Allergies to a beauty product can really surprise you. They can happen suddenly with a reaction, or you can use a product for a long time, and one day something’s not quite right. Whether the reaction is mild or serious, it’s clear that you’ve got an allergic reaction on your hands.
Just what exactly causes an allergic reaction to beauty products, and how do you know how to handle — and avoid — them? We reached out to Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, Co-director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery in Washington, D.C., to help explain some of the common causes of beauty product allergies and how to deal with them before (or after) they happen to you.
What are some of the most common allergens when it comes to beauty products, and in which products are they most commonly found?
The two most common allergens found in beauty products are fragrances and certain types of preservatives. Fragrances are really quite commonly found, and they can cause allergic reactions for those who are sensitive. Preservatives are common due to the fact that products need to have some shelf life, and trying to find preservative-free products gets tricky because you need to have a shelf life. Parabens are usually the number one cause of allergy-related skin issues.
What are some of the most common allergic reactions to these allergens? How can someone spot an allergic reaction?
An allergic reaction is seen as red, inflamed, scaling, and often very itchy skin. There can also be bumps, and severe allergies can even have blisters. It typically takes two weeks to develop an allergic reaction, unless you’ve been exposed to the offensive substance before, in which case it will take less time. Meaning if you’ve had an allergy to the substance before, you’ll most likely have an allergic reaction again, most likely within 24 hours. Also, if you’ve been using a product for a while and start to see a reaction, don’t be surprised: allergies can develop over time. Seek the advice of an expert so they can pinpoint the exact problem.
What are the treatments/courses of action for dealing with allergies to beauty products? How long can it take to see results?
If an allergy is suspected, discontinue using the product causing the allergy and apply an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream for two weeks. If that doesn’t make it go away completely, see your dermatologist.
Are products that claim to be good for “sensitive skin” free from allergens? How can you be sure?
Most products made for sensitive skin are free from the most common allergens, but they’re not free from all allergens, so people with known allergies need to read the labels carefully. The thing is, you can develop an allergy to anything in a skin care product, but some ingredients more commonly cause allergic reactions than others. If you can have a rare allergy, like to petrolatum, you can still have a reaction to any product that contains that ingredient.
What are some precautions you can take to avoid common beauty product allergens?
For people with very sensitive skin, I usually recommend a product line called Vanicream, but Cetaphil is also a great option. Your dermatologist can always make great suggestions on what to use to keep your skin healthy.
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