Wednesday, November 13, 2013

An Open Letter to Birchbox: Petition for the Safety of Allergy Sufferers

For those of us with severe allergies, the world is a precarious place.


You can never safely eat at a restaurant without worrying about cross-contamination, or safely use whatever beauty samples make their way across your desk.  Rather, every new foray-- be it epicurean or aesthetic-- requires a keen eye, scanning ingredients lists and warning labels looking for the tale-tell words that set off your alert sirens: "do not consume if allergic to shellfish," "do not use if allergic or sensitive to aspirin," or the scariest word in the English language to those on maintainer medicines "grapefruit."


With a reported 55% of Americans testing positive for one or more allergies and allergies listed as the fifth more prevalent chronic diseases in the nation, one has to wonder at the wanton disregard most companies show towards their sensitive consumers.  If we're the majority, why must allergy sufferers perpetually navigate a precarious world?


That isn't to say that all allergens should be removed from all products (that would be impossible), but that product labeling needs to clearer and manufacturers need to be more concerned about cross-contamination and using common allergens inconspicuously in products one normally wouldn't associate with the offending ingredient.


This inconspicuous use of allergens in products is particularly frightening to someone suffering from severe, life threatening allergies.  Yesterday, for instance, I received a sample a sample in my Birchbox that contained an ingredient that, were I to have even trace contact with, could kill me if I didn't get immediate medical attention.  Concerned about having received this sample, and concerned about others with similarly severe allergies I penned the following open letter to Birchbox customer support:


Hello, Birchbox.
I received my November box today and one of my samples was the Paula's Choice RESIST BHA 9 for Stubborn Imperfections.  There is a warning on the sample and on the box's insert card warning individuals with aspirin allergies to not use the product.  I unfortunately have a severe aspirin allergy and cannot use the product.

In fact, even cross-contaminate contact with aspirin can cause me to go into anaphylaxis. Had I not carefully read the card and the instructions on the sample I could have ended up in the hospital or, if I wasn't able to get treatment quickly enough, have died.

Furthermore, aspirin sensitivity and aspirin allergies are very common.  Exposure to aspirin in young people recovering from viral infections can also lead to Reye's syndrome, a potentially deadly illness.

Why isn't there an option to list one's allergies on one's Birchbox profile, especially since subscribers do not have the option to pick their products and can't make informed decisions for themselves?  Individuals with food allergies can opt out of getting snacks in their box, but individuals with other allergies, seriously life threatening allergies, cannot express similar concerns.

Lots of teens subscribe to Birchbox, in addition to adults, and products like the one I received from Paula's Choice can potentially be harmful.  Unlike an adult, who is aware of their allergies and is savvy enough to read labels, teens often jump straight into sampling the products.  In the case of the product I was sent this month, this eagerness to try something new can have serious implications for one's health and well being.

That's not cool.  Seriously not cool.

Long story long, while I'm bummed I can't use one of my samples this month (BECAUSE IT COULD KILL ME), I'm more concerned that there isn't an option to list one's allergies on the Birchbox profile, particularly when they are life threatening and Birchbox samples products that contain common allergens.

This isn't just about correcting something funky about my personal box, it's about the safety of other subscribers, some of whom have the same allergy (whether they know it or not).

Is there a way to correct this for both myself and other allergy afflicted subscribers?

Thanks for your attention to this important matter!



This morning, I received the following, insufficient reply:

Hi [Sunny Jim],

Thanks for reaching out. I'm sorry to hear about your allergy!

Unfortunately, we are unable to opt you out of receiving certain products pertaining to your aspirin allergy. We understand if this makes it difficult to continue with us, but we'd love to keep you with us and would suggest that you pass along any troublesome items to a lucky friend.

We appreciate your patience.

Please let me know if you have other questions or concerns. For further assistance, you can also give us a call at 877-487-7272 (9a-5p EST) and we'd be happy to help.


Discovery Specialist
Birchbox | 877-487-7272 | @BirchboxOps




That insufficient, blanket reply does nothing to either ameliorate the fact that I received a deadly [for me] sample in my November box, or address the larger issue of allergy opt-out on the Birchbox profile page.  If, like me, you suffer from life threatening allergies, please sign my petition to pressure Birchbox to allow subscribers to list their life-threatening allergies on their profile pages.


There's always hope that next month's box won't kill us.