Causes and Symptoms of Cosmetic Allergy

Cosmetic AllergyContact Dermatitis or a skin condition characterized by itching, redness and the appearance of a rash is responsible for 5.7 million doctor visits every year in the United States. A lot of times this condition is attributed to cosmetic allergy. Young and middle aged women are the most commonly affected group. This article discusses the causes and symptoms of cosmetic allergy, along with the treatment and prevention methods.

The American Academy of Dermatology reports that any average adult would be using at least 7 different cosmetics throughout the day. Products such as body wash, shampoo, moisturizers, creams, shaving foam, fragrances, lip colors and eye lid colors are a part of everyday used essentials. The chemicals used in them are not tolerated well by many individuals and can act as an antigen triggering adverse allergic reactions in the body.

Why do we have cosmetic allergy?

The redness, itching, swelling, flaky and dry skin is actually a manifestation of the protective mechanism of our immune system. Whenever any harsh chemical or metals comes in touch with any exposed skin surface, the sweat and organic compounds on the skin may react with them and produce some metal salts. These salts cause the body to trigger the auto immune system. The body starts producing a chemical called histamine. Histamine binds with certain antibodies which are called histamine receptors. This particular event results in irritating the nerves and blood vessels causing inflammation, redness and itchiness.

This type of allergy is the delayed response type. On contact with the irritant the symptoms may not appear instantaneously. The symptoms may appear after days of use. The symptoms generally appear on the body surface which has come in contact with the allergen. However, it can appear in other parts also.

Causes of Cosmetic Allergy – The most common allergy inducing cosmetics


Fragrances are responsible for a lot of allergic symptoms faced by individuals. Fragrances are part of almost every known cosmetic unless it mentions being fragrance free. They contain a lot of chemicals but only a number of them are listed offenders. They are cinnamonic alcohol, cinnamic aldehyde, alpha amyl cinnamic alcohol, hydroxycitronellal, eugenol, isoeugenol, geraniol and oak mass absolute. These chemicals are widely used in perfumes, deodorants, soaps, mouthwash, toothpaste, detergents and almost in every known cosmetic. In addition, they may contain other chemicals like benzyl alcohol, benzyl acetate, benyldehyde, camphor, ethanol etc which too can cause skin irritation.

Nail Color:

Nail color can cause allergies due to the presence of acrylates or formaldehyde resins. Artificial nails, nail strengtheners, nail polish can have them. These chemicals coming in contact with other parts of the body can cause reactions.

Hair Products:

They contribute to allergic contact dermatitis in a major way and is the second most common allergen to cause cosmetics induced allergy. Hair dyes contain phenylenediamine which causes allergy. Shampoos and other hair styling products may contain glyceryl thioglycolate and cocomidopropyl betaine. These can cause a lot of adverse allergic symptoms.

Besides the above products, preservatives in most cosmetic products cause the problem. Some contain formaldehyde which includes the irritant quanterium-15. Other non-formaldehyde preservatives include parabens, thimerosal, isothiazolinone which have equally caustic reactions.

Symptoms of Cosmetic Allergy

There are two types of symptoms in this type of allergy which are as follows:

Irritant Contact Dermatitis:


  • Itchy scaly skin
  • Red rash
  • Formation of blisters which ooze
  • Symptoms aggravate with intense scratching
  • Mostly occurs in areas which are in contact with the allergen
  • Irritation is limited to the topmost layer of the skin
  • Dry and cracked areas on the skin like the eye lids are more susceptible to get them
Allergic Contact Dermatitis:


  • Symptoms appear mostly on the face, eyes, ears, lips and neck. When irritants in the cosmetics come in contact with the metal in jewelries worn, the symptoms may be more intense.
  • Redness, swelling, itchy bumps.
  • The welts may appear in clusters having a pre defined border as in hives.

Treatment of Cosmetic Allergy

  • The first step of the treatment would be to consult an allergist and have him isolate the allergens affecting you. There are several methods of testing for the allergen like skin prick testing, patch testing, open application tests etc.
  • Most of the times discontinuing the usage of the said cosmetic solves the problem.
  • To deal with the skin problems in hand, applying atopical ointments, corticosteroid creams and maintaining proper hygiene helps.
  • Over the counter antihistamines restrict the activity of the excess histamine released and provide relief.
  • Using organic herbal products which are fragrance free or preservatives free may improve symptoms.

Prevention of Cosmetic Allergy

  • The best option for prevention is to not use the product you are allergic to. If you want to start using a new product and do not know if you are allergic to it, you should test it first with only a small amount. Apply a sample on the inner elbow or wrist and wait for about 24 hours. If any reaction occurs, do not use it.
  • Products with a longer list of ingredients are more likely to cause allergies than ones with fewer ingredients. Keep a record of ingredients that have caused allergic reactions earlier and choose a product that does not contain any of those ingredients.
  • Look for hypoallergenic products when possible. However, remember that cosmetic companies are not required by law to show that their product does not cause allergies. Therefore, if the product is referred to as hypoallergenic, it might not be true.
  • Fragrance free and unscented cosmetics are usually safer options. Even when you apply perfume, it is better to apply to your clothes and allow it to dry rather than your skin.
  • Be careful with preservatives in cosmetics. They are often a cause of allergies. Methylparaben, propylparaben and butlyparaben are the most common allergy triggers, when it comes to cosmetic preservatives.

This is all about cosmetic allergy in detail.

Comments are closed.