The Cleveland Clinic


Allergies and Cosmetics

Introduction

Products such as moisturizers, shampoos, deodorants, make-up, colognes, and other cosmetics have become part of our daily grooming habits. The American Academy of Dermatology reports the average adult uses at least seven different cosmetic products each day. Although cosmetics can help us feel more beautiful, they can cause skin irritation or allergic reactions. Certain ingredients used in cosmetics, such as fragrances and preservatives, can act as antigens, substances that trigger an allergic reaction.

What are the symptoms of a cosmetic reaction?

There are two reactions that might occur following exposure to cosmetics: irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis. Contact dermatitis is a condition marked by areas of inflammation (redness, itching and swelling) that form after a substance comes into contact with your skin.

Irritant contact dermatitis: This is more common than allergic contact dermatitis and can occur in anyone. It develops when an irritating or harsh substance actually damages the skin. Irritant contact dermatitis usually begins as patches of itchy, scaly skin or a red rash, but can develop into blisters that ooze, especially if the skin is further irritated from scratching. It generally occurs at the site of contact with the irritating substance. Areas where the outermost layer of skin is thin, such as the eyelids, or where the skin is dry and cracked are more susceptible to irritant contact dermatitis.

Allergic contact dermatitis: This occurs in people who are allergic to a specific ingredient or ingredients in a product. Symptoms include redness, swelling, itching, and hive-like breakouts. In some cases, the skin becomes red and raw. The face, lips, eyes, ears, and neck are the most common sites for cosmetic allergies, although reactions may appear anywhere on the body.

The time it takes for symptoms of irritant contact dermatitis to appear varies. For stronger irritants, such as perfumes, a reaction may occur within minutes or hours of exposure. However, it may take days or weeks of continued exposure to a weaker irritant, such as soap, before symptoms appear. In some cases, a person can develop an allergic sensitivity to a product after years of use.

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Patient Comments

Viewers share their comments

Cosmetic Allergies - Symptoms Question: What were the symptoms of your cosmetic allergies?
Do hypoallergenic cosmetics prevent cosmetics allergies?

Are "Hypoallergenic" Cosmetics Really Better?

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad St?ppler, MD
Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD

When shopping for cosmetics or skin-care products, you'll frequently see products that are labeled hypoallergenic. Implicit in this term is that these products are less likely to cause allergic reactions than other cosmetic products and that these products will be gentler or even safer for the skin than other products.

However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration(FDA) counsels that consumers should realize that no federal standards or regulations exist governing the use of the term hypoallergenic. In other words, the decision as to whether or not a cosmetic may be labeled as hypoallergenic lies solely with the manufacturer. And this term may be applied without any demonstration or proof that the product causes fewer allergic reactions than others.

When labeling of cosmetics as hypoallergenic first became popular, the FDA attempted to regulate use of the term. In 1975, the FDA issued a regulation governing use of the term hypoallergenic, stating that a cosmetic product could be labeled hypoallergenic only if scientific studies on human subjects showed that it caused a significantly lower rate of adverse skin reactions than similar products not making such claims. The manufacturers of cosmetics claiming to be hypoallergenic were to be responsible for carrying out the required tests. But this regulation was subsequently declared invalid by U.S. courts, leaving manufacturers free to apply the term as they wish, without any required testing to prove that a product is hypoallergenic.

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