Updated: Dec 28, 2020
When looking at the all the different cosmetics products in stores, there are many claims that can be found on the packaging. One that is often used is: Hypoallergenic. But what does this technical term mean? Hypoallergenic is often associated with having sensitive skin, but why?
Let’s start with the word itself. “Hypo” can be translated from ancient Greek into lower and “allergenic” refers to a product’s ability to cause an allergic reaction. Taking the two parts together, the word hypoallergenic could be explained as a lower chance of an allergic reaction.
What does it say about the products that claim it?
Can cosmetic companies just put it on their products or are there regulations about this? Within the European Union (EU) there are regulations about claims on cosmetic products in general, but this has not been specified for the hypoallergenic claim (yet). The regulation states that all claims made by cosmetic products should be: legally compliant, true, fair to competitors, non-deceiving, understandable to consumers and that there should be evidence to support the claim .
There are guidelines for the hypoallergenic claim, however they are not legally binding . These guidelines were prepared by a panel of experts from all EU member states together with delegates from important organisations in the cosmetic industry. The purpose of this document is to advise national authorities on the legislation of the hypoallergenic claim, but it is up to those authorities to determine when the claim should be allowed in their countries. The guideline states that “The claim "hypoallergenic" can only be used in cases, where the cosmetic product has been designed to minimize its allergenic potential.”. In other words: when a product claims to be hypoallergenic, companies must be able to prove how product development ensures (that there is) a minimised risk of causing an allergic reaction. It should be kept in mind that even though a product is hypoallergenic, the risk of having an allergic reaction will never be completely absent .
Guidelines on claiming hypoallergenic
There are multiple factors that must be considered when collecting proof, but they can be roughly divided into two parts: the ingredients of the product and the results of volunteer and consumer experience. The Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) has comprised a list of 84 ingredients that have proven to have a high chance of causing an allergic skin reaction in clinical studies . Products claiming hypoallergenic cannot contain these so called “skin sensitisers” (<0.001% for leave-on products and <0.01% for wash-off products). In addition to the absence of the ingredients, companies must have results from a risk assessment in the form of a clinical study supporting that the product does not elicit an allergic reac tion on the skin of volunteers. Not only that, but they also need to consider consumer complaints about allergic reactions with existing products [3, 5].
Using hypoallergenic products
All in all, it can be concluded that looking for hypoallergenic claims on products is indeed a good idea when you have sensitive skin. Regulations around claims on cosmetic products have been set up to protect consumers and even though the guidelines around the hypoallergenic claim is not binding (yet), cosmetic companies still have to be compliant with the justification of all claims . By knowing that product claims must be based on evidence, you can use hypoallergenic cosmetic products with a little bit of extra assurance that your skin will not react badly.
 Mt. Pleasant Dermatology. Tips and Tricks for Dry Skin Relief. Available at: https://mtpleasantdermatology.com/2018/10/dry-skin-relief/. (Accessed: 14th November 2019)
 The European Commission. COMMISSION REGULATION (EU) No 655/2013 laying down common criteria for the justification of claims used in relation to cosmetic products. 31–34 (2013).
 Group Sub-Working on Claims. Technical document on cosmetic claims. (2017). Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/docsroom/documents/24847/. (Accessed: 14th November 2019)
 Consumer Safety Scientific Committee. Opinion on fragrance allergens in cosmetic products. European Commission (2011). doi:10.2773/ISBN
 Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety. Memorandum on use of Human Data in risk assessment of skin sensitisation. (2015). doi:10.2875/579644