Beauty products contain countless chemicals that can cause allergic reactions or skin irritations. Here’s what you need to know to develop a sensible strategy for overcoming and avoiding these adverse reactions.
Types of reactions
The symptoms that signal a reaction to a beauty product vary significantly from person to person, making them difficult to diagnose. WebMD categorizes these reactions into two main types.
If you experience itching, burning, redness or stinging on your skin shortly after using a product, it may be irritant contact dermatitis. While this reaction isn’t typically as severe or long-lasting as a true allergy, it can cause discomfort.
- Irritant contact dermatitis:
A pre-existing skin condition — including dry or cracked skin — can make you more likely to experience this type of reaction after using a product.
Allergic contact dermatitis: Stronger, more persistent reactions are often an indication of allergic contact dermatitis. The cause is usually an allergy to a specific ingredient in the beauty product — typically a preservative or fragrance.
Common symptoms include redness, swelling and water blisters. Unlike irritant contact dermatitis, the reaction may not occur right away. Some reactions may occur a few hours after using a product, while others may not surface for one week.
Not sure which type of reaction you’re experiencing? Determining whether it’s irritant or allergic contact dermatitis can be difficult for the untrained eye. For starters, stop using any beauty product you think might be the cause. Next, consult a health or skin care professional.
Allergic reactions and irritations are caused by a wide variety of beauty products and ingredients. These are the most common offenders.
- Perfume and body spray
- Eye makeup
- Hair dye
- Lip stain
- Nail polish and glue
- Alpha hydroxy acids: ingredients found in skin care and chemical peels
- Paraphenylenedeamine (PPDA): an ingredient in permanent hair dye
- Neomycin: a topical antibiotic found in some cosmetics, deodorants, soaps
- Quaternium-15: a preservative in shampoo, nail polish, sunscreen and self-tanner
- Cobalt chloride: metal found in antiperspirant and hair dye
- Formaldehyde: a preservative in some cosmetics, soaps, nail polish and perfume
- Myroxylon pereirae: a fragrance in perfume and skin lotion
If you suspect that one of these products or ingredients has triggered a reaction, discontinue use and note whether your symptoms go away or persist. If you’re unsure, see your doctor. He or she can identify the guilty allergen by using special diagnostic techniques.
How to prevent reactions
While some people stick with the same tried and true beauty products for years, others prefer to sample new products from time to time. Whatever your approach to skin care, keep in mind that irritations or allergies can still occur even after you’ve used the same product for many years.
Here are some sensible tips for preventing reactions from WebMD and YourTotalHealth.
- Opt for fewer ingredients
The fewer ingredients that a product has, the less likely it is that your skin will react to one of them. So, choose products with 10 ingredients or less.
- Practice the patch test
Apply a small amount of the product to the inside of your elbow. If no reaction occurs after three days, consider it safe to use.
- Be practical when applying perfume
The chemicals in perfume are some of the worst culprits for causing skin reactions. Avoid them by always applying fragrance to your clothes and not directly on your skin.
- Toss out old makeup
Over time, cosmetics can become breeding grounds for bacteria and irritate your skin. Do some research into how long various products last and then make it a habit to monitor the age of your makeup.
- Switch products periodically
Using the same product can cause your skin to become sensitized to the ingredients and develop an allergy over time. Add a little variety to your skin care routine by trying new products from time to time.
- Consider colors
Interestingly, black mascara, black eye liner and earth tone eye shadow are less likely to cause irritation.
- Always exercise caution
Even if a product says it’s hypoallergenic or specially formulated for sensitive skin, always read the ingredients and conduct a patch test to be sure that your skin won’t react. Unfortunately, there’s no clear regulation on testing, so some product labels might be misleading.
You might be able to reduce potential reactions by using organic products. Certified organic skin care and cosmetics don’t use synthetic additives and chemical ingredients that are often attributed to allergic and irritant reactions.
- Juice Beauty. This company offers organic skin care products of all kinds and is committed to avoiding harsh chemical additives, preservatives and artificial colorants — all common causes of skin irritations and allergies.
- Moom. Hair removal products can be especially harsh on skin. Moom features all-organic products that eliminate unwanted hair, safely and effectively.
- Whish. Whish offers an extensive line of products that includes body butters, body scrubs and all-over washes. What’s best about this eco-friendly company is that it uses organic ingredients whenever possible.
Keep in mind that you can still experience an adverse reaction when using organic and natural products. Dermatologist Leslie Baumann, M.D., of Yahoo Health explains that even the most natural ingredients may cause sensitive skin to react.
As always, it’s best to seek professional advice if you experience any adverse reaction to a beauty product. While some irritations are minor and can be treated by simply discontinuing use, others may require serious medical attention.
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