Beauty / Health and wellbeing | 23.02.2017

The 2 highly toxic cosmetics ingredients that cause most skin allergies


Every single day, you're exposed to any number of powerful chemicals found in personal care products.

Skin allergies and reactions to cosmetics and products are becoming extremely common and are about as much fun as going camping in a hailstorm. Skin allergies have increased dramatically since the industrial revolution and its only getting worse.

If you’ve ever experienced sore, red, itchy, scaly or puffy skin after using a product, chances are it contains ingredients that caused your body to have an allergic reaction. With an allergic response like eczema and contact dermatitis, the body reacts by making antibodies as a way of protection and rejection. This is referred to as sensitisation.

Every subsequent exposure to the substance will create the same reaction, which is why doctors can test for allergies. If however, it's a non-allergic response then the body doesn't make antibodies. It results in irritation but there's no biological markers to test for. This is referred to as a sensitivity.

Skin allergies: the tyranny of fragrances and preservatives

Now that we've cleared that confusion, it appears that the two questionable offenders when it comes to causing skin allergies are fragrances and preservatives. 

They're in just about every mass-produced, mainstream skincare product and cosmetic, and can be an absolute nightmare if you've got sensitive skin or you're sensitive to scents. 

Fragrances, whether they are synthetic or natural in origin, can have a cumulative effect, which can eventually cause a skin allergy to arise. Artificial fragrances can be composed of more than 200 chemical constituents, including known carcinogens such as methyl chloride – very dodgy.

The main body that deals with information about fragrances is funded by the International Fragrance Association. Which means that the tests are done by the same people who make and sell the products. (I smell a rat!)

I've always been very vocal and kicked up a bit of a stink about smell. I instantly feel nauseated in a morning sickness kinda way when I smell synthetic fragrance. For others, symptoms may include headaches and breathing difficulties like asthma. It's got to a point of intolerance where I almost feel inclined to have a go at people who blatantly spray perfume, deodorants etc in confined environments with complete disregard for anyone around them. (I don't feel that I'm alone here...).

Finally word is starting to get out about all the crap in the environment that we're exposed to and have to tolerate.

If you care about skin allergies you have to read this book

I'm currently reading Kate Grenville's latest release. Normally a fiction writer, she's written a very eye opening book aptly named The Case Against Fragrance. She was alerted that she had an issue with fragrances on one of her book tours. Plagued by constant headaches everywhere she went, the common denominator was in the air. It's a very well researched account about fragrance and the dangers that lurk beneath the surface of this multibillion-dollar industry. If you haven't got yourself a copy, I highly recommend that you do.

One of the main issues you are faced with as a consumer is that so many chemicals found in products are untested and unregulated. There's no current regulation for fragrance manufacturers to disclose the ingredients or test for toxic synergies, so you’re quite literally on your own. It's amazing when the current statistics for reactions are a ratio of 1:3. 

It’s up to you to educate yourself and avoid the products containing them. Mostly they'll go under the guise of ‘parfum’ on the label of a product and be listed towards the end of the INCI. This may be a blend of essential oil constituents or it may be a proprietary formulation that is shrouded in secrecy as to what it actually contains. Often the manufacturer may not even be privy to this information.

not all preservatives are evil – but you may still react

Preservatives are a necessary addition in skincare products — without them, moulds, bacteria and fungus would contaminate the product, posing further health risks. Fortunately, there are a number of efficient natural preservatives that are derived from oils, plants and extracts that have potent anti-microbial, anti-bacterial properties. That's still not to say that people won't react to them. There are constituents in the blends of these preservative systems and essential oil synergies that will deem to be problematic. I have come up against this in our formulations.

With so many people suffering skin allergies, I believe cosmetics manufacturers should stop using broad-spectrum antimicrobial agents and known sensitisers, such as parabens (endocrine disruptors) and imidazolidinyl and diazolidinyl urea (formaldehyde releasers).

Until the day when there is more regulation in the cosmetics industry, it’s up to you to take action and avoid products that may potentially cause your skin to flare up. 

What can you do to prevent skin allergies?

  1. Determine that you're actually dealing with an allergy or sensitisation to a product and not a skin disorder.
  2. Ascertain what ingredient/s or product/s is causing the problem and discontinue use. This can be done through a process of elimination and managed by a qualified health care practitioner. While you're combating a reaction, avoid using any other skin irritants and abrasive substances over the affected area.
  3. Avoid saunas — heat, steam, sweating and rubbing the affected area can re-trigger a reaction.
  4. If you do experience a severe allergic reaction in the form of hives, swollen eyes and skin and tingling red patches, consult your doctor or health care practitioner for alternative options. If after 4–6 weeks symptoms continue, see a dermatologist for an accurate evaluation. Unfortunately, there's no definitive list of ingredients to avoid due to the limitless combinations of cosmetic formulations on the market.
  5. Pay close attention to the cosmetics and skincare products you use. Read the ingredient (INCI) listing thoroughly and use fewer products.
  6. Avoid products that contain fragrance, perfume or parfum. As there are literally hundreds of fragrances, it is easier to avoid all fragrances rather than do specific testing. Hypoallergenic products and those marked ‘fragrance free’ may still contain fragrances. Avoid products labeled as ‘unscented perfumes’.
  7. Wear gloves when using household cleaning products. Avoid products that have been preserved with parabens, imidazolidinyl, diazolidinyl urea (Germaben II) and methylisothiazoline.
  8. Be aware of skin-to-skin transfer from topical applications on people you may come into close contact with. Specific epidermal and intradermal skin testing can assist with defining sensitivity to particular allergens.
  9. Avoid aerosol products.
  10. If you’re prone to chemical sensitivities, patch test a small amount of the product on the inside of your forearm. Cover and leave for 24 hours. If you experience a reaction, discontinue use.

With correct management and education, allergic responses can be controlled and eliminated, enabling allergy sufferers to lead normal and productive lives.

Thankfully, more responsible companies are manufacturing truly natural products that are free from harmful and synthetic toxic chemicals so more non-allergenic choices are becoming available all the time. Contact the manufacturer if you're unsure if a particular allergen or sensitiser is included in a product. Not all manufacturers disclose their full ingredient list.

Have you ever experienced a skin allergy or reaction when using a cosmetic or skincare product? I'd love to hear from you. Please share your experiences with us in the comments section below.


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