Oh no! An allergic reaction to cosmetics!

It’s a well-known fact that many people suffer from allergies and the cosmetic world is no exception.

Apparently all cosmetics, including hypoallergenic products, can cause an allergic reaction. We all react differently to certain ingredients. When you think that some people are even allergic to water, you can expect anything, especially when you look at the long list of ingredients.

In fact, recent research suggests that 25 to 30% of the population may be subject to an allergic reaction to a cosmetic product. That’s quite a lot!

But don’t panic, most of theses reactions are light to moderate. You might get a rash or contact dermatitis. It’s limited to the area where you have applied the product and shows up pretty quickly, maybe at the first few uses. Symptoms are redness, peeling, itching, burning sensation or swelling. This can vary of course from person to person.

To get rid of it, stop using the product right away and the reaction will disappear within the next few days or weeks. It may help to apply compresses and/or soothing ointment or cream which helps the skin to regenerate. You should protect your skin during this period because it’s more sensitive. So apply sunscreen and avoid exposure to severe cold. Pamper your skin!

However, in some cases, reactions may be more severe. This is known as allergic dermatitis. This condition appears gradually as you continue to apply the product. Sometimes the reaction goes outside the area where the product has been applied. I once had a friend who reacted to a hair dye. The poor thing, her whole face was swollen! You can get redness, visible swelling, itching, blisters, edema, cracks, etc.

To treat this condition, stop using the product. You could take anti-inflammatory medication or anti-allergens like Benadryl or use cortisone ointment which helps the skin to repair itself. Again, avoid exposure to extreme heat or cold, especially the sun.

So if you have a reaction, you should avoid products which may be potentially irritating, even the ones that didn’t cause your reaction. Go for the most basic products. Cleanse with an ultra-gentle cleanser such as Dove for sensitive skin, Spectro Derm, etc. Then moisturize with a healing cream from such ranges as Bioderma, Aveeno, etc. Often, your pharmacist may recommend an excellent cream (and less expensive!) rather than your beauty advisor. The shorter the list of ingredients, the better. When the crisis has passed, you can go back to your regular routine but not to the product that caused your allergic reaction obviously!

Allergy-causing ingredients are perfume, cleansing agents, preservatives, anti-wrinkle agents like acids (AHA, glycolic, salicylic, etc.) or retinol, colouring (carmine is a red pigment which can cause reactions), chemical sun filters and various carriers (active ingredients like lanolin, propylene glycol, etc.), etc.

The fact that a product doesn’t smell of anything, doesn’t mean it’s un-perfumed. Sometimes, fragrance is added to mask the odour of a certain ingredient. So look for products labelled, un-perfumed. There are almost always preservatives, but if the product is labelled « no parabens », then that’s a good sign; many problematical ingredients have been eliminated.

As for sunscreen, choose those with physical filters (often mineral) rather than chemical. If the product is labelled hypoallergenic, tested in a laboratory, natural, organic etc, that’s no guarantee that you won’t have an allergic reaction. It all depends on the ingredients your skin won’t tolerate. Allergy tests are done on products but only for the most common ones and you may not fall into that category.

If you’re using a new product; do an allergy test, especially if you’ve already had a reaction or you have sensitive skin. Test it behind your ear or in the crook of your elbow. Wait 24 hours or better still, 48 and check to see if there’s any redness or other reaction. Compare it with the other ear or arm to see the difference.

So if you often have allergic reactions, pick products with a short list of ingredients. It’s a question of probability!

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