This was the title of a talk I attended today at the Natural & Organic Products Europe Show in London’s Excel – which is an annual trade event, showcasing a diversity of innovative products and brands – including food, supplements, cosmetics, lifestyle and household goods – many of which are launching into the market. (A report on MI-free household finds can be read here.)
The talk was given by Allergy UK’s Amena Warner, and while we all know that the answer to the question is yes, the range of ingredients to which cosmetic users may be reacting to did remind me that it’s important to look beyond the usual suspects – and put yourself into the hands of a medical expert – if you are concerned about skin sensitisers.
Walker told us that fragrance is the number one cause of skin allergic reactions to cosmetics.
Given that women use several cosmetic products daily, each containing potentially several fragrance allergens (such as geraniol, eugenol, limonene etc – usually listed at the end of the list of ingredients), that’s a sizeable exposure to these potent triggers.
Although self diagnosis is never a good idea, and clearly fragrances are major culprits, of course so are other ingredients, Warner reminded us.
Emollients – essentially moisturisers, useful to those with skin barrier function problems and eczema – are potential culprits as well. Warner named lanolin, propolis, beeswax and (a surprise to me) castor oil, which, although rare, can be related to lipstick use, so is worth bearing in mind if you have reactions in the lip and gum areas.
Naturally, preservatives are a main cause of reactions too – and it’s not just methylisothiazolinone (MI), which I was pleased to see mentioned and discussed – but imidazolidinyl urea and quaternium 15 (as well as phenoxyethanol, parabens and others).
All this did serve as a useful reminder that skin allergies can be caused by a number of ingredients (there are 8000 after all, which the cosmetic chemist can use to create a formulation) and that it may not always be what you think it is. Patch testing is the way to go, if your doctor agrees that there could be a sensitivity that needs to be investigated. Warner pointed out that many women experiment and avoid cosmetics which seem to trigger reactions – this may solve the problem in the short term, but it’s clearly beneficial to get to the root of the problem so that the trigger (if there is one) can be avoided in future. Remember – formulations change, new products come, and old products go. The cosmetic world changes rapidly. It always helps to know the precise nature of your reaction – or whether it’s an allergy at all.
Warner stressed that methylisothiazolinone was such a potent allergen, that Allergy UK do not endorse any products with MI which come into contact with the skin. I covered Allergy UK endorsements and seals of approval in a recent blog post, which you can read here.