February 2, 2018

Cosmetics Allergy: Could You Be Allergic to Your Beauty Products?

Cosmetics, also commonly referred to as beauty products, include everything from shampoos, fragrances and body lotions to face masks, foundations and eyeliners. They are meant to provide you with skincare benefits and make you feel, look, and smell better. However, certain beauty products may cause skin irritation or an allergic reaction. Based on a 2010 study, more than 30 percent of people around the world experienced cosmetics allergy symptoms at least once in their lives.


Reactions to beauty products may cause symptoms varying from mild to severe. They usually occur shortly after you apply a product onto your skin. It might be a product that you are using for the first time, or the one you have been using for years with no problems.

According to dermatologists, many women think they sensitive skin. Sometimes, it may be hard for you to find a product that your skin won’t react to. Skin reactions to cosmetics, known as contact dermatitis, can be allergic or irritant (or both).

Irritant contact dermatitis normally affects only the skin surface and doesn’t last long. The symptoms include redness, itching, burning, or stinging of the skin. In some cases, especially if you scratch, you may develop oozing blisters on the affected area of the skin.

An allergic reaction, however, involves the immune system, which makes it a more serious condition. Allergic contact dermatitis causes itching, redness, swelling of the skin, as well as hives. The reaction mostly occurs on the face, eyes, lips, ears and neck, but it may also appear on any part of your skin surface.

It might be difficult to distinguish between the irritant and allergic reactions, since their symptoms are quite similar. Besides, some people may even experience the symptoms that combine both.

Which Cosmetics Tend to Cause Skin Allergies?


Skin allergies are often triggered by ingredients in such products, as shampoos, bath soaps, detergents, moisturizers, sunscreen, face creams, eye makeup, long-wearing lipsticks, as well as certain types of hair dyes, nail polishes and fingernail glue.

Allergic reactions associated with cosmetics products are mostly caused by various fragrances and preservatives. Preservatives are used in almost all water-containing products. Some of preservatives commonly linked to skin allergies include parabens, formaldehyde, Quaternium-15, imidazolidinyl urea, phenoxyethanol, DMDM hydantoin, and methylchloroisothiazolinone.

If you have an allergy, you should look for products labelled as “without perfume” or “fragrance-free”. Even if the label says “unscented”, small amounts of fragrance can still be contained in the product and cause allergy symptoms.

Below, we provide a list of the most common cosmetic allergens.



Also known as DBP or di-n-butyl phthalate, it’s a plasticizing ingredient that is sometimes used in nail polishes to make them more pliable. Some experts consider this element a potential carcinogen causing allergic rashes, eczema, and even birth defects. While phthalate-containing products have already been banned in Europe, many companies that used phthalates in their beauty products have changed their formulations in order to remove the chemical.



Triclosan is an antibacterial and antifungal agent used in products like soap, toothpaste, or detergent. In some people, this ingredient may cause itchy rashes and inflammation on palms and fingertips.



This preservative is sometimes used in skincare, makeup and haircare products, but people who are sensitive to formaldehyde, should also be careful with other agents. For instance, there are many cosmetics products that contain elements like imidazolidinyl urea or quaternium 15 that release formaldehyde.

Nowadays, exposure to formaldehyde is most likely to happen in such places as nail and hair salons. In fact, eyelid dermatitis is commonly caused by the formaldehyde contained in nail polish, which affects the sensitive area of your eyelids when you touch your eyes.



Parabens like methyl, propyl, or benzyl hydroxybenzoate are preservatives widely used by mass manufacturers of cosmetic products, due to the fact that they are cheap and stable. In some people, however, they may trigger an allergic reaction leading to rash or skin redness. If you have sensitivity to parabens, make sure to the products you use are all totally paraben-free.



Some kinds of acids contained in beauty products may also trigger a skin reaction. For example, cinnamic acid used as a tartar-fighting agent in toothpastes can cause itchy rash on the lips and around the mouth. To avoid the symptoms, choose toothpastes that don’t contain the cinnamic acid.




Also known as PPD, this ingredient is often contained in permanent hair dyes. The main symptom of an allergic reaction to PPD is a rash that appears around the hairline – on the forehead, neck and behind the ears. If you have an allergy to paraphenylenediamine, you should avoid the chemical by using PPD-free dyes, natural dyes like henna, or irritant-free color rinses.



Retinoids have a lot of beneficial antiaging and acne-fighting properties, but they are also a common allergy trigger. According to experts, retinoids can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun during summertime and make it drier in the winter. If you are using retinoids, make sure that you apply weak concentrations to your skin, to prevent a reaction.

Shea or Cocoa Butter


Sometimes, even natural, organic ingredients may cause skin allergies. For instance, shea and cocoa butter that usually provide many benefits for the skin, might trigger a reaction in people with a nut allergy.

Balsam of Peru


An allergic reaction to Balsam of Peru is a common example of fragrance allergies. The reaction is triggered by the phototoxic ingredients of the Peruvian balsam. Exposure to sunlight may lead to berloque dermatitis on the areas of the skin where the fragrance was applied. If you are allergic, you should seek for products labelled as “fragrance-free”.

Is It Possible to Prevent Skin Reactions to Cosmetics?


Skin allergies to the ingredients in certain beauty products cannot be prevented or cured. The best way to prevent a reaction is to avoid the allergens.

Specialists recommend choosing products containing minimum ingredients to decrease the risk of a reaction. If you have sensitive skin, remember to do a patch test before using any new product. This test involves placing a small amount of a product on the inside of the elbow and waiting for 2-3 days. People allergic to its ingredients will develop redness, itching or burning.

If you are prone to developing skin allergies, you should only apply your fragrance to your clothes. This helps to reduce the risk of your body’s reaction to the fragrance, as well as the risk of the fragrance interacting with other cosmetic products.

In addition, you should be cautious with labels like “hypoallergenic”, “non-irritating”, or “dermatologist tested”, since they don’t necessarily mean that the product is totally free of potential allergens.

How Can You Treat Skin Allergies Caused by Cosmetics?


If you have a skin reaction after using a beauty product, the first thing you should do is to stop using this product, which is sometimes enough to get rid of the symptoms. To reduce inflammation, you can use an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream. However, it is not recommended for use on the face, as it may leave light spots on the skin. In case of severe allergies, your doctor may offer you some prescription medication.

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