You apply makeup to give yourself the appearance of a healthy, clear complexion. But the very products used to improve your look can cause rashes, redness and itching among some people. People experiencing such problems may be having an allergic reaction to the makeup they use each day. Put simply, an allergy is when your body overreacts to a substance that does not affect most people. Allergies to ingredients in makeup are not uncommon and can make it difficult to find a product that will work for you.
Allergies to makeup can occur the first time you use a product, or they can develop over time, so don't discount your favorite foundation as the source of your skin problems [source: FDA]. If you have itching, redness, swelling or a rash in the area where you've applied makeup, it may be because you are allergic to it. To find out if the source of the problem is the product you have used, a dermatologist can perform allergy tests on your skin.
Continually using a product that is irritating to your skin can cause even more problems. You can develop contact dermatitis, a skin condition that can also be caused by soap, skin cleanser, deodorant, jewelry and other items that come in constant contact with your skin. Contact dermatitis causes a red rash, bumps and blisters in severe cases [source: Mayo Clinic].
If you discover that you have an allergy to a certain makeup, it may be difficult to know exactly which ingredient is causing your reaction. Unfortunately, the best way to figure this out may be trial and error.
What causes an allergic reaction depends on each individual. To find out more about what can trigger allergies to makeup ingredients, keep reading.
Allergy Triggers in Makeup
Each person is unique, and so are the substances that trigger allergies. An allergic reaction happens when your immune system reacts to a foreign substance that it believes is dangerous. This means more than just makeup -- allergic reactions can be triggered by many things from certain foods to pollen, and they can develop over the course of your lifetime, meaning that something you once were not allergic to could become a sudden problem. There is no cure for allergies, but there are steps you can take to improve your situation, especially when it involves makeup [source: Mayo Clinic].
Most adults use seven or more skin-care products every day, ranging from makeup and facial cleanser to body soap and deodorant [source: American Academy of Dermatology]. Just one ingredient in one of those products can be linked to an allergy or skin irritation. Studies have found that up to 10 percent of the population will have a reaction to a cosmetic product during their lifetime [source: MedicineNet].
The ingredients that are most likely to set off an allergic reaction are fragrances, which are found in most skin-care products. If you find that your skin is irritated by scented products, keep a watchful eye on the "unscented" products too, which can mean a product might still contain a fragrance. Here, the fragrance isn't enhancing the scent of the product; it's merely masking the smell of the chemicals it contains. Look for "fragrance free" or "without perfume" to know that the cosmetic you are buying truly hasn't had a fragrance added to it [source: American Academy of Dermatology].
Preservatives are another common allergen found in makeup. The culprits often have long, difficult-to-pronounce names such as phenoxyethanol or imidazolidinyl urea. And if you're not sure whether something in your makeup bag contains a preservative or not, a general rule is any cosmetic product that contains water must also contain a preservative [source: American Academy of Dermatology].
While red, itchy rashes are common symptoms of makeup allergies, there are other telltale signs that your skin's reacting poorly to your makeup. To learn what to watch for, read on.
Signs of Makeup Allergies
If your makeup is leaving you red and itchy -- whether it's a longtime favorite product or one you've just tried for the first time -- you may have makeup allergies. Common signs of skin allergies or irritation due to makeup are rashes, red bumps, itching, dry patches, blisters and pain [source: Mayo Clinic].
Those who have reactions to cosmetics and other skin-care products normally are suffering from one of two conditions. The first, irritant contact dermatitis, happens when the skin reacts to a substance, leaving itchy patches or a red rash. This irritation of the skin is more common than an actual allergic reaction and can happen to anyone. Especially with harsh substances, irritant contact dermatitis can appear after using a product only once [source: Mayo Clinic]. The second reaction, allergic contact dermatitis, is more severe, and is a true allergy to an ingredient in a product you use. You can develop swelling, itching and hive-like breakouts [source: MedicineNet]. Once a true allergy has developed, it remains for life; even having a small amount of the substance on your skin can cause a major reaction [source: Mayo Clinic].
Mild reactions can be treated by avoiding the product that caused them, but for more serious cases that linger and interfere with daily life, or appear to be infected, seek medical attention.
If you have experienced makeup allergies, you need to use extra caution when purchasing cosmetics. For tips on how to do this, continue to the next page.
Safe Makeup for Allergy Sufferers
To determine if you truly have an allergy to your makeup, you may need to visit a dermatologist. He or she will likely conduct an allergy patch test, in which some of the substance you believe you are allergic to is applied to your skin, then taped over. The doctor then looks at it after 24 hours and again after 48 hours to see the extent of the reaction [source: Henochowicz].
If you find that you have an allergy to an ingredient commonly used in makeup, buying products without that item is the best way to avoid another allergic reaction. Buying cosmetics that are simply marked "hypoallergenic" may not be the ideal solution. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not mandate what standards a product labeled hypoallergenic must meet, so manufacturers have lots of leeway in using the term. Instead, if you know what ingredient causes problems for your skin, make sure you read the label -- which is required by the FDA to list all ingredients -- and ensure that the product you intend to buy is free of the problem substance [source: Stöppler].
To treat a case of mild skin irritation caused by a reaction to makeup, stop using the product you believe may be causing it, apply an anti-itch cream and avoid scratching the area. If you aren't sure which cosmetic is causing the problem, first eliminate those with added dyes and fragrances, which can be more likely to cause a reaction [source: Mayo Clinic].
If you think you may have an allergy to makeup, you can visit the links on the next page to learn more.
- American Academy of Dermatology. "Cosmeceutical Facts and Your Skin." (Accessed 8/16/09) http://www.aad.org/public/publications/pamphlets/general_cosmeceutical.html
- American Academy of Family Physicians. "Allergies: Things You Can Do to Control Your Symptoms." 3/07. (Accessed 8/16/09)http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/allergies/basics/083.html
- Berman, Kevin. "Contact Dermatitis." Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia. February 5, 2008. (Accessed 8/16/09)http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000869.htm
- Food and Drug Administration. "Cosmetics." May 5, 2009. (Accessed 8/16/09) http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ByAudience/ForWomen/ucm118491.htm
- Henochowicz, Stuart. "Allergy Testing." May 25, 2009. (Accessed 8/16/09)http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003519.htm
- Matlin, Jessica. "Have Your Beauty Products Gone Bad?" Good Housekeeping Magazine. (Accessed 8/16/09)http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/beauty/makeup/expired-beauty-products
- Mayo Clinic. "Allergies." January 30, 2009. (Accessed 8/16/09)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/allergies/DS01118
- Mayo Clinic. "Contact Dermatitis." April 31, 2009. (Accessed 8/16/09)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/contact-dermatitis/DS00985
- MedicineNet. "Allergies and Cosmetics." December 18, 2007. (Accessed 8/16/09) http://www.medicinenet.com/cosmetic_allergies/article.htm
- Stöppler, Melissa Conrad. "Are 'Hypoallergenic' Cosmetics Really Better?" August 22, 2008. (Accessed 8/16/09)http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=57019