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.

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, dry, itchy red area, an eczematous dermatitis, usually confined to the area where the cosmetic was applied (for example, the eyelids may become irritated after applying eye shadow). Occasionally, cosmetic skin reactions can appear as hives (welts). This type of hives (contact urticarial) can be either allergic or nonallergic. 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.

What is on the cosmetic label?

The ingredients in a cosmetic are required to be listed on the label in order of decreasing quantity. Any ingredient could potentially produce a reaction, but certain ingredients seem to be more likely to cause problems. The use of the terms hypoallergenic, pure, and natural on the label have very little scientific meaning and are essentially marketing jargon. Cosmetics that use the term organic must be manufactured according to certain USDA criteria that have little to do with consumer safety.

What health care specialists diagnose and treat makeup allergies?

Dermatologists have the most experience in dealing with makeup and cosmetic intolerance.

How do health care professionals diagnose makeup allergies?

If a cosmetic is being considered as a potential cause of a reaction, the patient can perform a "use" test over three or four days by repeatedly applying the substance to the same site on forearm skin. If a reaction appears, further types of allergy testing can be performed by a health care professional to determine the precise identity of the offending substance in the cosmetic mixture. One can then avoid the product as well as avoiding further exposure to the same allergenic component in other cosmetic products.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/14/2017

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