Ever wondered what is causing that rash or redness on your skin? Redness and skin irritation don’t just come out of nowhere. It must be triggered from by some form of reaction to a food you eat, something you have inhaled, the changing environmental factors or a skin care product applied.
The scientific term contact dermatitis falls into 2 categories: allergic and irritant. An allergic reaction is normally triggered by a reaction of the immune system. An irritant on the other hand is a reaction on the surface of the skin.
Most of us would have a sensitivity to some sort of ingredient and a recent survey conducted shows that at least 50 percent of women believe they have sensitive skin. MOST personal care products, makeup and skin care products are filled with ingredients that can cause skin irritation and allergies. Most people have a hard time finding products that won’t cause a reaction.
We are surrounded by allergens and irritants and its difficult to escape all the triggers. Many factors we can’t control, but for the things we can, such as the products we apply on our skin, we should try to eliminate as much as possible the ingredients that cause us irritation.
Here is a list of the most common skin irritating ingredients to avoid when purchasing your personal care products.
Lanolin – is a semi-solid, fatty secretion from sheep’s wool, and any chemicals used on sheep will contaminate the lanolin obtained from the wool. Widely used in cosmetics and skin care products, the majority of lanolin used in the beauty industry is highly contaminated with chlorinated organo pesticides like DDT and therefore a prime candidate for the list of skin care ingredients to avoid. Lanolin can cause allergic reactions as well as enlarge pores.
Phthalates – A plasticizing ingredient commonly listed as DBP or di-n-butyl phthalate, it is used most often in the beauty world to give nail polishes increased pliability (cling to skin) and used to stabilize fragrances. Considered to be a potential carcinogen and possible cause of birth defects, allergic rashes and eczema, they are already banned in Europe. It can be inhaled as well as absorbed through the skin.
Shea Butter – It may seem completely harmless, but anyone with a nut allergy could find themselves with a heightened sensitivity to it. “I have seen reactions among those with nut allergies to both shea and cocoa butter, even organic or natural ingredients can cause allergic reactions.”
Triclosan – Flu season and the ongoing swine flu epidemic have made hand-washing a frequent ritual, and in some cases, it’s the soap that causes the itchy rashes creeping up on palms and fingertips. If your hands are inflamed, steer clear of any soaps or sanitizers with this antibacterial agent.
Sulfates – Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) and ammonium laureth sulfate (ALES) can, when combined with other ingredients, create nitrosamines, a potent class of carcinogens. Besides being used as one of the skin care ingredients in 90% of foaming and lathering personal care products such as shampoos and toothpastes, also in mouthwashes, tooth whiteners, hair colorings, and in makeup or as filler in skin and hair care products. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and ammonium lauryl sulfate (ALS) are also used in car washes, garage floor cleaners and engine degreasers. Animals exposed to SLS and ALS experience eye damage, central nervous system depression, laboured breathing, diarrhea and severe skin irritation (i.e. contact eczema). SLS has been shown in research to irritate skin, and be linked to cancer, disruption of the endocrine system, reproductive toxicity and neurotoxicity.
Formaldehyde – While most beauty products won’t include this ultra-common makeup, skin, and haircare preservative on the ingredient list, many will have a formaldehyde-releasing agent like imidazolidinyl urea or quaternium 15, which can be equally reactive. Therefore, those who experience an allergy or irritation to formaldehyde actually have a list of names to be on the lookout for. Nowadays, two of the most frequent places where contact may occur are the nail and hair salon.
Parabens – They are the darlings of preservatives among mass manufacturers since they’re cheap and stable. It can be downright difficult to find products that don’t contain parabens like methyl, propyl, and benzyl hydroxybenzoate. Those who experience redness or a rash can avoid them entirely by seeking out lines such as Burt’s Bees, Dr Hauschka, and Weleda, whose formulations are all paraben-free.
Mercury based preservatives – such as thimerosal can be highly toxic to the nervous system as well as irritating to the skin and the whole body. Thimerasol is used in vaccines, mascara and other eye related cosmetics, and can cause damage to the eyes with long term use.
Acids– While the majority of acids – azelaic, alpha hydroxy, benzoic, lactic, sorbic, glycolic acid are tolerable in modest doses, cinnamic can pose a problem. Long term contact can cause irritation of the skin.
PPD – Paraphenylenediamine (PPD) is found in most permanent hair dyes. Those who are allergic will likely develop a rash not on the scalp but around the hairline on the forehead and neck and behind the ears. Avoid contact by requesting PPD-free dyes or opting for henna and color rinses that don’t contain the irritant.
Retenoids – Most dermatologists will concur that despite a laundry list of antiaging and acne-fighting benefits, retinoids are also a classic irritant. “They make your skin more sensitive to the sun in the summer and more prone to dryness in the winter,” says Gross. “What really matters is the net concentration that you apply to your skin. Using something weaker more often is better than something stronger that can only be tolerated a few times per week.” Marmur also has a little retinoid magic trick: “If you want your antiaging without the red, raw skin, put on your retinoids for 15 minutes at night, then wash it off with a mild cleanser. I call it ‘short-contact antiaging.’
Benzoyl Peroxide – Found in acne fighting skin care products. A big class of skin irritant causing severe redness and skin sensitivity.
Benzophenones – Many sunscreens contain some form of benzophenones in it, which I believe is the culprit for sunscreens that feel like they are burning. In the old days PABA was the cause of a lot of burning problems, but I haven’t seen any sunscreens containing PABA in years. Currently ingredients like Avobenzone, Oxybenzone, Dioxybenzone, and Sulisobenzone can be an issue for people with sensitive skin, and these ingredients are very common in sunscreens.
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