Hypoallergenic Makeup

Is hypoallergenic makeup really non-allergenic?

Hypoallergenic comes from the Latin prefix hypo meaning “less than normal”, and this term might as well be the most overused and most abused term in the cosmetic manufacturing industry.

A makeup product claimed to be hypoallergenic implies that it is less likely to cause allergic reactions. There are no Federal rules that control the use of the term, so there is no assurance to consumers that the product is really what it says it is.

When a product is labeled as hypoallergenic, it is done only under the discretion of the manufacturers, and not of a higher regulating body. Some companies conduct tests before placing the hypoallergenic claim on the label, but there are others who do not. Some claim to be hypoallergenic just because they did not include perfumes and other problem-causing ingredients. Also, manufacturers are not required to submit a substantiation of their claims. The term, hypoallergenic, is just used as a marketing tool.

Other labels can also be deceiving. “Dermatologist-tested” only means that a skin doctor tested the product to see if it will cause allergies, and it does not mean that it was tested on several individuals. Even labels such as, “safe for sensitive skin”, “allergy tested”, “sensitivity-tested”, and “non-irritating”, offer no guarantee.

The basic ingredients in both hypoallergenic cosmetics and regular cosmetics are the same. There are no scientific studies that prove that hypoallergenic makeup indeed causes fewer allergic reactions. So in reality, there is no such thing as hypoallergenic makeup.

What cosmetic ingredients cause allergies?

Common culprits include cosmetic ingredients in perfumes, lipsticks, eyeliner, hair dyes, nail polishes, and sunscreen agents. Allergenic ingredients include substances in perfumes, as well as perfumes in makeup and skin creams; waxes and fats, particularly cocoa butter, in lipsticks; metallic compounds in eyeliner or eye shadow; tetrabromofluorescein in hair dyes; tosylamide, formaldehyde resin, and nail acrylates in nail polish; PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid), hydroquinone or digalloy trioleate in sunscreen preparations; either mercury or hydroquinone in bleaching creams; and methyldibromo glutaronitrile and other preservatives in cosmetics that contain water.

Even makeup made from “natural” ingredients is not an exception. The ingredients in such herbal preparations are extracted directly from plants or animal products versus others that are produced synthetically. If you have an allergy to plants or animals, these natural extracts can definitely cause allergic reactions. Lanolin, which is extracted from sheep wool, is an ingredient in many moisturizers, and is also known to cause allergies.

The typical reaction is a case of allergic contact dermatitis which normally affects the skin where makeup is applied. The affected skin area becomes red, swollen, blistered, and intensely itchy.

Hair dye allergy

Would you like to have hair that is shiny and healthy looking with a very rich, dark color? Why, certainly! We would all love to have beautiful, lustrous, dark hair, especially if gray strands of hair are starting to appear.

However, sometimes, for some people, the cost of coloring your hair would be an allergic reaction, several doctor consultations and medications, or possibly a trip to the emergency room. Yes, it is possible for you to have an allergic reaction to the ingredient found in hair dye, paraphenylene-diamine (PPD).

Paraphenylene-diamine (PPD) is a chemical substance that is widely used as a permanent hair dye. It is also the third most common ingredient after fragrances and preservatives that cause contact dermatitis, usually called hair dye allergy.

Symptoms of PPD-induced contact dermatitis include redness, swelling, and blisters which may form and break, leaving unsightly crusts and scales. Later, the skin may darken, crack, and become leathery. There would be noted redness and itching in the scalp (mild cases); painful scaly skin (severe cases); or severe swelling of the eyes, ears, neck, or the entire face and possibly intense burning of the scalp (more severe cases) that no cold shower can sooth.

Most people can color their hair with ease, without worrying about an allergy, but there are others who are not as lucky. But even if you do not notice any reaction the first time you began using hair dyes, there is still a chance for you to develop a sensitization to its PPD content with repeated use. This cross-sensitization can happen even after several colorings.

PPD-sensitization does not only occur in consumers who use hair dye. Even hairdressers who apply hair dye on their customers develop dermatitis on their hands, as well as on their exposed face and arms.

The reality is that for most people, looking good and looking young is so important that they would not want others to find out that their hair has started turning gray. They would risk tolerating PPD allergies just to get their hair colored.

To be safe, the first thing you should do before coloring your hair is to test the dye on your skin by placing a small amount on the skin along the inner elbow. Let it dry and don’t wash it for 48 to 72 hours. Reactions only occur a few days after the dye is applied. So testing the dye for a longer period is better so that you can be sure that you do not have delayed hypersensitivity reactions.

If you really need to dye your hair, use hair coloring products that are made from natural ingredients such as vegetable based dyes and henna, which are all free of paraphenylene-diamine. But if you are unsure, it is best to consult an expert before you create a hair mishap for yourself.

How can a makeup allergy be avoided?

The best way to avoid having allergies to certain types of makeup or cosmetics is to read the ingredients thoroughly. Good thing because Federal regulations now require the ingredients used in cosmetics to be listed on the product label, so consumers can avoid substances that have caused them problems in the past.

So next time, if you have an allergic reaction to any cosmetic product, stop using it until you see a doctor. The doctor will help you determine which ingredient, or combination of ingredients, caused the allergy. Your next step would be to read cosmetic product labels carefully to check if they contain those particular ingredients. If they do, stay away, regardless of “hypoallergenic” or “natural” claims.

Of course, ingredients should always be checked. Remember, too, that certain allergens can go by different names, so familiarize yourself with those as well. If you can’t figure out why your skin is so susceptible to reactions with certain products, a wise rule of thumb to go by is to choose the products with the purest and least amount of ingredients (as long as your allergen is not included).

Remember that hypoallergenic simply means that the manufacturer markets it as the product that will not cause an allergic reaction in most people. Does that mean that you won’t have an allergic reaction if you use the product; not necessarily!

Some manufactures will actually test their so called hypoallergenic products on a test group to see if any allergic reactions will occur. Other manufactures will simply leave out the common fragrances or other ingredients that are known to cause allergies. Then they print the word hypoallergenic on the label.

Is this legal? Yes. In the United States, the FDA (food and drug administration) just expects all manufactures to list the ingredients of their products. If the ingredient is listed and you have an allergic reaction, the manufacturer is not libel, even if the word hypoallergenic is printed on it.

What if the product is listed dermatologist tested? These just means that a dermatologist checked the list of ingredients and pointed out if any of them were highly known to cause allergic reactions. This still does not mean that a product that is labeled hypoallergenic and dermatologist tested still won’t cause an allergic reaction in some people.

How can you avoid an allergic reaction to any product, even those labeled hypoallergenic? You must know the substances or allergens that can cause a reaction for you. Then once you have tracked down what this substance is, you must learn to read labels. If you see your allergen listed, avoid the product, even if it is labeled as hypoallergenic. To you, it won’t be hypoallergenic. It will cause a reaction.

You also need to learn the difference between natural products and synthetic products.  Natural means that they came directly from a plant or an animal. Synthetic means that they were produced.

If you are allergic to a certain flower, for instance the rose. Then you buy a hypoallergenic bath lotion that was naturally made and had the scent of roses. What will happen? You will have an allergic reaction because you have come into contact with roses. Would a product that was processed synthetically and smelled like roses cause the same reaction?  Possibly. You would have to check the list of ingredients. The fragrance used may be actually based with real roses. Not all fragrances are completely broken down into each little molecule used. If it was me, I would avoid anything that smelled like roses whether it was marked hypoallergenic, natural or dermatologist tested.

Hypoallergenic jewelry can be just as bad as hypoallergenic makeups, lotions, etc., depending on what types of allergies you have. If you are allergic to nickel, for instance, most jewelry items will clearly state if they are nickel free. If they just read hypoallergenic, it doesn’t necessarily mean nickel isn’t there.

Should we then avoid using hypoallergenic products all together? No. When making hypoallergenic products, manufactures do try to keep from using common substances that causes allergic reactions, therefore these products are less harsh than most. They also are generally made from substances that are good for sensitive type people.

What you should do is not assume anything. Read the label. If you don’t see anything written on the list of ingredients that you feel would cause an allergic reaction, feel free to use it.

Be a smart consumer, talk to your allergist or dermatologist and inform yourself. Make sure you educate yourself on terminology and ingredients as well. If you are having trouble finding the right products locally, there are some websites like www.achooallergy.com and www.allergymatters.com that sell products for allergy sufferers. But again, be sure it’s the right product specifically for you.


  1. I get red, itchy eyelids when using eyeliner and eye shadow. I was tested for allergies and found out I am allergic to nickel. I purchased a “nickel free” eye pencil from Europe and it did not cause any issues for a while. Eventually, I again got red, swollen and itchy eyelids. I tried Clinque, Almay, Avon as well and they do not work for me. I will continue to try other products but this is getting expensive.

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