen of the Year for 2013. Here’s how another source describes methylisothiazolinone:

It is a cytotoxin that may affect different types of cells. Its use for a wide range of personal products for humans, such as cosmetics, lotions, moisturizers, sanitary wipes, shampoos, and sunscreens, more than doubled during the first decade of the twenty-first century and is proving to be a concern because of sensitization and allergic reactions as well as cell and nerve damage.

Search online for methylisothiazolinone — or its close relative methylchloroisothiazolinone — and you’ll find a lot of anecdotal accounts of its frightening effects. You’ll also find an increasing number of medical journals sounding the alarm, especially in Europe. In the US, the National Institutes of Health’s Library of Medicine has abstracts of these articles. Check out “Methylisothiazolinone Outbreak in the European Union” to see how ongoing exposure to the chemical is moving beyond eczema-like rashes and causing lichen planus-like or lymphomatoid reactions. Don’t be put off by the snoozy title of “Methylisothiazolinone in Selected Consumer Products in Belgium,” which shows that many companies are far exceeding the legally allowed concentrations of methylisothiazolinone in consumer products.

So, why talk about methylisothiazolinone on a blog devoted to living gluten-free? A couple of months ago, I got a message from a reader who was suffering from rashes, and she wanted to know if I had any advice. I told her about my experience with methylisothiazolinone and suggested that she stop using any product that contained it. This is no small thing to do: I found the chemical in Pantene shampoo and conditioner, Crabtree & Evelyn bath gel, Murad facial toner, and a host of other products running the gamut from inexpensive drugstore staples to expensive boutique brands. Methylisothiazolinone is everywhere. I just heard back from this reader, who told me that, by avoiding the chemical, her rashes had cleared up. That was when I decided I had to write this.

Get ready to hear more about methylisothiazolinone over the next few months. It’s already part of the basis for a class-action lawsuit against The Honest Company; details begin on page 16 of the filed complaint. (The Honest Company has previously responded to the Environmental Working Group’s criticism of its use of methylisothiazolinone on its blog.) The European Commission is currently reviewing a proposal to restrict the use of methylisothiazolinone, and to ban the chemical in any “leave-on” product, including wet wipes; the public consultation period is open until October 23, 2015. (Want to participate? Click here.) The UK’s BBC One Watchdog has covered methylisothiazolinone allergies — read this and this — and caused Johnson & Johnson to reformulate one problem product. (Vaseline, Brylcreem, Huggies, and Nivea also announced plans to reformulate… at least in the UK.) The New York Times has written about it. There’s a very helpful Facebook group, “Allergy to Isothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone and Benzisothiazolinone,” that has constantly updated information, but brace yourself for some frightening photos of victim’s reactions if you visit. In the meantime, you might want to check out your own medicine cabinet.

The Next One to Fall

If you’ve followed this blog for any time at all, you know I’m not just a travel writer with celiac disease — I’m also an award-winning crime novelist! My second mystery, The Next One to Fall, is being released today in the U.S. and Canada. I’m thrilled to say the early reviews have been fantastic. According to Publishers Weekly, “The rich history and geography of Peru add depth to an engrossing mystery that constantly keeps the reader guessing.” Library Journal says, “Davidson’s follow-up to her Anthony Award-winning debut (The Damage Done) will leave you breathless.”

My book tour will take me to Houston (Feb. 17th), Austin (Feb. 18th), Scottsdale (Feb. 21st), Glendale AZ (Feb. 22nd), Huntington NY (Feb. 28), Hamilton ON (Mar. 7th), Toronto (Mar. 8th), Denver (Mar. 23rd), Los Angeles (Mar. 25th), San Diego (Mar. 26th), Thousand Oaks CA (Mar 28th), and San Francisco (Apr. 2nd). Here’s the complete schedule. If anyone has suggestions or recommendations for restaurants that serve good gluten-free meals in these cities, I’d love to hear them. Also, please come out to say hello if I visit your city!

By the way, if you’re in the New York City area, consider yourself invited to my launch party at The Mysterious Bookshop. That’s this Wednesday night, Feb. 15th, at 6:30pm. All are welcome!

One more thing: THE NEXT ONE TO FALL is set entirely in Peru, which I visited in the fall of 2007. It was that trip that convinced me to start the Gluten-Free Guidebook early in 2008. It’s amazing how much it influenced me. Peru still stands out in my mind as the most incredible place I’ve ever visited. Check out my slideshow to see some of the reasons why.

Allergic Girl: The Book!

One of the very best things about creating the Gluten-Free Guidebook is that the site has connected me to some wonderful people. A case in point: my friend Sloane Miller, otherwise known as Allergic Girl. She’s a tireless educator and advocate for people with food allergies, and a warm, enthusiastic person both online and in real life. She doesn’t have celiac disease, but she follows a gluten-free diet, so I’ve referred the gluten-intolerant as well as people with food allergies to her site many times. Now I’m referring them to her new book, too. Allergic Girl: Adventures in Living Well With Food Allergies has just been published by Wiley. Library Journal gave it a starred review, saying:

“The book is divided into three sections: an introduction to food allergies, how to cope with them, and how to find the right doctor; several chapters on relationships with self, family, friends, lovers, and food; and discussions of how to manage dining out and participating in social events and celebrations involving food. Throughout, Miller emphasizes building positive relationships, and she coaches readers to be assertive but also patient with others who may not know how to respond to someone with food allergies… VERDICT As the parent of a child with a severe food allergy, this reviewer found Sloane’s approach both positive and practical. Highly recommended for anyone with food allergies, as well as their families and friends.”

Check out Sloane’s blog, book trailer, and book tour. I interviewed Sloane a while back for an “On the Road With…” feature; a more recent piece about her can be found on CNN.

While on the subject of books, I should mention why I haven’t been blogging much lately. My debut novel, The Damage Done, was published by Tor/Forge in September, and I went on a book tour that took me to eight states and two countries. (I’m grateful for the wonderful reviews the book has received, and the continuing interest in it.) I also wrote a second mystery novel, The Next One to Fall, which is set in Peru and will be published by Tor/Forge in January 2012. Right now, I’m at work on a new novel.

I also want to mention that, next Tuesday, one of my favorite authors, Linda Fairstein, will release her 13th novel, Silent Mercy. I was lucky enough to get an advance copy, and I can promise you it’s excellent. Happy reading!

Book Tour for The Damage Done

You’ve heard me mention my debut crime novel, The Damage Done. Today is the day that it’s released in the U.S. and in Canada! (If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I discovered it already on the shelves of the Barnes & Noble in Union Square on Friday night). The reviews have been terrific, with Publishers Weekly calling The Damage Done a “razor sharp mystery debut.” If you’d like to read the first three chapters, here’s an excerpt.

I’m touring extensively to promote the book. My stops include Pittsburgh (Oct. 2nd), Boston (Oct. 7th), San Francisco (Oct. 18th), Los Angeles (Oct 19th), Huntington Beach (Oct. 21st), Houston (Oct. 30th), Phoenix/Scottsdale (Nov. 2nd), and Philadelphia (Nov. 7th). Here’s the schedule of tour dates, which still has cities being added to it (including Austin and Toronto). Now I need your advice: can anyone recommend restaurants that serve good gluten-free meals in these cities? I would be grateful for any advice. And please come out to meet me when I visit your city!

I also have several events in New York City: tonight there’s a book party at Partners & Crime; on Oct. 11th, there’s a reading at McNally Jackson; and on Oct. 12th, I’m speaking on a panel at NYU about how to get a book deal. All of these events are free and open to the public. I hope to meet many of you in person this fall!

NYC’s Rosa Mexicano Goes Gluten-Free

I’ve mentioned Rosa Mexicano before: it’s one of my favorite restaurants in New York, and definitely a spot for a celebration. But on my latest visit, I wasn’t exactly celebrating. My husband took me there to cheer me up after I’d had some minor surgery for a possible skin cancer. When we had dinner, we were still waiting for the biopsy results.

I’ve never given much thought to melanoma, mostly because I am not a person who tans. Ever. I have pale Irish skin, and I wear sunscreen every day, even in winter. A few months ago, I noticed that I had a couple of new moles, and I went to a dermatologist to have them checked out. The doctor examined and measured them, and assured me that they weren’t a problem. Then she did a full-body mole check. She identified a couple of moles that were suspicious, and removed the larger of the two that day. It was biopsied and turned out to be fine. I only went back to have the second mole removed a month ago. Small as it was, it turned out to be filled with severely dysplastic cells, which the lab flagged as aggressive. The result was that I needed some minor, in-office surgery to remove the surrounding tissue over my left bicep. It wasn’t difficult or painful, but it required ten stitches to close.

My husband chose Rosa Mexicano for dinner because we’ve been there many times. He knew that there were a number of gluten-free items on the menu, even though they weren’t identified as such (forcing me to double-check on each visit that the dishes were still celiac-safe). On this most recent visit, I had a very pleasant surprise: Rosa Mexicano has introduced a separate gluten-free menu. Given how many options are on it, it’s a wonder that they didn’t do it sooner. (The gluten-free menus are available at all three of Rosa Mexicano’s Manhattan locations, though the one at the original First Avenue spot is a little different from the others.) I’m embarrassed to admit that, this time around, I stuck to my tried-and-true favorites, including the pomegranate margarita and the Budín de Pollo, a decadent tortilla pie filled with layers of chicken, peppers, and cheese.

The discovery made my evening. The next day, I found out that the biopsied tissue was given the all-clear. I’m still feeling very grateful about that. If you’ve never had your skin checked out by a dermatologist, please do.

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On March 31st, I was thrilled to learn that my crime story “Insatiable” is a finalist for a Spinetingler Award in the “Best Short Story” category. “Insatiable” originally ran in Beat to a Pulp in September 2009. Voting on the Spinetingler Awards is open to the public until April 30, 2010, and requires no registration. Links to all of the nominated stories are on the ballot. I hope that you’ll stop by, read the contenders, and vote.

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Speaking of crime, several writer friends decided to have a flash fiction challenge about how I really got that new scar over my bicep. I owe a huge thank you to everyone who took part: Eric Beetner, Chris F. Holm, A.J. Hayes, Naomi Johnson, Chris La Tray, Ellen Neuborne, Steve Weddle, and especially Dan O’Shea, who instigated the challenge in the first place (there was also one anonymous entry). I couldn’t have dreamed up a better get-well gift. Thank you all.

Seven Random Things About Me

I’ve been tagged by one of my favorite bloggers — Allergic Girl, who pens Please Don’t Pass the Nuts. Who can resist a game of blog tag? Here are the rules:

1. Link to the person that tagged you and post the rules on your blog.
2. Share seven random and/or weird things about yourself.
3. Tag seven people at the end of your post and include links to their blogs.
4. Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

And so, here are seven random things about me.

1. I bring home a small statuette from wherever I travel. So far the collection includes replicas of an Easter Island moai, the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, one of the statues from Gaudi’s La Pedrera in Barcelona, and a carved stone llama from Pisac in Peru. When no statuette is available (say, in Bermuda or Chile), a fridge magnet will do. You can’t even see my fridge anymore.

2. I write crime fiction that terrifies some of my friends (my other friends refuse to read it anymore). The first short story I published was in Thuglit, which should tell you something. It’s called “Anniversary” and it’s included in the new anthology A Prisoner of Memory and 24 of the Year’s Finest Crime and Mystery Stories. Want to read my latest published story? It’s called “Son of So Many Tears” and it’s in the latest Thuglit (click here to read it online). Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

3. I interned at Harper’s Magazine in the fall of 1995, and by some bizarre twist of fate, my face ended up on the cover of the February 1996 issue.

4. I’ve been involved in martial arts since I was eight years old. My training is mostly in karate (chito-ryu style), but lately I’ve been dabbling with krav maga and loving it.

5. My husband laughs at my taste in music, but I refuse to believe that disco is dead. Long live Donna Summer!

6. I once ghostwrote a nonfiction book for a very famous novelist. She was a delight to work with, but the overall experience with the book packager who put the deal together convinced me never to ghostwrite anything again.

7. I’m passionate about travel because it has transformed my life. I met my husband while on vacation in Italy, decided to quit my day job and become a full-time writer while visiting Thailand, and only worked up the nerve to start writing fiction after a trip to Prague.

Now here’s who I’m tagging:

Alison Stein Wellner at A Curious Mind
Claire Walter at Travel Babel
Ginger Warder at Traveling Food
Susan at Simply Gluten-Free
Rob and Diana at Celiac Food Reviews
Ann Douglas at The Mother of All Blogs
MotherSister Brooklyn
Crime writer Greg Bardsley at Chimichangas at Sunset

Yes, I know that’s more than seven, but they’re all good reads…