On average a women can use up to 200 different chemicals everyday on her skin while being completely unaware of the harmful threats that linger in her daily skincare routine. Products such as moisturisers, shampoos, deodorants, make-up, perfume and other cosmetics are all part of the daily grooming habits which are potentially harmful to us. They can be an irritant to our skin and have the ability to lead to allergic reactions when our skin cannot cope with the chemical overload. Certain ingredients used in cosmetics, such as fragrances and preservatives, can act as allergens. Allergens are so common, 10% of us will have experience of a cosmetic allergy in our lifetime.
There are two allergic reactions that might occur following exposure to cosmetics: irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis. Contact dermatitis is a condition marked by areas of inflammation (redness, itching, and swelling) that form after a substance comes into contact with our skin. Irritant contact dermatitis is the more common reaction. It develops as an irritating rash, which will be evident through patches of dry scaly skin and a red sensation will appear also. With scratching, the skin can break and ooze leaving the condition harder to treat. On the other hand allergic contact dermatitis is more specific to people who have a certain allergy to a specific ingredient. It can appear as redness, swelling, itching, and hive-like breakouts. In some cases, the skin becomes red and raw. The face, lips, eyes, ears, and neck are the most common sites for cosmetic allergies although reactions may appear anywhere on the body.
The time it takes for symptoms of irritant contact dermatitis to appear varies. For stronger irritants, such as perfumes, a reaction may occur within minutes or hours after exposure. However, it may take days or weeks of continued exposure for a weaker irritant, such as soap, for symptoms appear. In some cases, a person can develop an allergic sensitivity to a product after years of use.
With irritant contact dermatitis, the skin breaks down when it comes into contact with harsh substances, most often chemicals that directly injure the outer layer of the skin, resulting in symptoms of a cosmetic allergy. Allergic contact dermatitis occurs because the body's immune system is reacting against a specific substance (the allergen) that it considers foreign and harmful.
If you think you are having an allergic reaction, stop using all cosmetics. When your symptoms are gone, slowly start using them again, one product at a time. This may help you determine which product or products are responsible for the reaction. If you cannot identify the source of the reaction or if your symptoms do not go away after you stop using the cosmetics, you will need to visit your GP and get a professional patch test done.
It is always better to avoid possible irritants. There are several steps you can take to try and avoid cosmetic allergies. Firstly, read the list of ingredients on all cosmetic products. If you find an ingredient that has caused a reaction in the past, don't use that product again. Keep track of ingredients that have caused reactions and look for products that do not contain those ingredients. Do a small patch test on your skin. Put perfume on your clothes, not your skin. Keep it simple and choose products with simple formulas. More ingredients within a product tend to mean more potential allergens. With fewer ingredients, it's also easier to pinpoint the source if you do have a reaction. Most importantly use organic products with no harmful chemicals and you will have a better chance of being safeguarded against allergens.