Allergic/Atopic Skin, Contact Dermatitis, Dermatologist, Eczema, Patch Test/Photopatch Test, Skin Health
One In Four Is Allergic to Common Skin Care And Cosmetic Ingredients
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And, like eczema and other allergies, skin sensitivity is on the rise.


How Common Are Skin Allergies?

More than ever, and growing. A Mayo Clinic study[1] published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology stated that, among 945 patients, almost 70% had at least one positive reaction to personal care or skincare allergens. Almost half (47.3%) had at least two positive reactions. In the 1980s, patch tested reactions to cosmetics and skincare were as low as 1% in the USA and Europe. By the mid 1990s, rates began to double in certain countries and have continued to rise steadily, with some countries reporting rates as high as 36%.[2] And according to the World Health Organization, an “increase in the worldwide prevalence of atopic eczema has been observed…Atopic eczema is the most common chronic inflammatory skin disease with a varied clinical spectrum…Atopic eczema represents an important public health issue due to its impact on quality of life and its socio-economic burden.”[3]

More skin allergies by numbers, and how you can avoid reactions if you have sensitive skin:




The numbers above are high, but are specific to patients who were patch tested. This makes the numbers less surprising. Patch tested patients are people who already experienced a reaction, sought out help from a physician, and had a doctor who offered patch tests to identify triggers for the reaction. In such a group, it is reasonable to expect that they would react to an allergen in a patch test. After all, many people who experience a reaction merely switch products. Those that tend to see a doctor for a reaction may have a more severe reaction, may be experiencing a reaction that will not go away, or may experience reactions frequently. We wanted to see what these numbers would look like when generalized in the larger population of people who may identify themselves as having sensitive skin, whether or not they ever sought a patch test. An NIH study[4] showed that 45% of the general population in the USA (and 50% of women) identifies themselves as having sensitive skin. We used this number to generalize the reactions from the results of patch-tested patients in other studies below.

7 in 10


According to a study by the North American Contact Dermatitis Group[5], six in ten — more than half — of people who undergo a patch test reacted to an ingredient in cosmetics (up from one in five just seven years earlier[6].) In the Mayo Clinic study, the number was higher at seven out of ten.

1 in 2


In the NACDG study, every other person who underwent a patch test was diagnosed with contact dermatitis. In the Mayo Clinic study, one in two, or half of those who had a patch test, had at least two positive reactions, and the same number of people reacted to a preservative.



A third of those in the Mayo Clinic patch test study reacted to at least one fragrance (many of which are or are related to ingredients such as ylang-ylang, beeswax, lavender, etc.) or a botanical additive. Natural does not mean hypoallergenic — many, albeit not all, natural ingredients are allergens (see page 5 to learn more). If you have sensitive skin, opt for hypoallergenic over natural, and get a patch test to identify what you need to avoid.

1 in 4


Taking the NACDG patch tested subjects as representative of those with sensitive skin in the NIH study, we can estimate that:

28.8% — more than 1 in 4 people — of the general population (not just those who get a patch test) is sensitive or allergic to ingredients commonly used in skin care and cosmetics.

Looking at the allergies to preservatives and to fragrance/botanicals (Mayo Clinic): 22% or 1 in 4 or 5 of the general population is allergic to preservatives.

Just to fragrance/botanicals: 1 in 7 of the general population is allergic.


Most authors state that the number of allergic skin reactions is likely even higher than their studies show because people who experience a mild or passing reaction tend to stop using a product instead of see a doctor, and not all doctors offer patch testing. A growing number of studies in various fields — from dermatology to allergology and immunology as well as national health statistics — show that skin allergies, eczema (atopic dermatitis) and contact dermatitis are on the rise around the world, associated with an increase in cosmetic use by consumers.

In the last two to three decades, immunologists and allergists have noted a dramatic increase in the prevalence of allergies. The American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology reports that some 40%-50% of schoolchildren worldwide are sensitized to one or more allergens. The most common of these are skin allergies such as eczema (10%-17%), respiratory allergies such as asthma and rhinitis (~10%), and food allergies such as those to peanuts (~8%). Other industrialized countries have seen increases as well.[7]

New studies on the human microbiome suggest that another possible reason for the notable rise in allergies, including eczema, is the increased use of antibiotics, especially in children, as well as how improved living conditions may have changed our childhood exposure to microbes, skewing how our immune response develops.[8, 9]


There are 109 common allergens — substances that tend to elicit the most reactions from patch tests conducted on thousands of people. How VMV Hypoallergenics has managed to reduce the risk of allergic reactions is by formulating without these 109 (and more which are kept on watch lists based on regularly published contact dermatitis case studies.) Allergen omission is a powerful method to reduce the risk of irritations.


The VH-Rating System was invented by our founding dermatologist-dermatopathologist. Published in a leading peer-reviewed contact dermatitis journal, it shows less than 0.1% reported reactions in over 30 years. It works by:

1) Allergen omission.

2) Allergen identification. If  an allergen needs to be present, it is marked by an asterisk in the ingredients list — because different people are allergic to different things. If you are sensitive to fragrance, for example, and the allergen included is a dye, you should still be able to use the product.

3) Skin Safety “Grading.” Like an SPF, the VH-Rating gives a numerical grade to a product’s proven skin safety. The higher the number, the more allergens omitted, the safer the formulation.



1. Wetter, DA et al. Results of patch testing to personal care product allergens in a standard series and a supplemental cosmetic series: An analysis of 945 patients from the Mayo Clinic Contact Dermatitis Group, 2000-2007. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2010 Nov;63(5):789-98.

2. Verallo-Rowell VM. The validated hypoallergenic cosmetics rating system: its 30-year evolution and effect on the prevalence of cosmetic reactions. Dermatitis 2011 Apr; 22(2):80-97

3. Ruby Pawankar et al. World Health Organization. White Book on Allergy 2011-2012 Executive Summary.

4. Misery L et al. Sensitive skin in the American population: prevalence, clinical data, and role of the dermatologist. Int J Dermatol. 2011 Aug;50(8):961-7.

5. Warshaw EM1, Maibach HI, Taylor JS, Sasseville D, DeKoven JG, Zirwas MJ, Fransway AF, Mathias CG, Zug KA, DeLeo VA, Fowler JF Jr, Marks JG, Pratt MD, Storrs FJ, Belsito DV. North American contact dermatitis group patch test results: 2011-2012.Dermatitis. 2015 Jan-Feb;26(1):49-59.

6. 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.

7. Foliaki S et al. Antibiotic use in infancy and symptoms of asthma, rhinoconjunctivitis, and eczema in children 6 and 7 years old: International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood Phase III. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2009 Nov;124(5):982-9.

8. Kei EF et al. Role of the gut microbiota in defining human health. Expert Rev Anti Infect Ther. 2010 Apr; 8(4): 435–454.

9. Thavagnanam S et al. A meta-analysis of the association between Caesarean section and childhood asthma. Clin Exp Allergy. 2008;38(4):629–633.