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Skin Reaction to Beauty Products: Are you Allergic to Your Makeup?

Cosmetics are the most significant beauty products in the beauty industry and their expansion and diversification appear inexorable. Before entering the market cosmetics tests are performed in order to ensure the safety of the product. An example of the test performed includes the Dermal Irritation Test which determines if a product has the potential to cause skin irritation when used. However, despite being subject to strong regulations, cosmetics are not free from adverse reactions.

An itchy red rash following the application of skincare products is a sure symptom of an allergic response. However, more subtle signs like dryness and flakiness, pimple-like lumps, and uneven skin tone can sometimes be caused by skincare products. This might be due to a substance causing irritation(1). It is important to understand the difference between irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis.

What is a cosmetic?

A cosmetic is defined by EU Regulation as a topically applied substance that is used on the hair, skin, teeth, or complexion in order to beautify, cleanse, or protect (2).

Several common cosmetic products have been linked irritant contact dermatitis and allergic reactions including but not limited to(3) :

  • Hair dyes

  • Moisturizing creams

  • Fragrances

  • Sunscreen

  • Deodorant

  • Body soap and shower gels

  • Shampoo

  • Cleansing wipes

Many cosmetic products are made of hundreds of ingredients and it only takes one to cause irritation or allergic reactions.

Allergy vs Irritation

Having a reaction to a skincare product doesn’t necessarily mean you are allergic to it. When you have a negative reaction to a skin care product you may have one of two types of dermatitis; irritant contact dermatitis or allergic contact dermatitis. When a specific ingredient irritates the skin, irritant contact dermatitis occurs. The reaction is localized solely to the area where the product was administered and the reaction does not involve the immune system (4) . Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when your immune system responds to an ingredient in a product as if it were harmful to your body. As a response, the immune system releases proteins to help fight this “harmful” product. This type of reaction is typically more severe in comparison to irritant contact dermatitis.

Irritant Contact Dermatitis Characteristics

Cosmetic contact dermatitis' clinical symptoms are influenced by a number of factors, including the product used, the application location, the frequency of usage, the length of contact, and specific patient features (5). It can result in itchy skin, small fluid filled blisters, as well as patches of red, raised bumps. Mild contact dermatitis may also occur without signs of an itchy rash(6).You may have skin that no matter how often you moisturize, may still remain dry. Alternatively contact dermatitis can also result in a patch of rough, sandpaper-like skin.

Facial dermatitis is the most common manifestation of cosmetic contact dermatitis since the face is exposed to the greatest number of cosmetics. Shampoo, conditioner, face cleansers, mascara, nail polish, artificial nails, cosmetic sponges, eyelash curlers, and allergens transmitted from the hands are all typical triggers of irritation for the eyes(7).

Allergic Contact Dermatitis Reaction Characteristics

Allergic contact dermatitis tends to be less common than irritant contact dermatitis , however it does tend to be more severe (8). Symptoms of an allergic reactions typically appears as:

  • Hives

  • Facial swelling

  • Irritation of mouth,nose, and/or eyes

  • Rash

  • Itchy skin

Allergic reactions can also lead to anaphylaxis , a severe allergic reaction which can become life threatening rapidly, but it is very uncommon that this situation occurs when using cosmetics.

Skin patch testing can be conducted in order to determine whether you might be allergic to a particular product and/or its ingredients.


Irritant contact dermatitis might be obvious enough that you may not need to visit a doctor to confirm it. By keeping note of the products you are using, where you apply them, and whether or not you have a reaction in that region you might be able to determine whether your skin is sensitive to a product (4).

If you’re experiencing a mild reaction and haven’t added any new items to your routine,consider eliminating one product at a time to see if your skin improves. Removing products that incorporate scents or colorants in a good place to start. It may take around two to four weeks in order to see a difference in your skin. If you are unable to manage your symptoms- even if your case is not severe, you should seek help from your healthcare provider. It is also important to see an allergy specialist, or a dermatologist if you experience persistent and/or severe reactions.


Novak-Bilić G, Vučić M, Japundžić I, Meštrović-Štefekov J, Stanić-Duktaj S, Lugović-Mihić L. IRRITANT AND ALLERGIC CONTACT DERMATITIS - SKIN LESION CHARACTERISTICS. Acta Clin Croat. 2018 Dec;57(4):713-720. doi: 10.20471/acc.2018.57.04.13. PMID: 31168208; PMCID: PMC6544100.

  1. Zaragoza-Ninet V, Encinas RB, Vilata-Corell JJ, et al. Allergic contact dermatitis due to cosmetics: A clinical and epidemiological study in a tertiary hospital. ACTAS. 2016 May;107(4):329-336. doi:10.1016/j.adengl.2016.02.022

  2. Palmer, Angela. “Are You Allergic to Your Skincare Products?” Verywell Health,

  1. A.R. Travassos, L. Claes, L. Boey, J. Drieghe, A. Goossens Non-fragrance allergens in specific cosmetic products Contact Dermatitis, 65 (2011), pp. 276-285

  2. Bains SN, Nash P, Fonacier L. Irritant contact dermatitis. Clin Rev in Allergy & Immunol. 2018 Oct;56(1):99-109. doi:10.1007/s12016-018-8713-0

  3. Zirwas MJ. Contact Dermatitis to Cosmetics. Clin Rev Allergy Immunol. 2019 Feb;56(1):119-128. doi: 10.1007/s12016-018-8717-9. PMID: 30421329

  4. “Contact Dermatitis.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 19 June 2020,

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