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If your lip swells up or you get a rash around your mouth, it could be an ingredient in your toothpaste. Dry scalp or a rash developing around a new earring, can be caused by another common ingredient. This article will help you understand the difference between ‘allergens’ and ‘irritants’ and what to look out for in your daily used products on your body to prevent contact dermatitis.

According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology (AOCD), an allergic contact dermatitis is caused by your body’s reaction to something that directly contacts the skin. These ingredients may cause no problem in most people, but as the skin becomes more sensitive or allergic to the substance, a rash can develop even to slight exposure.

Irritants can produce a reaction to anyone’s skin because the ingredient is harsh and irritating in general. Irritants may also be an allergen, the difference being that even a small or brief contact with an allergen may cause a reaction with a substance that don’t usually cause or provoke a reaction in most people.

Allergies that cause a reaction are known as ‘allergic contact dermatitis’. Common signs include:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Blisters of varying size
  • Rash

Irritants can cause similar reactions, including sensitivity and acne.

Common Ingredients Known to Cause Allergies or Irritation

There are some allergens that are common. These include:

  • Nickel—this metal is found in many products, including dental caps (crowns) or silver ‘amalgam’ fillings. However, it is bound to other metals and may or may not cause a typical reaction. It’s also added to costume jewelry. Many clothing accessories also contain nickel, such as buckles, zippers and metal clips. If you are nickel-sensitive, sweating tends to increase dermatitis and a rash may appear within 15 – 20 minutes of it touching your skin. Cell phones and costume jewelry are among the top causes of allergic reactions. Once you wear an earring that has nickel, the allergic person will develop a rash around the area.
  • Rubber products—latex gloves or rubber products can also cause dermatitis on the skin. Vinyl or other synthetic similar types may have to be substituted. Rubber is also used to manufacture parts of footwear and adhesives.
  • Skin care products/cosmetics—fragrances, certain preservatives (parabens) and other harsh ingredients may eventually be a source of allergens or irritant, with long term use. These products may include those that are marketed as ‘natural’. Many essential oils and plant extracts are highly irritating and can cause skin problems.
  • Dimethylfumate—this chemical is added to furniture that are made in China to prevent growth of mold. The ingredient is placed in little packages and placed in sofas or cushions. As you sit on the furniture, it can penetrate the fabric and clothing.
  • Paraphenylenedeamine (PPDA)—is normally found in permanent hair dyes. It’s usually mixed with peroxide and added to the product. If you’re allergic to most hair dyes that contain PPDA, henna, which is a vegetable dye may be an alternative option. However, henna doesn’t work on all hair.
  • Chromates—compounds containing chromium are on the list for causing contact dermatitis. They are included in cement, leather, paints and anti-rust compounds.
  • Salicylic acid—this aspirin ingredient is added to many skin care products for acne and anti-aging. However, many people are finding they are allergic to it.
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate—a surfactant, and one of the most irritating cleansers that is used in toothpaste, shampoo, soaps and other personal care products.
  • Formaldehyde—this common preservative found in cosmetics, can be irritating and potentially cancer causing when incorporated with other ingredients, such as nitrosamines. (Source: Fundamentals and Applied Toxicology).

How to Test Products For Allergic Reactions

Besides the ones listed above, there are many other potentially irritating ingredients that can also be allergens. Unfortunately, dermatologists can only test you with the most common known allergens.

The best way to test on your own is to take a small amount of any new product you’d like to try and dab it on the inside of your arm. Wait 24–48 hours to observe any changes to your skin. If any signs of irritations are noticed, obviously don’t use the product. If no reaction occurs, you’re in the clear.

How to Choose Your Personal Care, Skin Care and Cosmetics

There are certain steps you can follow to make sure the products chosen are not money down the drain.

Don’t make your purchasing decision from what is said on the label. Read the ingredient list. If the list is very long, don’t buy it.

If the product label has ‘all natural’ on it and has numerous plants listed, skip that product. Many plants have side affects, and all contain some amount of salicylic acid or pesticides.

Once you find products that work for you, stick with it. Don’t be swayed by clever advertising and marketing gimmicks to try new products. While trying new products and ingredients, your skin may eventually become sensitive and turn into problem skin.

Flora Stay, DDS

Dr. Flora Stay has been in the wellness industry for over 30 years. After graduating from University of California at San Francisco with her doctor of dental surgery degree (D.D.S.), she knew her path was clear towards health and wellness. She became passionate about helping others take responsibility towards their health.

She is an author (Secret Gateway to Health), speaker, practicing dentist and professor at University of Southern California. Dr. Stay noticed the need for a truly safe and effective toothpaste in 1993. Since then due to popularity of her dental products and demand from loyal customers, the Cleure line has grown to include personal care, skin care and makeup.