Ever used a new scrub or moisturizerâ€”only to be left with red, itchy skin? The ingredients in your products could be to blame. “Most ingredients that exfoliate, cleanse, or strip the skin can be potentially irritating,” says Ron Robinson, a cosmetic chemist and the founder of BeautyStat.com.
Whatâ€™s more, some people are much more sensitive to certain allergy-inducing ingredients than others, says Dendy Engelman, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. “It’s nothing the patient is doing wrong,â€ she says. â€œMost often it’s genetics or what they were exposed toâ€”or not exposed toâ€”during their childhood.”
Before you try a new skin-care product, be aware of these common irritants.
1. Salicylic Acid
“This acid is the same active ingredient in aspirin,” explains Engelman. “And three to five percent of the population is sensitive to aspirin, too.” Salicylic acid is usually used to treat blemishes, but itâ€™s possible to experience hives or inflammation from using it. Engelman recommends benzoyl peroxide to target acne control instead if salicylic acid irritates you.
Aluminum is commonly found in deodorant and antiperspirant because it helps reduce sweating, says Engelman. But because it’s a salt, it can cause redness, itching, and even swelling. “Another alternative is magnesium oil, which uses ninasium chloride to prevent sweating, or aluminum-free deodorants.”
3. Glycolic Acid
“This acid is so small that it’s very good at penetrating into the skin,” says David Bank, M.D., a dermatologist in Mount Kisco, New York. “On the efficacy side, it’s great. But that rapid entry can make it more irritating.” The result is mild side effectsâ€”redness and drying. “[A better option for sensitive skin] is lactic acid, [which is] physically larger so it releases more gradually over time.”
“When people use the word sulfates, they’re particularly referring to sodium lauryl sulfate,” says Bank. “These detergents are found in cleansers and shampoos and cause redness and dryness on sensitive, eczema-prone skin.” For a gentler treatment, he recommends sulfate-free products.
“Retinol still remains the gold standard for anti-aging, reversing sun damage, and stimulating collagen,” says Bank. “The major drawback is that it can be on the drying and irritating side.” However, he adds that there are rarely toxic reactions, but you may experience uncomfortable irritation.
“These are going to be in almost any product that contains water,” says Engelman. The most common ones to look for on the label are parabens, imidazolidinyl urea, Quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, phenoxyethanoil, methylchloroisothiazolinone, and formaldehyde. These ingredients, of course, prevent bacteria buildup (making products last longer), but they can cause an allergic reactionâ€”swelling or hivesâ€”in a small percentage of the population. If you find yourself allergic, opt for all-natural brands like John Masters Organics and Tata Harper.
“Fragrances are the number one cause of allergies on the skin,” says Bank. “Fragrance” doesn’t actually refer to perfume, but chemical compounds that make products smell better. “Fragrances are in so many things nowadays,” says Engelman. “Even if it says ‘unscented,’ they are included to mask the smell of the formulation.” Those who are allergic may suffer from skin swelling, itching, and in severe cases, your eyes can even swell shut. Robinson recommends fragrance-free alternatives that not only promise ‘no smell’ but say on the label that they have no added fragrances.
How to Treat a Reaction
First off, play it safe. “If you think your skin is sensitive, apply a patch test to the back of your arm before using a new product on your face or body,” says Robinson. “If no rash or redness appears after 24 hours, use the product as intended.”
If you still experience irritation, Engelman recommends mild topical steroids like cortisone, or oral anti-histamines, like Allegra or Zyrtec, to reduce swelling, redness, and itching. “If the reaction is more severe, oral steroids may be required to reduce the allergic response,â€ she says. And if you ever experience any swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat, difficulty breathing, or hives, seek immediate medical attention.-Women’s Health Magazine