I remember when I found out I had an allergy. It was so long ago, that I don't even know how old I was, just that I was still living in California, so somewhere under 13 years old. I put some lotion on my arms, and I don't remember much about this part either, except that it was a raspberry or strawberry scented lotion, and the bottle definitely said "hypoallergenic."
That same day, my arms turned red and hot, and incredible itchy, with little bumps all over them. I would later learn that this was called "hives."
After scratching my arms constantly for a couple of days, much to the concern of all of my teachers, my mom took me to a doctor. They said I had an allergic reaction to the lotion I'd put on, and that "hypoallergenic" doesn't actually mean anything! I go a prescription for a steroid cream and got to go home, recover, and eventually forget about the incident.
Until January of 2011. That winter, my boyfriend and I went up to Massachusetts to visit his family over winter break. Our return flight home was delayed due to snow, and since the airport was over an hour away from his parents' house, his dad opted to get us a hotel room by the airport rather than continue to drive us down there before dawn every day, hoping that that would be the day the flight took off (side note: I will never forget his face when he dropped us off in the hotel lobby and said to us, "be smart." It was terrifying!).
We ended up staying a couple of nights at the hotel before our flight home was finally cleared, and during that time, I took a shower. A perfectly ordinary hotel shower. And since it was the dead of winter and the air was very dry, I put on some complementary hotel lotion after the shower to keep my skin from cracking. I then put on a sweater and flopped down on the hotel bed and called my mom to give her a status update.
We talked on the phone for a good while, and over that time, my arms grew progressively itchier. I eventually hung up, rolled up my sleeves, and saw my hives-ridden arms and knew that I had hecked up. My boyfriend, despite being a little freaked out, suggested we go to the closest pharmacy, because pharmacists know everything and could help us. So we got a taxi to take us to the closest pharmacy, which was a little Walgreens or something in a mall. I showed my arms and told my sad tale to the pharmacist, who immediately handed me some Benadryl (you can't be itchy if you're in a coma!) and expressed her surprise that I had a reaction to the hotel lotion, since those are almost always hypoallergenic.
That word now has less than no meaning to me :(
I still don't have any idea what I'm actually allergic to in the lotions. But now I exclusively buy lotions that don't say "hypoallergenic" on the bottle, and I put a little bit of any new product on my upper arm as a test patch before I put it anywhere else.