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Cosmetic allergy: All that glitters isn’t safe
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Cosmetic allergy: All that glitters isn’t safe

Cosmetic allergy is common, caused by chemicals in cosmetic products. Hence it is best to only use products that suit your skin type

With just one day left before her wedding, a 27-year-old woman from Bengaluru got a facial done. Within a few hours, her entire face and neck region swelled with red rashes. When she panicked and rushed to a dermatologist, the latter said that it was an allergic reaction to one of the ingredients used in the facial.

It was a typical case of cosmetic allergy (allergy to cosmetic and beauty products), says Dr Neelima Sharma, a dermatologist at Manipal Hospitals, Jayanagar, Bengaluru. “She was in shock as the wedding was on the next day. I advised her to use safe makeup products to cover up the swollen face and the wedding took place,” recalls Dr Sharma.


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While this was a severe case of an allergic reaction, it can be milder in some. Dermatologists usually come across contact sensitisation, an allergic reaction in which there may not be any skin rashes, but there is mild irritation and itching on the face and hands.

“Majority of the contact sensitisation happens due to fragrances used in the beauty product,” says Dr Sharma, who is also the founder of Anutham, a start-up providing training in the beauty and wellness sector, incubated at the Indian Institute of Management, Bengaluru (IIM-B).

What triggers cosmetic allergy?

Daily use products ranging from soaps to nail paints contain allergens that may trigger reactions in some. According to the US Food and Drug Administration, the common allergens in cosmetic products are natural rubber, fragrances, preservatives, dyes and metals.

Some natural products in the kitchen may also cause allergic reactions. According to Dr Shalini Patodiya, a dermatologist at Citizens Speciality Hospital, Hyderabad, directly applying neem, lemon or tomato on the face can lead to allergic reactions.

“Neem is one of the most common allergens. Natural products, when used in their crude form, [are more likely to] cause allergy than the usage in the purified form. For example, applying lemon juice on the face can cause a burning sensation and skin irritation for many, but the Vitamin C serum will not,” says Dr Shalini.

A typical allergy shows symptoms such as redness, itching, rashes, oozing and eczema patches on the skin in some cases, she adds.

cosmetic allergy - nail polish causes reaction in eyelids

Allergy to lipsticks common, doctors say

Allergy to lipsticks and lip balms are also commonly seen, say doctors. Doctors suggested that Bhavya Rajat, a 21-year-old student from Chennai, should stay away from lipsticks when she developed allergic cheilitis, an allergic reaction on the lips characterised by unusual swelling and chapping of the lips.

When Rajat applied a new lipstick in 2019 summer, she had an instant reaction. “I had swelling in the lips immediately. I rushed to a nearby doctor who further put me in touch with a dermatologist,” she tells Happiest Health.

According to Dr Sharma, paraben (a preservative used in cosmetic products) in lipsticks causes allergy and leads to cheilitis. “Lipsticks contain pigment, flavour and fragrant components that can trigger an allergy in some,” she says.

In many cases, allergies may not be noticed as immediately as a skin reaction. “In another case, a 20-year-old woman who used hair dye experienced a huge amount of hair fall within a week,” says Dr Sharma.

Steroids play a role, not everything is cosmetic allergy

However, there are other views too. According to Dr Patodiya, the effects of steroids in beauty products are often confused with cosmetic allergies. Many self-diagnose anything they face as allergies. “It’s the side effects of steroids in the creams that manifest on the skin. When someone is applying fairness creams, they are actually applying steroids. Majority of the cases are side effects of the steroid hydroquinone [a skin bleaching agent],” she points out.

Dr Patodiya further explains that steroids have a set of side effects including skin thinning, excess hair growth on the skin, acne formation and skin pigmentation. “Another side effect is where we start seeing blood vessels from underneath the skin and the skin above is thinned down [a condition called telangiectasias].”

Use what suits your skin

“Not every product is for everyone,” mentions Dr Patodiya. Dr Sharma agrees, saying that one must buy products according to skin type. “For acne skin, we suggest water-based products. For dry skin, one must use cream-based products,” Dr Sharma adds.

Takeaways

  • Avoid highly fragranced alcohol-based products.
  • Choose oil-based perfumes over alcohol-based ones, as the former do not generate aerosol.
  • Don’t spray perfume after wearing clothes. Spray the perfume on the clothes first before wearing them.
  • Before getting a facial ahead of an event, do try the products out a couple of times at least two months in advance.
  • The side effects of using cosmetic products containing steroids and cosmetic allergy reactions are not the same
  • Do check if you are allergic to a specific product in a patch test before applying it to your skin.

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