Surprising Non-Food Soybean Products

Allergic to soy? You may need to watch out for these non-food sources

Soybean products aren't limited to tofu anymore. In fact, soy is everywhere, and in many non-food products you just wouldn't expect. Soy products are powering city buses, insulating buildings, and filling your stuffed animals. Many products marketed as “green” or “eco-friendly” use soy-based alternatives to petroleum products. There are even new plastics made from soy.

Soybeans in wooden scoop
Saas Achim / Getty Images

If you have a soy allergy, could you be allergic to these products? Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much research done on the link between food allergies and non-food products, and the research on soybean oil has had conflicting results. Some people may get rashes or hives by touching a food allergen (contact dermatitis), while others may be fine unless they actually eat the allergen.

Some of these products may be so processed that the soy proteins have been broken down and no longer allergenic. In fact, research into highly processed soy indicates that this may be the case, at least for such highly processed products as plastic and biofuel. However, there is no way to predict the allergic potential of a product before you use it. Reactions to non-food items containing soy are rare and poorly described, but some people get them.

Therefore, always check the ingredients of cosmetics, lotions, shampoos, or anything else that you will be putting on your skin. If you're very sensitive to soy, you may need to delve further into the ingredients of potential purchases. Don’t allow soy-allergic young children who put things in their mouths to play with soy-based crayons or modeling dough.

Soy in Products Around the Home

These products that you may use around your home don't always contain soy-based ingredients. However, all of them can contain soy. While most people with soy allergy will not need to avoid soy-containing products like these in their environments, it is useful to be aware of materials that can cause possible exposure.

Products and substances that may contain soy:

  • Artificial fire logs
  • Candles
  • Carpet backing
  • Cleaning products
  • Inks and toners
  • Pet food
  • Synthetic fabrics
  • Crib mattresses

Soy in Your Drugs and Personal Care Products

You probably realize that soy-based ingredients are ubiquitous in cosmetics and other personal care products. I just checked a few labels, and more than 90% of those I scanned contained something derived from soybeans.

Soybean oil is common in products you put on your skin and in your hair, and many supplements and other medications contain soy. Some manufacturers will call out soy ingredients, while others will not.

Below is a list of personal care products that may contain soy. Keep in mind that highly refined soybean oil is unlikely to carry significant allergen and many of these products may be okay for patients with soy allergy. If you have questions, talk with your allergist about which ones to avoid.

  • Cosmetics
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Lotion
  • Shampoo, conditioner and other hair products
  • Soap
  • Medications, vitamins, and supplements

Soybeans in the Toy Box

If your child has a soy allergy, you've likely already spent plenty of time tracking down places where the allergen can lurk. The toy box definitely is one of them. The toys and crafts below may contain soy. Remember that many non-food items made with soy are unlikely to cause a reaction in patients with soy allergy. However, if your child has a severe soy allergy or you are concerned about possible exposures, talk with your allergist about which products your child needs to strictly avoid.

  • Crayons
  • Modeling dough (several gluten-free substitutes for Play-Doh contain soy)
  • Puzzles, games, or board books printed with soy-based inks
  • Stuffed animal filling ("eco" stuffed animal products often use soy-based fillings)

Industrial, Auto, and Building Supplies With Soy

Since soybeans are inexpensive, manufacturers use them in everything from mechanical equipment to building materials. The following products may include soy ingredients:

  • Diesel additives
  • Engine oils and lubricants
  • Fertilizer
  • Flexible foam used in furniture padding
  • Insecticides and fungicides
  • Plastics
  • Solvents, including paint stripper and graffiti remover
  • Soy biodiesel fuel
  • Spray foam insulation
  • Furniture and car waxes
  • Food stains and sealers

Many of these products are not designed to be handled without protective equipment even by people without soy allergy, so chances are, you will not need to worry about exposure even if you do have a severe soy allergy.

A Word From Verywell

Obviously, people who have a soy allergy need to worry first about soy ingredients in the foods they eat. As common as soy is in non-food items, it's even more common in processed food products. Make sure you're aware of the potential non-food uses for soy, particularly if you're very sensitive.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Wood, Robert. Food Allergens in Non-Food Items.

  • Gu X, Beardslee T, Zeece M, Sarath G, Markwell J. Identification of IgE-binding proteins in soy lecithin. Int Arch Allergy Immunol. 2001 Nov;126(3):218-25.
  • Levin, Cheryl; Erin Warshaw. Protein Contact Dermatitis: Allergens, Pathogenesis, and Management. Dermatitis. 2008;19(5):241-251.
  • Mills, E. N., et al. Impact of Food Processing on the Structural and Allergenic Properties of Food Allergens. Mol Nutr Food Res 53.8 (2009): 963-9.
  • United Soybean Board. Consumer Products Guide.

By Jeanette Bradley
Jeanette Bradley is a noted food allergy advocate and author of the cookbook, "Food Allergy Kitchen Wizardry: 125 Recipes for People with Allergies"