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Are you allergic to makeup? Is it tough to say? Do you sometimes break out unexpectedly or have dry patches of skin no amount of lotion can fix but are unable to pinpoint the cause? Finding out we're allergic to our favorite beauty products is the stuff of nightmares. We purchase our cosmetics so they work for us, not against us. When the products meant to make us prettier, softer, and more supple are leaving us dry, itchy, and broken out, it's time to make a change and reconsider our entire beauty routine.
The first problem you face is actually determining whether there is a problem, or at least where it's coming from. How do you tell if your newfound rash is the result of your topical cream or something else entirely? Figuring out if you're allergic to makeup is a whole process in itself, so to investigate the subject, we reached out to Arash Akhavan, MD, FAAD, founder and owner of The Dermatology & Laser Group in NYC. We asked him all our questions about makeup allergies—why they happen, what signs to look for, and how to correct them.
How to Tell if You're Allergic to Your Makeup
It's actually pretty common to be allergic to something in makeup: "Allergic contact dermatitis, a condition where your skin reacts to ingredients in products that are in direct contact with it, is a very common cause of dermatology visits," Dr. Akhavan tells us. "In our practice, which has a predominantly female patient population, the most common cause of skin allergies is cosmetic products."
"Allergic contact dermatitis commonly presents as dry, red, itchy skin that does not seem to improve with moisturizing," he explains. "It is more common in individuals who have a personal or family history of eczema, asthma, and seasonal allergies, but it can happen to anybody." It can even present as a rash on your face—nasty stuff.
Products to Look Out For
So what should you be on the look out for? "All types of cosmetics from moisturizing lotions, haircare products, to makeup and sunscreen can cause potential skin allergy," disclosed Dr. Akhavan. "If it occurs shortly (days to weeks) after starting a new product, that product is the most likely culprit, but it can even commonly occur as a new allergy to an ingredient you have been using for years." Yikes.
If you have more sensitive skin, or a personal history of skin conditions, avoid using products that have lots of chemical preservatives. These ingredients tend to have higher rates of skin allergy.
How to Avoid Allergic Reactions
Luckily, Dr. Akhavan offers a simple solution: "Finding out what ingredients you may be allergic to can be done with a simple test at your dermatologist’s office called allergy patch testing. As a general rule, I try to steer patients towards products with the least number of ingredients." Unfortunately, there's not much you can do other than just avoiding the allergen.
How to Treat It
"If you find yourself with a skin allergy, the first step to take is to simplify your skin routine to just the essentials," directs Dr. Akhavan. "A short course of hydrocortisone cream can sometimes calm skin inflammation, although prolonged use longer than a few days can have detrimental side effects. If you find your skin allergy is harder to treat, a visit to your dermatologist would be the best course of action." Make sure that, if you've ruled out your moisturizer, you keep your face as moisturized as possible—and try to use one that's fragrance-free, so there's less chance of it being irritating.
Whether you use the hydrocortisone or not, we recommend really stripping your routine down to the basics. This allows the skin to heal as well as removing the potential irritant in the first place.
A great way to avoid allergens is to stick with natural brands that have short ingredient lists. "Product lines such as Juice Beauty—one of my favorite skincare brands—tend to stick with natural and simple ingredient lists, making them less likely to cause skin allergy and irritation."
Zukiewicz-Sobczak WA, Adamczuk P, Wróblewska P, et al. Allergy to selected cosmetic ingredients. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. 2013;30(5):307-310. doi:10.5114/pdia.2013.38360