Jessica Alba Outsmarts Sneaky Allergies

The movie and TV star shares her lifelong struggles with allergies and how she beat her hidden triggers.

Bonnie Siegler
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For over a decade, Jessica Alba has taken down the bad guys on TV (in Dark Angel) and in movies like The Fantastic Four, in which she plays a superhero with the power to make herself invisible. It's no small irony, then, that the actress fell to a foe in a seemingly safe place: "The laundry room!" reveals the 31-year-old wife and mother of two girls. "I was using a 'baby-safe' detergent and developed hives. I thought, No way am I putting this on a newborn," says Jessica.

In fact, hidden allergy triggers—like the mysterious ingredient in that detergent—have plagued Jessica since childhood. "I spent a lot of time in the hospital as a kid. My asthma and allergies were so severe, my throat would close up. I often had pneumonia. I even had a collapsed lung."

While her scariest allergic reactions diminished over time, Jessica still had symptoms. "I later realized that when I avoided fragrances and certain products—especially detergents and harsh cleansers—it eliminated a lot of my reactions," notes Jessica. "That was kind of a breakthrough moment for me: knowing you can control your environment and have an effect on your health."

Soon, Jessica was inspired to cofound The Honest Company, which sells allergen-free products. Here, she shares breathe-easy tips.

Be prepared!
"I always carry an inhaler, and once after eating Brazil nuts on a plane—I'm allergic to those, but didn't see them in the mix—I had to quickly use my inhaler and get oxygen from the crew."

Tip: If you have food allergies, alert the airline before you fly and ask if they have special seating (e.g., nut-free area).

Hone your focus.
Millions of people are allergic to indoor allergens, says the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. The No. 1 offender? Dust mites! "Yes, I'm allergic to dust mites, too!" says Jessica. "But it's hard to avoid it completely."

Tip: If dust mites are an issue, focus on banning them from your bedroom (where we spend the most time), especially on drapes, carpets and bedding. Remove throw rugs; try to replace curtains with plastic or vinyl blinds.

Suss out triggers.
Even after nixing harsh cleaning products, Jessica still had symptoms. Then she noticed a pattern: They usually occurred after eating. "I realized if I avoided certain food preservatives and pesticides, I was fine."

Tip: Keep a symptom diary. For example, do you wheeze while jogging? You may have exercise-induced asthma. Review the diary with your doctor and ask if you would benefit from treatment.

March 2013