The Ultimate Guide to Dealing with Cosmetic Allergies

Makeup and beauty products are no more alien to our daily routine. They have become a significant part of our social and personal lives. From parties to formal work meetings or friends’ meetups to family get-togethers, beauty products of all sorts have become essential for us. 

While there are tons of arguments supporting the use of cosmetics for helping to boost confidence, the fact remains true that these products can result in an allergic reaction. They are, after all, synthetic products processed to make you look good. 

What is an Allergic Reaction, and how is it Caused?

Beauty products are claimed to be made from organic ingredients. However, they can still contain substances that are foreign to our skin or body cells. These substances, called allergens, are detected as foreign objects by the body’s immune system and are thus, treated as dangerous. As a result, our body reacts, which is known as an allergic reaction. 

There are several sources of allergies apart from makeup, including food, mold, insects, pollen, drugs, latex, pets, etc. 

Types of Reactions 

Various allergic reactions can occur due to using substandard cosmetics or the one that does not suit your skin type. These adverse reactions include:

Contact Urticaria 

This type of reaction can manifest in a localized burning sensation or a tingling effect. It may occur as itching that starts within minutes and lasts up to an hour after the irritant comes in contact with the skin. 

Swelling and redness are also commonly seen in this type of reaction. If there is a rash, it will probably last 24 hours.


This type of allergic reaction posits itself in breathing difficulties, nausea, and vomiting. There is also acute urticaria and angioedema. This reaction does not occur very commonly; however, it can be fatal.

Allergens found in hair dye are the most reported cause of this type of allergic reaction.

Irritant Contact Dermatitis 

Most of the cases of contact dermatitis are skin irritants (about 80%). This type of allergic reaction can occur in anyone. However, atopic people are found to be more at risk of contracting this allergic reaction.

Dermatitis typically starts with small but noticeable patches of itchy and scaly skin. These patches also turn into rashes and can further become blisters that ooze. If you have contracted a powerful irritant, then contact dermatitis can quickly occur within minutes.

In case of weaker irritants, your body might kick the allergic response a little long after the contact. 

Photo Contact Dermatitis 

This type of allergic reaction is triggered when sunlight interacts with an ingredient in the faulty cosmetic. 

All of the types of skin reactions to allergens are not mutually exclusive – which implies that a person can also develop more than one type of reaction at a time. For instance, if an atopic person develops irritant contact dermatitis in response to a cosmetic product, it is highly likely that this reaction turns into allergic contact dermatitis as the allergens already weaken their skin. 

Common Allergens in Cosmetics

Various types of allergens can trigger an allergic reaction. Some allergens that mainly cause trouble are fragrances, paraphenylenediamine (PPD), which is found in hair dyes and preservatives. 


Cosmetics and related products utilize more than 5,000 different types of fragrances. They can mostly be found in perfumes, skin moisturizers, shampoos, conditioners, deodorants, and facial cosmetics.

Fragrances in cosmetics are one of the leading causes of developing contact dermatitis. However, the good news is that a patch test can identify the allergens in fragrances. Patch-test can be done by using Fragrance Mix and Balsam of Peru.

‘Unscented’ cosmetic products do not imply that the product is fragrance-free. In most cases, to make a cosmetic unscented, a strong added fragrance is used to mask the real one. 


After fragrances, preservatives occupy the position of second-most contacting allergens in cosmetics. They frequently cause allergic dermatitis. Water-based cosmetic products usually have a preservative in them to prevent any bacterial or fungal growth. 

The most common preservatives in cosmetics are:

  • Parabens – usually found in face and skincare products.
  • Formaldehyde – this preservative is generally added in shampoos.
  • Imidazolidinyl urea 
  • Quaternium-15
  • Isothiazolinone
  • Methylisothiazolinone   

Paraphenylenediamine (PPD) 

This culprit, found in hair dyes, is the third most common allergen after fragrances and preservatives. PPD or paraphenylenediamine causes contact dermatitis. It is commonly utilized in preparing permanent hair dyes.

Reactions to this allergen might range from being mild to very severe, causing dermatitis in the eyelids or ears. In extreme cases, allergic reactions to PPD may occur on the scalp or face. 

There are new derivatives of this allergen that posit a lower risk of causing an allergy. 

Aluminum Compounds 

Some people might be allergic to aluminum compounds usually present in the antiperspirant. The first sign of this compound irritating your skin is that your armpits start to get red, and the skin peels off every time you roll the antiperspirant. 

According to experts, the stronger your antiperspirant claims to be, the more likely are the chances of harmful compounds irritating your skin. However, most people can tolerate low levels of aluminum. 


Products claiming to alter your skin probably have acids in them. Such products include topical retinoids, which generally have an alpha-hydroxy acid. 

Chemical peels also contain acids and can cause irritation, redness, burning, or dryness when overused. 


Nickel is a metal typically found in costume jewelry and show buttons. Some people are allergic to this metal and develop rashes or itchy patches after wearing such jewelry pieces. If you are one of those people, you have to be very cautious about cobalt, an essential ingredient in hair dyes and personal care products such as antiperspirants. 

Being allergic to metals in cosmetic products also implies looking for other metals, including aluminum, lead, and chromium. 


Almost every shampoo, baby soap, and body wash are made from sodium Laureth sulfate. If you develop skin or eye irritation frequently with no noticeable link to your makeup, your shampoo or body wash is likely causing it. 

Apart from skin irritation, your body’s allergic reaction to this ingredient might also show as your hair become too dry and brittle.  

Essential Oils 

Natural does not always mean hundred percent original. Some beauty products now contain natural essential oils that they claim to be highly advantageous. However, being natural does not imply that you cannot be allergic to essential oils. 

Cheap Ingredients 

Lastly, the biggest culprit that becomes the source of allergens irritating the skin is cheap and low-grade ingredients in cosmetics. Numerous big names in the cosmetics industry go for cheap ingredients for their economic benefits. If the use of such ingredients does not posit a severe issue with a majority of their consumer base, they continue its use for their advantage.  

How to Know If You are Allergic to a Cosmetic?

A makeup allergy can manifest in numerous ways, including swelling, redness, or dry skin patches. The area where the product is applied might become red and have a burning sensation. If your skin shows any of the symptoms mentioned above, it is clear that a product is irritating your skin and thus causing an allergic reaction. If this is the case, then know that your skin is not comfortable with a specific product that you are using. 

In case of allergic contact dermatitis, you can develop hives, redness, or swelling. Contact dermatitis is the most severe skin concern and the biggest red flag that something is not suiting your skin. One of the most common signs of allergens entering your body through cosmetics is red and itchy eyes. Allergens in hair dye can cause such symptoms. 

An important point to note is that people with weak immune systems due to an illness or a physical condition are more prone to an allergic reaction. Also, when you are younger, your body is stronger and more resilient. Thus, fighting off various allergens that are harmful to your body is easier. The more you age, the less likely are the chances that your body reacts the same as your defense is low and your immune system is weak. 

Treating an Allergic Reaction to Cosmetics 

If you get an allergic reaction to some face product you used, your face might show numerous signs and symptoms, such as red patches, itchiness, or swelling. As soon as you notice such signs, it is recommended that you do the following:

  • Immediately stop using the product that is causing such a reaction.
  • If you cannot pinpoint the product right away, stop using any cosmetics or beauty products. 
  • Remove any makeup you have on immediately. Do this cautiously and gently by using plain water or natural lotion.
  • Do not wash your face with a scrub in an attempt to clear the redness or uneven patches.
  • In case of swelling on the face or hands, use ice to cool your skin down.
  • Use a soft cloth to dab the skin, and never use cotton on irritant skin. 
  • Icing should reduce redness and irritation. Once the skin cools down, try applying some mild moisturizer or cream with some coolant.
  • Avoid applying any makeup or using beauty products, such as bath salts, after an allergic reaction appears. 
  • Consulting a skin specialist for your condition is recommended if things get out of hand. Your doctor will most probably perform a patch test and see which ingredients trigger an allergic reaction. You will then have to stop using any products that contain that certain ingredient. 
  • If the reaction is severe and presents with eruptions or acute eczema, the treatment might involve cortisone creams and warm water. Always consult a specialist before using anything on your already affected skin.
  • Often, doctors prescribe antihistamines to control itching.
  • If the reaction turns severe and your skin develops blisters, then antibiotics might be prescribed. 

How to Prevent Cosmetic Allergies?

Prevention is always better than cure. You cannot control the ingredients that go into your daily-used beauty products. However, here are some tips that will help in minimizing the risks of developing an allergic reaction:

  • Scented products are mostly very troublesome. Avoid using a lot of highly scented products.
  • Limit the overall number of beauty products that you use daily.
  • Try sticking to the ones you have already tried and tested instead of venturing out for new ones.
  • Consult a dermatologist if you are confused about the products that suit you.
  • Avoid mixing a lot of products, especially in the case of shampoos.
  • Buy products that have all the ingredients laid out clearly with formulation and directions.
  • You can always go for herbal versions of many synthetic ingredients.
  • Strictly adhere to the no-makeup-sharing rule.
  • Check the expiry date on the products before you buy.
  • Look out for any ingredient you know of that irritates your skin, and never buy it.

Taking Extra Care of Your Eyes When Using Cosmetics 

Beautifying your eyes, brows, and lashes is in the trend for a long time. You can find dozens of eye care and makeup tutorials online. No matter how tempted you are to try everything on your eyes, be very careful in caring for the sensitive skin around the eyes. 

The skin around your eyes is the most delicate, and that is why it should not be rubbed or tugged often. Treating this area of your skin is the key. When applying an eye cream or any other eye care or cosmetic product, gently clean it with a soft sponge afterward. Any product or item that irritates your eyes in any way should be avoided. 

Your eyelashes are the gateway that protects your eyes from dust and other forms of minute debris. Some ingredients might harm your eyes so much so that they may face severe long-term damage or even vision loss. 

Some people might also develop conjunctivitis from cosmetics. You can minimize the risk of such a severe reaction by taking care of the following factors: 

  • Watery and creamy textured eye makeup items can easily foster bacterial growth than powdered ones. Therefore, you have to be more cautious when using liquid concealer, liner, or mascara. 
  • Do not keep makeup on for longer hours than recommended.
  • Be very cautious while applying liquid concealer or foundation near the eyes. 
  • Refrain from sharing any of your eye makeup with anyone.
  • Never try to rehydrate your mascara with water, saliva, or any other liquid. Just throw it away if it gets dried, and buy a new one.
  • In case of eye infection, stop using any eye care or cosmetics until the eye(s) is properly healed.
  • People who wear contact lenses should be more careful in taking care of the lenses and their eyes while using any cosmetic product.
  • Removing eye makeup is also a necessary process that should be carried out with care.
  • Get mild eye makeup removers, preferably made from a cleansing formula, for enhanced eye care. Use a soft cloth or sponge to remove the remains of your eye makeup. 
  • Avoid scrubbing or harshly scraping the loose sensitive skin around the eyes. Vaseline or baby oil is an excellent option for removing eye makeup and all its residue. 

How to Deal with Allergic Reactions in the Eyes 

Though eye makeup products are made with care by avoiding chemicals and compounds harmful to the eyes, some people still develop an allergic reaction to eye makeup products. If you encounter an allergic reaction in the eyes, the best thing to do is stop using everything altogether. Some of the most common allergens that might irritate your eyes include preservatives, fragrances, iron oxide, and nickel. 

Educate yourself about the ingredients that have proven harmful to your eyes, and be on the lookout for such components in the products you buy. Also, avoid using certain cosmetics near the eyes which are not made to be used this way, such as lipsticks. If the reaction turns serious, consult your doctor immediately. 

Health over Beauty 

Nothing is more permanent and original than your health. A healthy skin that is wisely dealt with is probably the best appearing. Avoid anything that does not suit your skin, no matter how much it makes you look good. Your skin is the ultimate barrier preventing your body from the outside world. 

If your skin becomes weak, what would happen to your inner systems? Therefore, choose and use beauty products wisely.