Allergic Reactions To Common Skin Care Ingredients

allergic reactions allergies dermatology healthy skin rashes skin health Oct 31, 2022

Rashes rashes rashes…yeah, you know what I’m talking about…a red, blistering, weeping skin eruption where you itch so badly you just want to scratch your skin off! Yikes, no fun! So what are these rashes and why do they occur? 

Rashes can happen from a number of things, but a very common one is called an ‘allergic contact dermatitis’ (ACD). This type of rash is due to our skin coming into direct contact with allergens. Think poison ivy or nickel in jewelry: these are common allergens when they come into contact with our skin. But did you know that ingredients in our everyday products can also causes ACD?

ACD is super common and typically can occur with products that we have been using for weeks, months, even years! In fact, to even develop this type of reaction, you have to have been exposed to the allergen at least once in the past so that your body is ‘sensitized.’ This may seem counter intuitive as we normally think, ‘I can’t be allergic to this, I’ve used it forever without a problem!’

So what causes ACD? It really can be anything, but common allergens in our skin and beauty products include fragrances and preservatives. A big bummer for patients and consumers to hear is that typically, the better smelling a product, the higher chance of an allergic reaction. That’s because a high concentration of fragrance means a higher chance of an allergic reaction. And just because you spend a lot of money on a product doesn’t guarantee that a product won’t cause an allergic reaction either. In fact, many times these higher priced products have MORE fragrances than your bread-and-butter drug store varieties.

What about natural or ‘plant-based products? Unfortunately, just because something’s ‘natural’ doesn’t mean it won’t or can’t cause an allergic reaction. Again, think about poison ivy, pretty darn natural right! So simply being organic or natural doesn’t mean you can’t get an allergic reaction. And while we may feel some sense of reassurance buying ‘sensitive’ or hypoallergenic’ products, this really is a case of buyer beware as there is no defined FDA standard on what constitutes ‘sensitive’ or ‘hypoallergenic’ products. While these products may contain fewer known allergens and fragrances, it may not always be the case. Don’t just rely on the marketing on the packaging to tell you something’s for ‘sensitive skin,’ actually turn that product over and look at the ingredients. You can also work with your dermatologist to help find products that will be beneficial for your skin's needs.

What do you do if you are experiencing an ACD? First things first, stop using any products to that area. Keep a diary or log with everything that has come into contact with that skin for the past week prior to the rash starting. Think about everything, including room diffusers, nail polish, as well as products applied directly to the skin. When you see your dermatologist, they may recommend something called PATCH TESTING which is allergy testing for your skin. This is done over several days and involves applying many contact allergens onto the back and leaving them on for a few days. Then the patches are removed and evaluated by a dermatologist. The testing can give you names for allergens to avoid and exclude from your skin care regimen which can be very helpful for consumers.

Take away points to prevent Allergic Contact Dermatitis

  • Minimize your exposure to perfumes and fragrances in your products.
  • Seek products that are labeled ‘sensitive’ or ‘hypoallergenic.’
    • this doesn’t guarantee it won’t cause an allergic reaction, but they may contain fewer known allergens
  • Seek care with a dermatologist if you are having a reaction to a product.
  • Consider Patch Testing to determine the cause of your rash.


For more info on Allergic Reactions To Common Skin Care Ingredients,  check out my podcast #13 with Dr. Charles Mount.