Common Beauty Allergens to Avoid For Great or Almost There Skin
Having an allergy or bad reaction to beauty products is very common and very annoying. With all the questionable ingredients that is no surprise. It can be difficult to determine what is okay and what is not. And the FDA regulations are not always as strict or safe as we would like.
While everyone has different sensitivities, there are some ingredients that are well known to cause problems. If you have gotten a rash due to a product, broken out after using something new or even noticed dryness in your skin or hair from cosmetics, you are likely susceptible of one or more of these common allergens.
For instance, I am allergic to anything containing rose and beeswax. I get red irritation, itchiness, and dryness. These reactions can be instant or take over 24 hours to appear. Once I realized what was causing these allergic reactions, I stopped using and purchasing anything that listed them in the ingredients. And anytime I forget, I get a bad breakout all over again. I would like to help you avoid having to deal with these painful and frustrating reactions. So, be on the lookout for the problematic ingredients below in all of your beauty products.
I am sure you have heard of sulfates before. Whether you know all about them or not, lots of products now claim to be sulfate-free, which is certainly a step in the right direction. But, what are sulfates, and why are they so harmful? Sulfates are often seen in shampoos and cleansers. Both sodium laureth sulfate and sodium laurel sulfate are detergents that can cause irritation, rashes, and severe dryness. Now more than ever before, it is easy to find natural products that are free from these chemicals at all price ranges, but there are still plenty of brands to avoid. Take a look at the labels of your products like body wash, shampoo, and face wash. If you see sulfates in the list take a break from that product for a week or so and you will see a major difference in your hair and skin.
Preservatives have been identified as the most common type of cosmetic allergens. But there are not just one or two ingredients you should be looking for. The most common preservatives include parabens, methylisothiazolinone, Quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, phenoxyethanoil, and formaldehyde. Many of these ingredients cause bad reactions that can even lead to illness. Preservatives can be necessary for some cosmetics in order to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and mold, but products that are powdered or contain no water can go without them. Some brands even have specific packaging to protect the products from bacteria growth without including these chemicals. But, when a product does not contain parabens its shelf life is notably shorter. I recommend looking for products that at least claim to be paraben-free. Also, always make sure to check the shelf life of anything you buy, and toss them immediately once they go bad. Here is a guide to find out about a product’s shelf life or its expiration date.
According to environmental researchers, over 20% of the US population react poorly to synthetic fragrances. These reactions can be skin irritation or even headaches, coughing, and wheezing. Unfortunately, it is not easy to find beauty products that are free from fragrances. Nearly everything from moisturizers to hairsprays and even acne treatments contain fragrance. And do not be fooled by the claim, unscented. This only means that there is not a specific scent to the product. It may still contain these harmful ingredients. Instead, look for labels that say “fragrance-free.” Now, natural fragrances like essential oils can be better, but not always. For example, my skin reacts well to lavender oil in skincare, but even the slightest bit of rose essential oil causes acne and rashes. Unlike synthetic fragrances, many companies that use essential oils will list them out separately so you can spot them and avoid them if need be.
Retinol is a very popular anti-aging ingredient. It is potent and is known to show impressive results. But with that, retinol encourages cell turnover which can thin out the skin and cause redness and dryness. Some products contain a very small amount of this ingredient; therefore, they will be gentler, but it is recommended to start using retinol only once or twice a week. If you don’t have any bad side effects, you can amp up to every other day and see how it goes from there.
You probably know that alcohol is dehydrating. Drinking alcohol dries you out, and does the same when used in cosmetics. Unfortunately, it is in a lot of cosmetics. Everything from skincare to setting sprays and even hair conditioners feature this intensely drying ingredient. But, do not just avoid everything that says the word alcohol in it. Denatured alcohol is probably the worst of the bunch. It is often found high up on the ingredients lists of toners, shampoos, and setting sprays. Instead of removing the oils you may think you want to reduce, this ingredient strips the scalp and the skin from all hydration, causing your skin to crack or overproduce more oil. This is definitely the one to be on the lookout for. Always go for alcohol-free toners like this one from Neutrogena or any from Thayers. It is one thing to have this ingredient in a cleanser that you rinse off immediately, but when featured in a toner or setting spray that stays on the skin for extended periods of time, it should really be avoided. That said, there are also good alcohols, called fatty alcohols that are beneficial for your skin. Those will be labeled with cetyl, stearyl, and cetearyl alcohol.
Peroxide is a very damaging ingredient. If you have ever bleached your hair, you know just how damaging it can be (here is a list of natural and non-damaging hair dyes), and using it on the skin can cause even more dryness. Benzoyl peroxide is a common acne treatment. Although many people swear by it, it can be much too drying for others, which makes it an irritant more so than an allergen. Much like retinol, it is a peeling agent that increases cell turnover to reduce bacteria and clear breakouts. While it removes the bad stuff, it can also strip you of the good stuff, leading to dryness, itching, flaking, tightness, and even over-peeling. Many people can put up with over-peeling, but it can cause damage to the skin, even with the use of an intense hydrator.
For the most part, moisturizing is always a good addition to your skincare regime. But there are some ingredients that are comedogenic, meaning they clog pores and lead to breakouts. Ingredients such as lanolin, coconut butter, cocoa butter, isopropyl palmitate, isostearyl isostearate, myristyl lactate, mineral oil, and coconut oil are all among the culprits. Although many people love coconut oil and find its antibacterial and antifungal properties to help treat acne, it can cause others to break out. Coconut butter and cocoa butter are also common skincare ingredients but may be better used on the body than the face due to their heaviness. Oils are also very popular in cosmetics right now, but look out for mineral oil. Although there are conflicting statements about this ingredient many dermatologists find its barrier effect to clog pores. This is a very common ingredient and makes many lotions and primers glide onto the skin like silk, but with extended use, it can suffocate and damage it. Always try to look for the words non-comedogenic on your skincare products.
I wish these were all the allergens and irritants found in cosmetics, but there will always be more. Everything from chemical sunscreen to dimethicone can cause irritation. Sadly, it is nearly impossible to avoid every ingredient that runs the risk of damaging the skin or causing a reaction. But you can do your best to avoid these triggers by always reading the ingredients of everything you use and always do a patch test before committing to something. Also, introduce only one new product into your rotation at a time to let your skin react to it properly.
If for some reason you do notice a reaction from something stop using it immediately. You can use a hydrocortisone cream to stop any itching and reduce redness. And to moisturize the rash, you can use a thick balm like Aquaphor (this can cause breakouts, but is worth it to heal any irritation temporarily). This method was actually recommended to me by my personal dermatologist for any skin irritation and it works. Also, be sure to call the customer service of the store or brand you bought the item from. You may be able to get your money back, but if not, it is still helpful to report the issue so the company can collect data about any reaction and perhaps reformulate moving forward.
Cover photo via Beautylish