Here’s why you should think twice about hypoallergenic skincare

With all the colors, preservatives, fragrances, and other chemicals included in traditional skincare products, it’s no wonder someone with more sensitive skin or someone who wants to avoid toxins may seek products labeled “hypoallergenic.” But what does that label actually mean, and does it guarantee the lotion or soap in question is free of any and all ingredients known to cause an allergic reaction? You might be surprised to find that unfortunately, even if something is labeled “hypoallergenic,” you probably need to read the ingredient labels in full if you’re trying to avoid specific irritants like parabens or sulfates.

Cosmetic chemist Erica Douglas of Sister Scientist told Byrdie, “The FDA does not define nor govern the use of the term ‘hypoallergenic’ in the cosmetics space, which means it technically falls under the category of a marketing claim.” She explained, “Ultimately, this means that each brand has the autonomy to determine what this term means in the context of their products.”

How to ensure your beauty products are clean and safe

Douglas elaborated that “Typically, most brands use the term ‘hypoallergenic’ to signify that a product contains fewer ingredients that are known to cause an allergic reaction—emphasis on ‘fewer’ because there are so many known allergens and no universal governing standard of what ingredients are classified as ‘known allergens.’ Therefore, it is impossible to be for certain that a product will not cause an allergic reaction in 100% of users” (Byrdie). In fact, while the European Union has banned more than 2,400 potentially harmful ingredients in cosmetics, the U.S. has only banned 11, and without “hypoallergenic” meaning anything concrete, we have to take it upon ourselves to ensure we are avoiding ingredients we don’t want to use (Healthline). 

So how can you ensure you’re getting products that are safe for you? First, if you know you are allergic to something specific (like synthetic fragrance or parabens), read the entire ingredient label yourself. If, however, you aren’t necessarily allergic to anything but want to avoid toxins, consider downloading the Environmental Working Group’s Healthy Living app on your phone. You can use it to look up specific products to see the safety rating, or you can look up individual ingredients to learn about them. 

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