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These are the common irritants and allergens in your skincare

Discover how skin irritants and allergens differ, what symptoms to look out for, and the ingredients that may well be causing the problem

If your skin breaks out in hives, swells up or develops an itchy red rash straight after using a new skincare product, it’s safe to say you’ve had an allergic reaction. However, there are more covert ways in which the ingredients in your skincare can cause havoc.

Dull, dry, flaky, rash like ‘spots’ are also signs that your skin isn’t a fan of one or more of the ingredients present in anything from your moisturiser to your eye cream.

The former reaction known as allergic contact dermatitis is what dermatologists would dub a true allergic reaction. This is where your body releases proteins to help fight off the allergen. The latter reaction is called irritant contact dermatitis, which occurs when an ingredient irritates the skin specifically and symptoms are only seen where the product was used.

It can often be tricky to decipher what has caused the reaction because neither forms of dermatitis appear when you first use a new skincare product – reactions tend to ensue on the second or third try, and the onset of reactions can then also not occur for one to two days post exposure. Although when it comes to severe allergic reactions where anaphylaxis ensues, you'll  find reactions tend to be instant.

If these symptoms sound familiar, it’s worth discovering what skincare ingredients you are sensitive to and while it might feel like a needle in a haystack, a number of ingredients are more likely to cause a reaction than others. They are as follows…


Ingredient lists just contain fragrance as a single entity, when in fact fragrances are made up of hundreds if not thousands of chemicals. Many of these chemicals, while not allergens, are most certainly irritants that can cause the skin to react.


Synthetic preservatives are well known irritants causing contact dermatitis in their droves. While needed to stop your skincare buys from going rancid fast, there are a number of natural preservatives that can and are used instead.

Food allergens

If you have food sensitivities or even allergies it’s important to ensure your skincare doesn’t contain any ingredients that would set off a reaction. Gluten for example, is regularly used in skincare as an emollient, moisturiser and exfoliator, so if you have a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease it’s wise to steer clear. Nut oils are also another food source used prolifically in skincare that are not only irritants for some but also major allergens for others.  

Essential oils

Essential oils can beautifully scent your skincare, they can also treat a number of skin concerns, from acne and pigmentation to lines and wrinkles. However, natural ingredients have the propensity to irritate and essential oils are no exception. Tea tree oil, peppermint, ylang-ylang, clove, cinnamon and cassia essential oil have all been linked to skin irritation.

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