The Hypoallergenic Myth

Tuesday, November 17, 2015






HYPOALLERGENIC.

It's a popular, official sounding term, isn't it? It is meaningless, though -- doing nothing other than providing customers with a false sense of safety. "Hypoallergenic" implies that a product is less likely to cause a skin reaction, but science tells us that, in many cases, these claims are truly false.

“The FDA does not regulate or define the term hypoallergenic,” says Dr. Rajani Katta, professor of dermatology at Baylor and director of Baylor’s Contact Dermatitis Clinic.

There is NO regulation, nor are there any federal definitions or standards when it comes to hypoallergenic. In fact, hypoallergenic can essentially mean whatever a company wants it to mean.

When a company claims that their product is hypoallergenic, they do not have to submit any research or documentation to substantiate that their product is hypoallergenic.

MYTH: Here is a quote from a "hypoallergenic" skincare brand's website: "Hypoallergenic products do not contain allergens." 


TRUTH: This is nonsense.


 Here is what Co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, Stacy Malkan, says about this-- "People think 'hypoallergenic' means there are no allergens. That is just not the case." 

If you have ever had an adverse reaction to a product, you know all too well the redness, itching and irritation associated with that experience. Unfortunately, companies use that as an angle to market their products and provide a false sense of trust that their product is safer for you.

Do not fall for this. Anything can cause an allergic response. There is no regulation of this marketing buzzword and it is just a gimmick leading consumers to spend more money on their products.

Let's talk "hypoallergenic" skincare.


Many of the products on store shelves labeled as hypoallergenic contain the most well-known irritants there are.

Researchers at Loma Linda University School of Medicine confirmed that products bearing the hypoallergenic label, especially those marketed at children, actually contain common allergens. In fact, of the products they studied, 89% contained one or more chemical known to cause contact dermatitis.

When one examines the ingredients found in "hypoallergenic" skincare, it is troubling. For example, Methyisothiasolinone, a common preservative, was found in more than ten percent of the "hypoallergenic" products tested by Loma Linda researchers. For those unfamiliar with this preservative, it is one of the most irritating ingredients used in skincare and was named "Allergen of the Year" in 2013 by the American Contact Dermatitis Society.

Another ingredient known to cause an allergic response: fragrance -- both synthetic and those which are natural, such as essential oils. Fragrance can be highly allergenic, yet there are companies hawking their "hypoallergenic" products formulated with large amounts of fragrance.


One such product with this claim is Musti Eau de Soin Spray. It is a "hypoallergenic" perfume with the following ingredients:



AQUA, PEG-40 HYDROGENATED CASTOR OIL, PARFUM, GLYCERIN, SODIUM BENZOATE, BUTYLENE GLYCOL, 1,2-HEXANEDIOL, CAPRYLYL GLYCOL, TARTARIC ACID, CHAMOMILLA RECUTITA FLOWER EXTRACT, MEL EXTRA


The third ingredient is parfum. It also contains chamomile. While I am in no way suggesting chamomile is bad - it's not - it is actually a common allergen. I find it quite disturbing, though, that this brand markets the product as hypoallergenic and with instructions that say, "Musti can be used from the day your baby is born." Babies do not need perfume. Babies don't need the above ingredients sprayed on them from day one. Why on earth risk baby's extremely delicate skin?


Mustela, which makes Musti, isn't the only brand marketing so-called hypoallergenic products to parents of young children. 

Johnson's Baby Lotion claims to by "hypoallergenic" as well. While this formula is now paraben free, Johnson's should really know better than to say that their lotion (silicone + petrochemicals) is hypoallergenic. FYI, here are the ingredients:


Water, Isopropyl Palmitate, Glycerin, Stearic Acid, Glyceryl Stearate, Cetyl Alcohol, Cetearyl Alcohol, Dimethicone, Mineral Oil, Phenoxyethanol, Polysorbate 20, Magnesium Aluminum Silicate, Fragrance, Carbomer, P-Anisic Acid, Sodium Hydroxide, Xanthan Gum, Ethylhexylglycerin, Pentaerythrityl Tetra-di-t-butyl Hydroxyhydrocinnamate, Red 33

It's just not those two brands. Burt's Bees is also guilty of making this claim. They market their Baby Bee products as hypoallergenic, when they very clearly contain ingredients more likely to cause a response. 

Here is a look at their Baby Bee Shampoo & Body Wash:

Aqua (water, eau), decyl glucoside, coco-betaine, lauryl glucoside, sucrose laurate, glycerin, parfum (fragrance), betaine, sodium cocoyl hydrolyzed soy protein, coco-glucoside, glyceryl oleate, sodium chloridexanthan gum, glucose, citric acid, glucose oxidase, lactoperoxidase, limonene

Again, understand that I am not calling these products unsafe, bad, or that you should not ever use them. I am saying that these contain artificial fragrance and other ingredients known to cause contact dermatitis.

Be an informed consumer. Do not fall for meaningless marketing gimmicks. Much like "chemical free", "dermatologist tested", "non-comedogenic" and other popular buzzwords, you need to be an ingredients detective!


Here are some of the most common allergens in skincare. Some may surprise you!


Fragrance
Parabens
Sodium Laureth/Laureth Sulfate
Essential Oils 
Triethanolamine
Formaldehyde-Releasing Preservatives: Quaternium-15, diazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin, Imidazolidinyl urea, bronopol
Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate
Lanolin
Kathon CG (the preservatives methylchloroisothiazolinone and methylisothiazolinone)




Sources:



    Zirwas, M. J., & Stechschulte, S. A. (2008). Moisturizer Allergy: Diagnosis and Management. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology1(4), 38–44.


    Kenneth A. Arndt, Jeffrey T. S. Hsu. Manual of Dermatologic Therapeutics

    University of Gothenburg. "Even Natural Perfumes May Cause Allergies." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 February 2009.


    Wallace DV. Pet dander and perennial allergic rhinitis: Therapeutic options. Allergy Asthma Proc 30:573–583, 2009.

    European Commission. 2013. Cosing, the European Commission database with information on cosmetic substances and ingredients. Accessed on March 1, 2013 at http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/cosmetics/cosing/ .

    Löffler H, Pirker C, Aramaki J, Frosch P, Happle R, I. E. Evaluation of skin susceptibility to irritancy by routine patch testing with sodium lauryl sulfate. Eur J Dermatol. 2001;11(5):416-9.

    Foti C, Bonamonte D, Mascolo G, Corcelli A, Lobasso S, Rigano L, et al. 2003. The role of 3-dimethylaminopropylamine and amidoamine in contact allergy to cocamidopropylbetaine. Contact Dermatitis 48(4): 194-8.

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