Cosmetic Allergies (cont.)

Making sense of product labels

To get the best benefit from cosmetics and skin care products, it's important to be aware of each product's ingredients and to look for and avoid ingredients that are known allergens for you. To make this easier, the FDA requires cosmetic manufacturers to list the ingredients on the product label. Ingredients are listed in descending order of amount. Keep in mind, however, that trade secrets (including certain fragrances) do not have to be specifically listed.

Also, keep in mind that products labeled "unscented" or "fragrance free" may still contain small amounts of fragrances needed to cover the odor of other chemical ingredients. "Natural" generally means that the product includes ingredients extracted from plants or animal products rather than ingredients produced chemically. Products labeled "non-comedogenic" do not contain ingredients that commonly clog pores, which can lead to acne.

Labeling of cosmetics can be helpful when looking for specific ingredients, but be wary of certain product claims. For example, many products use the term "hypoallergenic," although there are no regulations or standards for use of this term. "Hypoallergenic" suggests that a product is less likely than another, similar product to cause an allergic reaction, but manufacturers are not required to prove this claim. In addition, products labeled "organic" are not less likely to cause an allergic reaction. Just remember: There is no cosmetic product that can guarantee never to produce an allergic reaction.

More safety tips:

  • Always use good personal hygiene. Be sure to clean your hands and face before applying make-up.

  • Never share make-up.

  • If you want to test a product in the store, ask for a new, unused applicator, and ask the salesperson to wipe the opening of the tester with alcohol.

  • Keep cosmetic containers tightly closed, except when being used. Keep containers free of dust and dirt.

  • Keep cosmetics away from heat and out of direct sunlight.

  • Do not use eye make-up if you have an eye infection, such as conjunctivitis. Discard those products and use new ones when your infection is gone.

  • Discard products if the color changes or they develop an odor. This may mean the preservatives in the products are no longer able to fight bacteria.

  • If the consistency of a product changes, do not add water. Discard the product.

  • Clean cosmetic brushes and applicators frequently.

Reviewed by the doctors at The Cleveland Clinic Department of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine.

Edited by Michael W. Smith, MD, November 1, 2006.

Portions of this page © The Cleveland Clinic 2000-2004

Last Editorial Review: 12/18/2007

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