Next to daily sunscreen, what is the single best thing you can do for your skin? Go hypoallergenic. It benefits ALL skin concerns, from sensitivity, to aging, acne and dark spots, boosting the efficacy of cosmeceuticals and even caring for baby skin!
Many people think that hypoallergenic products are only for those with very sensitive or allergic skins, or with specific skin conditions like rosacea, psoriasis or eczema. But hypoallergenicity has so many more benefits, from helping to prevent aging, acne and dark spots, to making active treatments more effective. Why? Inflammation. Studies are consistently showing that inflammation is at the root of multiple health concerns, including skin problems. Truly hypoallergenic products help prevent reactions, and reactions are inflammation.
What about choosing natural or organic products? Natural and organic products are more environmentally-friendly and should be chosen, particularly in food, whenever possible. But natural and/or organic does not necessarily mean hypoallergenic. Many natural/organic substances are allergens and photo-allergens (ingredients that can react with light to cause skin darkening). Well known natural allergens include fragrances and some plant/fruit extracts like ylang-ylang, tea tree oil, vitamin E, beeswax, citruses and lanolin. For more on the differences between hypoallergenic and natural, click here.
The Benefits of Hypoallergenicity for Sensitive Skin
The benefits of hypoallergenicity are clear for very sensitive, allergic skin as well as for conditions like atopic dermatitis, rosacea, seborrheic dermatitis or psoriasis. Hypoallergenic means less likely to cause allergic reactions. In VMV HYPOALLERGENICS® products it also means the omission of all or most allergens. Allergens are substances that are proven to frequently cause allergic reactions.
There are several groups of contact dermatitis experts, in Asia, Europe and the Americas, who specialize in identifying the top allergens. One of the most active is the North American Contact Dermatitis Group (NACDG). They conduct patch tests on multiple patients (over 28,000 in various countries) and report the ingredients and substances that caused the most reactions. The current list of common allergens includes around 76 substances (compiled from the publications of NACDG and others). The studies are done by independent groups and there is a high level of consistency in the results, even across countries.
- For sensitive skin, products with less or zero allergens can reduce the risk of irritations and uncomfortable or painful flare-ups.
- Conditions like psoriasis, rosacea or atopic dermatitis are not caused by allergens, but irritations trigger flare-ups and can make sustained clarity more difficult or impossible.
- Immunocompromised people, cancer patients and others needing more complex medical management can also benefit from hypoallergenicity. If the skin becomes irritated, a common reaction is dryness. Sometimes, the skin can get so dry that it develops fissures or cracks that can become entry points for micro-organisms that can then, particularly in those with weakened immune systems, cause infection. This is one of the reasons that, in addition to allergen omission, most VMV HYPOALLERGENICS products contain monolaurin, a coconut-derived, safe-yet-powerful antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal.
- Moms-to-be and parents of infants and children benefit from hypoallergenicity for a similar reason: it reduces the risk of reactions, dryness and infection. For children, treatment can be even more complicated. No parent wants to see their children suffering from painful rashes or non-stop itching. Relief may be more difficult to come by because standard treatments might be contraindicated for children and pregnant women. Prevention is a powerful ally, as are hypoallergenic treatments can provide some therapy in a safer medium (such as Grandma Minnie’s The Big, Brave Boo-Boo Balm for flare-ups or Grandma Minnie’s Oil’s Well Nurturing Do-It-Oil for seborrheic dermatitis or extremely dry skin).
- Shaving bumps are not acne but a pseudofolliculitis and that can be prone to inflammation, which allergen-free products can help prevent.
In many of these cases, careful prevention alone can result in sustained clarity, with steroids, immune-modulators and other medications reserved for occasional emergencies or severe flare-ups.
How Can Hypoallergenic Help With Acne, Pigmentations, Anti-Aging, and Other Non-Sensitive Skin Concerns?
“I don’t have sensitive skin; I have acne or pigmentations, or just want an effective anti-wrinkle cream. Why do I need hypoallergenic products?”
The simplest answer is: the more reactions, the more inflammation, the higher the risk of a whole host of skin problems such as acne, aging, eczema, psoriasis, etc., all of which are closely linked to inflammation. By significantly reducing the risk of reactions, hypoallergenic products prevent multiple skin problems far beyond sensitivity.
Beyond inflammation, allergens do not only cause rashes, itching, flaking, redness and other issues normally associated with very sensitive or dry skin. They can also:
- Irritate pores, causing inflammation, which can lead to infection and acne.
- Many allergens are also photo-allergens which can cause dark spots and blotches, or photocontact dermatitis where larger areas of skin become discolored.
- Reactions to allergens can result in post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
- Even if you do not have sensitive skin now, this does not mean that you cannot develop an irritation to a common allergen. Sometimes, people go through years before developing a reaction to a product. Using hypoallergenic products now helps prevent reactions later.
- Many people suffer irritations mild enough to be dismissed as something else, like dryness, until much later when a full-blown allergy develops.
Safer products can also improve the efficacy of skin treatments. Several active ingredients that are effective (like retinoic acid, AHAs and BHAs) may not be allergens but can be irritating. Their presence in a formulation that contains allergens may significantly increase the risk of irritations and other problems that can be even harder to treat like post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (dark spots after a skin irritation). Or, the allergens in the product may end up causing the same problem that the actives are supposed to be treating — such is the case, for example, with a lightening toner or cream that also contains pigmentation-causing perfumes or masking fragrances.
Hypoallergenicity is not just for the sensitive; it’s for everyone wanting firm, clear, healthy skin.
My Skin Isn’t Sensitive Now…Can It Become Sensitive?
Do I really need to switch to the “mild side”? According to data from around the world showing increases in skin sensitivity, you might.
A 2009 study shows almost 22% or just a little more than one in every five people in the USA reacted to ingredients commonly found in cosmetics.1
A review of studies2 from 1979 to 2004 in Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sweden, the UK, and the USA shows percentages of reactions from 5.4% to 26%. And these were just to fragrances; the total percentage of reactions to more allergens would likely be higher.
A 19973 study showed 44% of children reacting to several preservatives including formaldehyde and its releasers, parabens, other preservatives, and even an antioxidant. And another comparative study of patch tests between 2001 and 2004 showed 51.2% of children and 54.1% of adults reacted to at least one allergen.4
What’s more, it is reasonable to consider these percentages as conservative: experts acknowledge that most reactions go unreported because consumers won’t normally see a doctor for a reaction they feel is mild or passing. In other cases where a patient does see a physician for a reaction, patients and/or their doctors are often unaware that a cosmetic or skin care product was the cause of the dermatitis (in one study, more than half of the cases fell under this category).5
Contact allergy experts caution that the number of allergens or irritants will probably increase as ingredients become more popular (an ingredient can become an irritant as exposure to it increases). This is one of the main reasons why VMV HYPOALLERGENICS® continuously reviews multi-year studies and reformulates frequently. In order to be the most hypoallergenic option available, we have always reformulated even if just one of our ingredients becomes an allergen.
So I Should Choose Hypoallergenic Everything?
As much as possible, yes. And also for things you may not associate with skin.
- Skincare: Cleansers, Moisturizers, Lotions. Sunscreens, anything that goes on your skin.
- Haircare and Hair Styling Products: Shampoos, Conditioners, Gels, etc. Allergens and irritants can trickle down onto skin and cause several problems from acne to irritations. Or, a dry, itchy scalp.
- Toothpaste, Lip Balm and Lipstick: Consistently dry, chapped lips? Could be allergens in your toothpaste or lip products. Acne or rashes around the mouth, chin or jawline? You could have halogen acne or perioral dermatitis — a condition that can seem severe or “impossible” but is frequently amazingly cleared by a simple switch to a halogen-free, allergen-free toothpaste and some careful lip product selection.
- Laundry Soap: Clothing contact dermatitis can mean anything from rashes to dryness, itchiness, darkening or acne due to contact with clothing or bedsheets washed in soaps with allergens.
- Clothing: If you see skin problems near the elastic areas of your underwear or neck and sleeve openings, the backs of the knees, or other areas that are normal points of friction with clothing, consider latex-free, dye-free, all-cotton clothing.
- Jewelry, Electronic Equipement, Eyeglasses: Nickel is the number one allergen. Avoid touching metals, particularly if they have nickel, gold and other top allergens.
- Gym Equipment, Rubberized “Stuff”: That rubber on the elliptical handle could be the source of your dry hands. So could rubberized handles and materials in almost anything (travel mugs, phone cases, etc.).
Want a far more accurate way to avoid just what you need to avoid? Ask your dermatologist for a patch test. This simple, painless test can save you LOTS of time, headaches, reactions and expense from random trial and error.
Click here to learn more about hypoallergenicity.
Click here to learn more about validating hypoallergenicity and the VH-Rating System.
Click here to learn about the VH-Rating System’s validity as a method for substantiating hypoallergenic claims.
Click here for tips on selecting a dermatologist.
Click here for information about patch tests.
Click here for information about how common contact dermatitis is, even among babies and children
1: Warshaw, E et al. Allergic patch test reactions associated with cosmetics: Retrospective analysis of cross-sectional data from the North American Contact Dermatitis Group, 2001-2004. J AmAcadDermatol 2009;60:23-38.
2: Scheinman PL. The foul side of fragrance-free products: what every clinician should know about managing patients with fragrance allergy. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1999 Dec;41(6):1020-4.
3: Conti A et al. Contact sensitization to preservatives in children. Contact Dermatitis 1997: 37: 35-36.
4: Zug K et al. Contact Allergy in Children Referred for Patch Testing: North American Contact Dermatitis Group Data, 2001-2004. Arch Dermatol., 2008;144(10):1329-1336.
5. Adams RJ, Maibach HI. A five year study of cosmetic reactions. J Am Acad Dermatol 1985;13:1062-9.