Diphenhydramine (Benadryl): Toxic or Terrific? More commonly known by its brand name Benadryl, Diphenhydramine is a household name and a staple of almost every medicine cabinet. Used for everything from colds and flu to hives, Benadryl has a broad application and is widely available. Those with seasonal allergies are probably familiar with pharmaceutical medications like Allegra, Claritin, and Zyrtec for dealing with those pesky allergic reactions like watery and itchy eyes, nasal congestion, and an overall sense of being run down and depleted. Most often called on as an antihistamine to calm the body’s natural inflammatory response, Benadryl does so somewhat reliably, but not without impacting the body with a range of undesirable side effects.
The Pros and Cons of Topical Antihistamines
Topical over-the-counter gels, creams, and lotions often contain this seemingly innocent ingredient. When applied topically to the skin, it works systemically to prevent the body’s histamine response from becoming fully realized. In fact, it is considered so powerful that pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, those with sensitive skin, and premature infants are advised not to use any skincare products with diphenhydramine in them.
One problematic part of using an antihistamine is that it’s literally ‘anti’- or against the body’s natural histamine response. Synthetic antihistamines suppress the body’s histamine production, no doubt, but at what cost? The body produces histamine, and drug-based products like diphenhydramine block the healthy body’s reaction (itching and pain) to an event like a bee sting. While there may be nothing inherently wrong with this suppression, it comes with a whole set of possible unwanted side effects. These side effects range from phototoxicity (sensitivity to light) to disrupting the skin’s sensitive microbiome.
Benadryl’s negative effects don’t end with the human population, which is concerning. This antihistamine-blocker is present in many of our waterways, impacting the growth of algae and preventing essential photosynthesis in plants.
Herbal Alternatives to Benadryl
A few alternative approaches to Benadryl stand out when addressing fluid buildup, stuffiness or puffiness, and allergic histamine reactions. Simply trading out your go-to over-the-counter antihistamine medications, which tend to stagnate the lymph system or the ‘waters of the body,’ for herbal alternatives like Stinging nettles, Osha root, and Jewelweed can make a huge difference in your practice of empowered home health care. Not only will you feel better and more clearheaded, but you’ll look like a healthier and more balanced you, too.
Osha root, for example, is one herbal antihistamine that can be used topically or internally in drop doses of three to five drops to reduce and balance the histamine reaction in acute scenarios. This potent aromatic root has saved many allergy sufferers from having to use over-the-counter medications and has even prevented emergency room visits due to its powerful penchant for reducing a zealous anaphylactic response.
The best option for truly healing rashy, itchy, red, and irritated skin is gentle, soothing ingredients that the body recognizes. Enter herbs. A phytochemical compound Lawsone, contained within the Jewelweed plant, works effectively as an anti-inflammatory, evening the tone of the skin by combatting redness and possessing some natural antihistamine components which serve to quiet and balance the body’s histamine reaction without blocking it entirely. This delicate dance between the physiological histamine system and the herbs is synergistic and seamless. Herbal antihistamines, unlike over-the-counter versions, allow the body to run its course and trust its own process without the chemical interference of a compound so harsh as diphenhydramine.
But perhaps the number one choice for an herbal antihistamine is Stinging nettle, which paradoxically can create a histamine response if applied to the skin. This interesting phenomenon follows the herbal principle of ‘like cures like.’ When drunk as a tea or infusion or taken as a tincture, Stinging nettle is a supremely helpful and bioavailable nutrition powerhouse that helps to calm allergic responses, increase flow in the lymphatic system, and remineralize and replenish the inflamed body.
Your skin reacts to outdoor irritants like insect bites, scrapes, and rashes caused by poison ivy or oak as part of an overall healing response. Diminishing this reactivity with a lab-created antihistamine, while often temporarily effective in relieving symptoms immediately, can be even more irritating to sensitive skin, especially when used over the long term. There are numerous reasons to be selective when you’re choosing what to use on your skin. Fortunately, there are a good number of natural botanical antihistamines that don’t suppress the body’s natural responsiveness in the same way as over-the-counter medications do.
Ingredient: Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
Where Found: creams, gels, pills, capsules
Side Effects: skin rash and irritation, hives and histamine reactions, development of sensitive skin prone to burns (especially when exposed to sunlight), risk of toxicity due to overdose, mental confusion, hallucinations (rare), and environmental pollution.
Best Safe Alternatives:
- Skincare products containing jewelweed, such as The Elixir or Lipid Booster Flawless Facial Oil
- Calming, protective skincare products, like the Hydrating Recovery Mist
- Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica)
- Osha (Ligusticum canadensis)
- Nature’s Sunshine Histablock