While beauty products offer people a great way to get instantly dolled up, many of them contain substances that are notorious for causing a certain level of distress among people prone to skin irritation or allergies.
With the thousands of substances in skincare and cosmetic brands in the United States that have been identified as irritants and contact allergens, it is not surprising that many Americans suffer from skin reactions to beauty products.
But how do you know whether what you have is a skin allergy or a skin irritation and how do you keep them at bay? Let’s find out.
Difference Between Skin Allergy and Skin Irritation
There are two types of skin reactions to substances found in beauty products: temporary skin irritation (also called irritant contact dermatitis) and allergic reaction (also referred to as allergic contact dermatitis).
Irritant contact dermatitis doesn’t involve an immune response and typically develops as your skin adjusts to a certain product. Irritant contact dermatitis is characterized by itchiness, burning or stinging sensation, and/or redness on the area of the skin that gets exposed to harsh substances.
Allergic contact dermatitis, on the other hand, is a result of your body’s exaggerated response to otherwise harmless substances in beauty products. Symptoms of allergic contact dermatitis include hives, itching, redness, and swelling on any part of the body, but typically the face, lips, ears, and neck or the area directly exposed to the allergen. Allergic contact dermatitis can persist until your body is able to build tolerance to the allergen/s.
It can be difficult to tell the two types of skin reaction apart, and you can even have both at the same time. Your best bet is to create your own patch test before incorporating new products into your skincare regimen. Apply a tiny amount of the product to the inner part of your arm and observe for some time if you get a reaction. If you get none, go ahead and purchase it.
Common Skin Irritants and Allergens
As with anything else, knowledge is power, and it pays to make reading labels a habit. If you stumble upon words you don’t understand, look them up online.
The following are a few of the most common substances that are culprits in skin irritation and/or allergies:
- Preservatives– These have been shown to cause skin irritation and allergic contact dermatitis. Examples of preservatives in beauty products include methylisothiazolinone (high-hazard allergen) and parabens.
Skincare products that contain phenoxyethanol and natural preservatives are an excellent alternative to parabens.
- Synthetic fragrance ingredients– These are mixtures of various chemicals that produce a certain scent (e.g. floral scent), which potentially cause skin irritation. Examples of synthetic fragrance ingredients include phthalates
Avoid anything that has “fragrances” in its label and instead go for “fragrance-free” or “unscented.” Check if the product is plant-based.
- Sulfates– If you’ve read the “sulfate-free” labels on shampoo bottles, that is because sulfates—such as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth suflate (SLES)— can be harsh for the hair and strip it off its natural oils. Same goes for the skin: for people prone with sensitive skin, sulfates can cause clogged pores, rashes, acne, and blemishes.
Try solid and oil-based soaps instead of liquid ones.
Remember: Hypoallergenic Doesn’t Mean Nonallergenic
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has conducted extensive research into beauty product ingredients that provoke skin allergic reactions. Surprisingly, even cosmetics, lotions, soaps and other beauty, health, and hygiene products that are labeled “hypoallergenic” may actually cause both skin and respiratory reactions in some people.
Unfortunately, many of these consumer products have the words “fragrance-free” or “for sensitive skin” on their packaging, but contain allergy triggers such as metals, sulfates, and essential oils. People can and do develop respiratory and skin allergic reactions when using them. As mentioned, it always proves prudent to read labels and do your own patch test.
Skin Allergy Treatment in Northeastern Illinois
If you have allergy-prone skin and in need of effective treatment, turn to one of our board-certified allergists here at Oak Brook Allergists. We have extensive experience in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of the entire spectrum of allergies –including skin allergies—and we devise an effective, personalized treatment plan after a careful evaluation to help you take optimal control of your skin allergies and enjoy long-lasting relief.
To schedule a consultation, call us at (630) 574-0460 or fill out our appointment request form. We have offices in Downers Grove, Elmhurst, Naperville, and Plainfield. Come see us soon!