Skincare Competence

Allergens in Cosmetics

10 July 2024

Most cosmetics contain at least one or more ingredients classified as potential allergens. Both natural and synthetic chemical ingredients have the potential to cause an allergic reaction, and those with sensitive skin are the most susceptible. 

However, there are several methods to test for allergies and certain information that can help you avoid these allergens. Learn more about what allergens in cosmetics are, which ingredients are the most common allergens, how to test for allergies, and where to find allergen-free cosmetics.

What are Allergens in Cosmetics?

Allergens in cosmetics are certain ingredients that can cause an allergic reaction. While many people may use these ingredients without issue, a subset of the population can experience allergic reactions, especially those with sensitive skin types. Allergens can be either natural or synthetic substances. Various regulatory bodies, including the FDA and European Commission, have identified and recognized several cosmetic ingredients as potential allergens.


5 Classes of Common Allergens in Cosmetics

According to the FDA, there are 5 classes of common allergens:

  1. Natural rubber
    • Natural rubber is also labelled as Latex
  2. Fragrances
    • As of 26 July, 2023, the European Commission amended EU Regulation 1223/2009, adding 56 new fragrance allergens to the updated EU Regulation 2023/1545 
    • Also under EU Regulation 1223/2009, if an allergen ingredient exceeds 0.01% in rinse-off cosmetics (e.g., shampoo, shower gel, soap) or 0.001% in leave-on cosmetics (e.g., cream, lotion), it must be declared
  3. Preservatives
    • e.g., Formaldehyde and formaldehyde releasing ingredients, Methylisothiazolinone (MIT), Methylchloroisothiazolinone (CMIT)
  4. Dyes/Color Additives
    • Coal tar
    • p-phenylenediamine (PPD)
  5. Metals
    • Nickel
    • Gold

Common Symptoms of Allergic Reactions

Allergic reactions to cosmetic ingredients are generally the result of contact dermatitis. Contact dermatitis is a condition in which the skin has an allergic reaction to a substance that has been applied to it. The symptoms of contact dermatitis are usually easy to identify and may range from very mild to severe, or even life-threatening. Here are some of the most common symptoms of an allergic reaction to cosmetics:

  • itchy skin
  • rash
  • flaking skin
  • peeling skin
  • irritation
  • hives
  • swelling

How to Avoid Allergens in Cosmetics

Common allergens in cosmetics pose a potential threat to people with mild to severe skin sensitivities. In the US, there’s not a federal standard to regulate terms such as “hypoallergenic,” “fragrance-free,” or “for sensitive skin”. However, cosmetic labelling is regulated under the FDA’s Fair Packaging and Labelling Act (FPLA). On the other hand, fragrances are often listed under the general terms fragrance or perfume without stating their specific ingredients.

To avoid allergens in cosmetics, it’s advisable to, first, find out whether you are allergic to any ingredients. Both the FDA and EU provide a list of known allergens. The FDA divides allergens into five categories. Under EU Regulation 2023/1545, the EU also provides a list of more than 80 cosmetic fragrances classified as allergens.

Try choosing fragrance-free products whenever possible, as fragrances are a common source of allergic reactions. In addition, you can do a patch test before using any new cosmetic product by applying a small amount to the arm. 


How to Find Out What Skincare Ingredients You are Allergic to?

It’s important to know whether you are allergic to certain cosmetic ingredients. To test for allergies to any of the ingredients in your skincare products, there are a variety of methods to do so. There are 4 common allergy tests recommended by the FDA:

  • Patch Test: A patch test involves placing a small quantity of a known allergen on the skin and covering it for 48 hours to observe whether it causes an allergic reaction. This test is typically performed by a medical professional and requires follow-up visits to examine the results. 
  • Prick Test: A prick test involves placing a small quantity of a known allergen on the skin and pricking it with a needle to observe whether it causes an allergic reaction. 
  • Intradermal Test: The intradermal test involves injecting an allergen into the top layers of skin to check for allergic reaction symptoms.
  • Allergy Blood Test: The allergy blood test requires a medical professional to draw a sample of blood that will be transferred to a lab. Allergens are added to the blood sample to test for natural antibody production.

Allergen-free Cosmetics: ADA Cosmetics for Sensitive Skin

At ADA Cosmetics, we strive to create products that are gentle and safe. In addition, we also offer certain fragrance-free cosmetics. Our products are generally formulated without the use of ingredients known to be allergens, in addition to other ingredients that may be harmful to consumer or environmental health. Our cosmetics are:

  • pH-skin neutral
  • free of silicones
  • free of parabens
  • free of MIT and MCIT preservatives
  • free of formaldehyde releasers
  • free of UV filters based on benzophenone
  • free of liquid plastics and microbeads
  • free of mineral oils
  • free of nanomaterials
  • cruelty-free (no animal testing)

Furthermore, at ADA, we offer a skincare product line developed specifically for allergy-prone, sensitive skin types. Our gentle skincare line, DermaCare Sensitive, is:

  • hypoallergenic 
  • suitable for all skin types, including dry and sensitive skin
  • dermatologically tested (carries the Dermatest seal of quality)
  • fragrance-free
  • pH-skin neutral
  • clinically tested and confirmed
  • suitable for infants 6+ months


How long does a cosmetic allergic reaction last?

The most common allergic reaction to cosmetics is contact dermatitis, which results in symptoms such as mild to severe rashes, itchiness, swelling, burning, etc. These symptoms generally last 2-4 weeks, but can range anywhere from a few days to several weeks.

How do you treat an allergic reaction to cosmetics?

For mild allergic reactions to cosmetics, the most effective way to treat an allergic reaction to cosmetics is to begin by avoiding the product causing the allergy. If the symptoms don’t clear up, try using OTC (Over-the-Counter) creams or ointments that contain mild topical steroids. If the allergic reaction is severe, seek immediate medical attention.

How do you get rid of cosmetic allergies?

The first and most obvious method to get rid of cosmetic allergies is to identify the product you’re reacting to and stop using it. Once you’ve identified the cause of the allergy, try to find an allergen-free replacement designed for sensitive skin. If you’re unsure what the cause of a cosmetic allergy is or how to get rid of it, consult a dermatologist or medical professional.

What soap is good for skin allergies?

For those with allergy-prone skin, choosing a natural soap formulated especially for sensitive skin is the best option. ADA’s DermaCare SENSITIVE product line offers an ideal selection of gentle skincare products specially developed for all skin types, including sensitive, allergy-prone skin.