The Usual Suspects

 Adverse reactions to skincare products can be exceedingly difficult to narrow down. But if your skin is burning or itching, it will be worth the effort to try. There are many ingredients that are typically known to cause allergic reactions (hives, rashes, burning, and flaking). You can make your investigation much easier if you begin your search by eliminating the usual suspects in an allergic reaction.

The Usual Suspect: Chemical Sunscreens

Chemical sunscreens, like avobenzone, octinoxate, and oxybenzone, neutralize UV rays in the skin, as opposed to deflecting the rays away from the skin on the surface. Many more reactive skin types can’t handle this level of stimulation and will develop a rash or break out. It is important to note: people are usually only allergic or reactive to one particular sunscreen. This does not give you a free pass to skip sunscreen. Try to narrow down which sunscreen is the problem and avoid it. Or, skip chemical sunscreens all together and use a mineral sunscreen like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.

The Usual Suspect: Synthetic Fragrance

I hate to break this to you, but if your cream smells like nothing, it probably has a fragrance in it. Creams without any fragrance don’t generally smell great, but they are significantly less likely to cause an allergic reaction. Ingredients to look for are perfume, parfum, or fragrance. In natural products, look for derivatives or essential oils like linalool, limonene, geraniol, or citronellol. It’s also important to note that a certain amount of essential oils must be listed as fragrance, so it can often be difficult to tell just from reading the ingredients. You may not be able to tolerate synthetic fragrance, but a light natural fragrance may be okay. This really depends on your skin, so find out what works for you. I personally can’t stand a heavy perfume in a cream, but I’m a sucker for the natural fragrance and additional benefits of essential oils.

The Usual Suspect: Artificial Colors and Dyes

In skin care, I find these ingredients to be wholly unnecessary. Additionally, they are common irritants and easy to eliminate. I don’t generally recommend anything with artificial colors. The most common allergies are red dye allergies, so unfortunately, you may want to also look at your cosmetics for this suspect. Remember, though, that anyone can be allergic to any color. Start by eliminating red dyes and check the ingredients list for Red Dye #40 (or other numbers), FD&C Red #40, or even ingredients like carmine. It is also interesting to note that ingesting red dye (through food, drinks, candy, etc.) can also cause adverse reactions on the skin.

The Usual Suspect: Essential Oils

This is one of those categories that is very specific to the person. Essential oils are bioactive and may overstimulating to  some sensitive or reactive skins. It is one of those situations where natural may not necessarily be better. Also keep in mind that essential oils can cause photosensitivity, so using them in the sun can exacerbate another problem. These ingredients are usually found towards the bottom of the list, so look for any ingredient with extract or oil in the name. You may be able to tolerate some essential oils and not others, so this particular suspect may require some additional experimentation or research.

Dealing with allergies can be tedious and frustrating, but try not to lose hope. Product shopping becomes significantly easier when you know what to avoid. I have skin allergies that have taken me years to figure out, and I can say from experience that life (and my skin!) is better now that I know. Feel free to contact me if you need support or help, or leave me a comment on this post.

 

Esthetician, P.I.

I visited my sister in Miami last week, and, as usual, having an esthetician around brought up lots of skincare questions. She’s been getting a lot of irritation on her face and chest, and now it’s up to me to figure out what is causing all of it. I think I’ve cracked this case already, and I did it by using my super sleuthing method to find the culprit.

First, I start by asking a lot of questions. When did the problem start? Any new products added about that time? Changes in diet? New medications? In this case, I noticed the irritation popped up after a day on the beach. My major clue here? Environmental factors! This particular reaction is definitely being aggravated by the heat.

Next, I start looking at the products that she’s using. Her routine is pretty simple, and she’s been shopping natural brands at the drugstore to save money. I eventually compare all of the ingredients in her products and try to find the common ones, but I start by looking for my usual suspects in the products she uses the most. She’s using a sunscreen when she goes to the beach (like a good sister of an esthetician), and I notice that the product she used that day has five different chemical sunscreens in it. Chemical sunscreens aren’t necessarily bad, but I find that many people cannot tolerate them. I also see that she’s using another sunscreen with lavender essential oil in it. Since I know that essential oils can cause photosensitivity, I think I may have just hit on the trifecta.

Her routine is fairly simple, so I feel confident that I have figured out the problem. She’s allergic to a specific chemical sunscreen (the common sunscreen in her two products), and the hot, beachy weather combined with the essential oils are compounding her adverse reactions. I put her on the simplest routine possible (exposing the skin to the fewest ingredients possible). She had grapeseed oil and pure aloe on hand, so she can use those for at least two weeks to see if her skin clears up. If it does, we’ve found our perp. If it doesn’t, then I have to continue on with other suspects, like food allergies or medications. After two weeks, and if her skin isn’t breaking out in rashes, we’ll start her on a new sunscreen with a mineral filter instead.

Hopefully, this will close the case on the mystery reaction quickly, but it’s important to remember that even if this is the solution, sometimes the healing process can take a while. Tackling allergies and reactions can be frustrating, so don’t give up. Partnering with a dermatologist or other skin professional can often help, and if redness, hives, or itchiness persist, you should definitely seek one out.

 

 

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The Anti-Scrub Post

Salt scrubThis is the post I’ve been dying to write. Finally, my truth comes out…

I hate scrubs.

Exfoliation is incredibly important in your skincare routine.  But it is the step that you must get just right. Many exfoliators on the market are harsh and overly aggressive. Scrubs are, in my opinion, the worst. There are gentler, more effective options.

Exfoliation using a textured product is called manual or physical exfoliation. This kind of exfoliation really only removes skin cells that have already died but are still on the surface of the skin. Many physical exfoliants use particles such as apricot kernels, walnut seed, or salt with jagged, sharp edges that cause microscopic damage in the skin. In addition to being overly abrasive, it can often also be uneven as well.

Exfoliation that uses acids or enzymes is called chemical exfoliation. This may sound scary, but in actuality, they can be significantly gentler. The enzymes and acids dissolve the dead skin cells away, as well as taking the uppermost layer of living skin cells that are about ready to go. In doing this, you send a message to the lower levels of the skin to stimulate more cell production. These chemical exfoliants are often formulated with hydrating and nourishing ingredients, so you can exfoliate and nourish your skin in one easy step.

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. If I use or recommend a scrub, it usually incorporates a blend of chemical (fruit enzymes or AHAs) as well as manual exfoliation. In this case, you’re getting all of the benefits of each kind. The caveat? Be certain that the particles that make up the scrub are perfectly rounded with no rough edges so as not to overabrade your skin.

Chemical exfoliation is, in my opinion, a great way to get multiple benefits in one product. You exfoliate, smooth texture, hydrate (if you pick a good one), stimulate cell turnover, and get better benefits from all your other products. And who doesn’t want more benefits in one product?

 

 

I know people love scrubs! What about you? Leave a comment below or join the conversation on Facebook and tell me what you think!