Missy Gough
(847) 240-1734
[email protected]

Karen Klickmann
(847) 240-1735
[email protected]



SAN FRANCISCO (March 11, 2000) - The average adult uses at least seven different skin care products each day, including fragrances, moisturizers, sunscreens, skin cleansers, hair care items, deodorants/antiperspirants, and cosmetics. So when a patient is suffering from a cosmetic allergy, the task of identifying the culprit is an investigative process for a dermatologist.

Speaking today at the American Academy of Dermatology's 58th Annual Meeting in San Francisco, dermatologist Anthony F. Fransway, MD, of Fort Myers, Fla., discussed the antigens commonly used in cosmetics that cause adverse reactions and the extensive testing necessary to identify the source of the problem.

Studies suggest that up to 10 percent of the population may have some adverse reaction to a cosmetic item over the course of his or her lifetime. These reactions are not gender-specific, but typically women are affected more than men since they tend to use more cosmetic items. Men see the most reactions from after-shave, cologne and shampoos. Women react most commonly to moisturizers/sunscreens, make-up ingredients (specifically make-up bases and eye care products like mascara, eyeliners and eye shadows), perfume, hair care products, and nail products.

Fragrance is the No. 1 cause of allergic cosmetic reactions. There are more than 5,000 basic fragrances, but this encompasses far more than cologne or perfume. Countless skin care products, soaps, shampoos, lipsticks, sunscreens and lotions contain fragrance. Some people are sensitive to the fragrance chemical used in these various products. Other antigens in cosmetics may include preservative chemicals, which are needed to prevent skin care products from spoiling, antioxidants, sunscreen ingredients, and other inactive ingredients.

Fragrance-free products can be safely used by those with a fragrance allergy, but even products labeled "unscented" may contain a masking fragrance added to cover up the chemical smell. Unscented products are not necessarily fragrance-free. "There are very few truly preservative-free products," warned Dr. Fransway. "Most cosmetic items have an aqueous base or compartment in which bacterial and fungal overgrowth and spoilage may occur. Once a preservative allergy is identified through specific testing, cosmetics free of the offending agent may be identified and used safely."

The face, lips, eyes, ears, and neck are the most common locations for cosmetic allergy. Additionally, hands can be affected by moisturizers or nail products. Adverse reactions include irritant contact dermatitis, which produces burning, stinging, itching and redness. The most common skin irritants are bath soaps, detergents, antiperspirants, astringents, eye makeup, moisturizers, permanent hair solutions and shampoos.

Allergic contact dermatitis afflicts those who are allergic to a specific ingredient or ingredients in a product. Symptoms include redness, swelling, itching and fluid-filled blisters. Reactions can occur whenever an individual is exposed to the ingredient, although symptoms may take several days to appear.

Irritant reactions to cosmetics typically occur within days of initial use, but a true allergic reaction can take anywhere from a week to 10 days. In some cases, an allergic reaction is years in the making, and the catalyst for reaction is the condition of the skin and the immune system.

The first step in managing allergic dermatitis is one month to six weeks of strict avoidance of the suspected products. This allows the immune response to settle down and become less active, and the skin to heal.

"A dermatologist is an expert in recognizing cosmetic allergies," said Dr. Fransway. "It is important to consult a dermatologist early if you experience a reaction to cosmetics. Reactions range from mild to severe. In severe or continuously bothersome cases, medical intervention is necessary to find the source of the reaction. A meticulous exposural history is done, followed by patch testing."

Dermatologists recommend that people who experience allergic contact dermatitis adhere to the following program to avoid some of the most probable offending agents, with specific patch testing performed once the dermatitis is clear:

-- For clothing care, double rinse all detergents and avoid all fabric softeners.

-- Try to wear pure, untreated cotton in light colors. Avoid permanent press or cotton blends. Silk and polyester are acceptable.

-- Wash all new clothing items five times before wearing.

-- Use only fragrance-free soaps, body cleansers, shampoos and conditioners.

-- Avoid all perfumes, colognes, and after-shaves.

-- Do not use any fingernail care products or hair spray.

The American Academy of Dermatology, founded in 1938, is the largest, most influential, and most representative of all dermatologic associations. With a membership over 13,000 dermatologists worldwide, the Academy is committed to: advancing the science and art of medicine and surgery related to the skin; advocating high standards in clinical practice, education, and research in dermatology; supporting and enhancing patient care; and promoting a lifetime of healthier skin, hair, and nails.

For more information, contact the AAD at
1-888-462-DERM or http://www.aad.org.

# # #