I have been sick for quite some time now. This is my first encounter with chronic illness so I don't really know if I'm "taking it well" or not.  After nine months of tests, with all of the poking, prodding, sawing, and other unpleasantries they entail, my physician believes that we've found a cause, if not necessarily the cause. 

My skin has been in a poor way since last November. I've been itchy to the point of madness, and small wounds heal slowly or not at all, turning into larger and larger sores. The worst part, though, is the itchiness. It goes from merely annoying to literally maddening, depriving me of sleep and robbing me of the ability to concentrate on much of anything.

My general practitioner assumed I had fallen victim to scabies and treated me thusly. When I didn't respond and people around me failed to develop symptoms, I was referred to a dermatologist. I cannot fault the doctor for a lack of thoroughness. We've tested food allergies, kidney and liver failure, thyroid issues and autoimmune diseases and run all manner of rules over my blood.

None of these turned up anything of note: Mild allergies to garlic, cinnamon, nutmeg, and pet dander. This came as no surprise as I was told from the beginning that discovering the cause of a skin ailment was often a needle in a haystack proposition.  As a final straw before sending me off to find another doctor,we tried a patch test to test for common contact allergies. This consisted of taping three panels to my back and waiting to see if anything happened.

It did. The area of skin under patch #20 reacted in a violent manner, one that I would rather not describe here. The nature of the reaction was such that the doctor took pictures and brought in other doctors to see a most unusual area of skin. 

My oppressor finally had a name: Paraphenylenediamine, AKA P-Phenylenediamine or just PPD. If that substance doesn't sound familiar, don't feel badly about it. I'd never heard of it and had to do a fair amount of Googling to get my head around what I was up against.

Weirdly enough, it's primarily used in hair dyes. The days of me sporting gloroius, blue-black hair are already well behind me, so that wasn't the source of exposure. Unfortunately, it's used in many blue and black dyes in clothing as well. I am, for all intents and purposes, allergic to black. Unfortunately, it can be used for dying clothes of other colors as well, so merely wearing Miami Vice-esque pastels is no guarantee of beautiful skin.*

Finding clothesmakers who make PPD-free clothing is tricky business. You won't find it listed on any labels and the Global Organic Textile Standard is silent on the subject. The best standards agency I've found to-date is a European outfit named Bluesign. Their site is a little tricky to navigate, but they have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to PPD. In theory, I should be safe wearing clothing from the manufacturers listed as partners.

Itchiness knows nothing of theories, so I'm contacting manufacturers directly. I've sent out several dozen requests and made a similar number of phone calls. So far, this is what I have:

Prana: PPD-free

REI: 25% of REI branded items are PPD-free, with a commitment to achieve 100% by 2018.

The Gap/Old Navy/Banana Republic: Have to contact custmer support on an item by item basis;no comprehensive list available.

Nike: Despite being Bluesign-listed, Nike's customer service informed me their compliance was on an item by item basis.

Those are the only companies to have responded thus far. I expect Patagonia to wind up on the good list soon. I have a grave fear that my beloved Keen sandals are a no-no and I'll be having to donate them. 

My doctor has also put me on an anti-inflamatory diet. Fortunately, I have magnificent support at home and I anticipate being able to stick to it for the four-week period my doctor requested and maybe beyond. The fact that I may get a little healthier in the process is a nice carrot at the end of that stick. And I expect I shall be eating quite a lot of carrots in over the next four weeks.

Anyway, this is a long way of saying that, with my wounds starting to heal and my skin starting to feel somewhat less sensitive, I expect I will be here more often. It is my hope that I won't spend all of my time writing about illness, but it felt good to get this down on an increasingly vague approximation of paper. 

Thank you, and take care,

R. Kemp


EDIT: Just heard back from Patagonia and they have confirmed that their clothes are 100% PPD-free.


* In fairness, there is probably no product on this planet that would guarantee me beautiful skin. As a wise man once said, "Time makes fools of us all."**

** Yes, I know someone else said it first. Not as well, though.