According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the average American adult uses a minimum of seven cosmetic products everyday, including makeup, cologne, perfume, toothpaste and deodorant. The potential for allergies to cosmetic allergies is great, as is the demand for hypoallergenic cosmetics.
Allergies and Cosmetics
An allergy occurs when the body mistakes a normally harmless item as a threat. The body develops antibodies that bind to the allergen, attempting to destroy it. In the process, swelling and inflammation occur, as well as coughing and sneezing, to rid the body of the allergen.
By far, the most common allergic reaction to cosmetics is contact dermatitis, or a rash that develops where the cosmetic is applied. The rash may be red, itchy and raw. In severe cases hives may develop.
Not all rashes caused by cosmetics are allergens. Sometimes chemicals in the cosmetic react with chemicals in the skin. While an irritant, this type of rash is not due to allergies.
Fragrances in cosmetics also cause allergies, either when the cosmetic comes into contact with the skin or when it is inhaled. While someone with an allergy to fragrance chemicals can avoid using them, he or she is still vulnerable to what other people choose to wear.
Allergic reactions to inhaled fragrance chemicals can be similar to hay fever. People with asthma may find that fragrance allergies worsen their asthma symptoms.
Common Cosmetic Allergens
Cosmetics are made from a wide range of synthetic and natural compounds. Unlike medications, there are few regulations determining what can or cannot be used in a cosmetic product, and the FDA only oversees cosmetics with a medicinal purpose, such as anti-dandruff shampoo.
Any substance is capable of causing an allergic reaction. Cosmetic ingredients that are noted for causing allergies include:
- cinnamic alcohol
- cinnamic aldehyde
- oak moss absolute
- protein hydrolysates.
In addition, chemical preservatives used to extend the life of cosmetic products can cause allergic reactions. Such preservatives include:
- DMDM hydantoin
- imidazolidynl urea
A person can use the same cosmetic product for years before developing an allergic reaction to it.
Many cosmetics are promoted as hypoallergenic, meaning they either don’t cause allergies or the risk of causing allergies is low. The harsh reality is that truly hypoallergenic cosmetics don’t exist. Very few substances are truly hypoallergenic.
Bear in mind that no governing body or set of guidelines determines what qualifies as hypoallergenic in the cosmetic industry. And as each company defines hypoallergenic cosmetics with their own interests at heart, the term “hypoallergenic” on a cosmetic product must be viewed as open to interpretation.
Unscented cosmetic products seem, at first glance, to be ideal for people who have allergies to fragrances. Many “unscented” hypoallergenic cosmetics are actually scented. Instead of being scented to be noticeable, they are scented to hide the smell of chemicals in the product.
When searching for hypoallergenic cosmetics, be sure to read the ingredient list carefully. Try to avoid products that contain the same ingredients as products that cause allergic reactions.
When first trying hypoallergenic cosmetics, test the product on a small area of skin to see if a reaction occurs. Do not, however, try this if cosmetics have caused severe allergic reactions or anaphylaxis in the past. In such cases, discuss any cosmetic product with your doctor before using it.