'Allergy' is a term that is often misused to describe all kinds of adverse reactions. There are two main types of adverse reactions that may be experienced: irritant reactions and allergic reactions.
Many people feel they have sensitive skin and those experiencing difficulties with flare-ups or reactions to certain products may have visited their GP or dermatologist to better understand what ingredients they should avoid. Often such reactions are irritations and indicate that the particular product and your skin are not compatible. Such reactions will be temporary and mild, usually with a little redness, itching or other slight discomfort. However, in some instances the reactions may be an allergy.
What Should I do if I Have an Allergic Reaction?
Manufacturers of cosmetic products want consumers to enjoy using their products. However companies want to know if someone has a reaction to their product so please do contact the manufacturer (careline or helpline numbers are provided on the pack) so that the company is aware that someone has experienced a reaction to their product. They will then be able to advise you further on what action to take next. If the reaction persists or recurs or you are otherwise concerned you should consult your GP. Your GP may refer you to a skin specialist, such as a dermatologist. A dermatologist will be able to diagnose the cause of the problem, advise on how to treat it and help you to avoid further reactions in future. In particular, they will advise on the ingredient(s) that you should avoid. More information on what to do if you suspect an allergic reaction to a cosmetic product is available in the Consumer Guide to Unwanted Allergic Reactions.
About Ingredient Labelling of Cosmetic Products
All cosmetic products sold in the European Union must display a complete list of ingredients. In whatever European country you buy your cosmetic product, the ingredient names will be the same. This helps people identify products with ingredients to which they know they are sensitive and avoid them. Ingredient names must, by law, comply with European requirements and use the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients, known as INCI.
Help in Understanding Ingredient Names
CTPA is the trade association for the UK cosmetic, toiletry and perfumery industry and has been working with dermatologists for many years to provide information about cosmetic ingredients and how they are named. A CTPA information booklet on ingredient labelling for cosmetic products, developed in collaboration with UK dermatologists, has just been updated and made available to all dermatologists attending the annual conference of the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD), held 3-5 July 2018.
The Cosmetic Products - Ingredient Labelling a Help Note for Dermatologists lists examples of the names of cosmetic ingredients (the same names are used throughout the EU and elsewhere in the world) more associated with sensitisation and is therefore a helpful guide for consumers trying to check the ingredient lists on their cosmetic products.
Almost any substance, natural or man-made, has the potential to produce an allergic reaction in someone, somewhere; the body does not differentiate whether something is natural or synthetic - it is the properties of the substance itself and not its origin that is key. As with some foods, you may not know you are sensitive to a cosmetic ingredient until you try out a product and have an adverse reaction.
Here is an infographic that helps to explain about allergy and how it works, click on the image to see the full infographic:
However, where a higher risk of allergy has been identified, such as with some hair dyes, the product will always carry a warning label and users will be advised to carry out an allergy alert test before applying the product in full.
More information about Allergies is available here.