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.