Makeup Allergies

  • Medical Author:
    Gary W. Cole, MD, FAAD

    Dr. Cole is board certified in dermatology. He obtained his BA degree in bacteriology, his MA degree in microbiology, and his MD at the University of California, Los Angeles. He trained in dermatology at the University of Oregon, where he completed his residency.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Are "Hypoallergenic" Cosmetics Really Better?

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.

Makeup allergy facts

What are cosmetics? What is in makeup?

Cosmetics are substances applied to the surface of the skin (moisturizers and makeup), hair (shampoos and conditioners), or nails (polish and lacquer) designed to temporarily alter one's appearance. Cosmetics do not biologically alter the structure or function of the skin, hair, or nails. They are often a complex mixture of perfumes, emulsifiers, sunscreens, pigments, metals, resins, and preservatives, as well as a variety of inert materials. They also frequently contain an array of exotic botanical substances (for example, essential oils) for which the manufacturer may ascribe some obscure benefit. Generally, they are meant to be removed after use. They should be distinguished from permanent makeup, which is essentially a tattoo composed of pigment placed into the deeper layers of the skin with a needle. The FDA and the USDA are responsible for administering laws involving the safety and purity of cosmetics. Revenue of the U.S. cosmetics industry will be about $59 billion in 2014!

What are the risk factors for cosmetics reactions?

Untoward reactions to cosmetics seem to be rare considering their extensive use. Documented allergic sensitivity is even rarer. This may be partly due to the fact that affected individuals may just stop using the offending product rather than complain about it to a professional. Cosmetics may irritate the skin directly (by far the most common type of reaction) or induce an immune-mediated allergic response. Usually irritation would occur the first time a cosmetic is applied, as opposed to an allergic reaction that would require repeated exposures. Some individuals have extremely sensitive skin that seems to be intolerant to most cosmetics. Individuals with rosacea seem to be intolerant to many cosmetics and makeup brands.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/14/2017

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