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.

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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.

What are cosmetics? What is in makeup?

Cosmetics are substances applied to the skin (makeup and moisturizer), hair (conditioners), or nails (polish and lacquer) designed to enhance appearance. Cosmetics are defined by their lack of any biological effect. They are complex mixtures of perfumes, emulsifiers, pigments, and preservatives as well as a variety of inert materials. They also frequently contain an array of exotic botanical substances, essential oils, for which the manufacturer may ascribe some vague benefit. 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 causes 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 which would require repeated exposures. Some individuals have extremely sensitive skin that seems to be intolerant to most cosmetics.

Where do cosmetic skin reactions occur? What are symptoms and signs of a makeup allergy?

Since cosmetics are most commonly applied to the female face, this site is most commonly involved in cosmetic skin reactions and inflammatory dermatitis. The rash produced by such a reaction often appears as a scaling, itchy red area, an eczematous dermatitis, usually confined to the area where the cosmetic was applied. It is often very difficult to distinguish on the basis of appearance whether the reaction is allergic or irritant. Sometimes there may be a stinging sensation soon after the offending cosmetic is applied, or the reaction can be delayed for a day or two. Less commonly, reactions may appear as blackheads, folliculitis, hives, and darkened skin.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/15/2016

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