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Scientists Warn "All Natural Skincare" = Itchy Skin

Scientists Warn "All Natural Skincare" = Itchy Skin


Is your "all natural skincare" making you itchy? There is a reason why!

According to a recent study in JAMA Dermatology by a team of dermatologists from Stanford University of Medicine, a majority of almost all "natural" skincare products currently on sale at top US retailers contain allergens that will irritate your skin.

Approximately 1,485 out of 1,651, or nearly 90 percent, of the personal skincare products tested contained at least one allergen that could cause contact dermatitis, i.e. skin irritation. The dermatologists tested lotions, soaps and moisturizers, common skincare products we use daily on our skin.

Contact dermatitis is more than a fleeting irritation. It's a red, itchy rash that, at its worst, can blister, caused by exposure to substances that either irritate or inflame the skin. The latter is an allergic reaction that occurs once the skin becomes sensitized to an otherwise harmless substance.

According to some estimates, rates of contact dermatitis are on the rise worldwide, up almost three-fold in three decades since 1996.

What's causing the rise in allergens in all "natural" skincare

The researchers indicated that what motivated in their research was the fact that there was an uptick in contact dermatitis, a rapidly growing skincare and beauty industry, and a lack of regulation in marketing skincare.

"The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not defined clean or natural, allowing sellers to freely advertise with these terms that imply safety and health benefits," dermatologist Peter Young and his Stanford University colleagues explain.

What does this research mean for people with melaninated skin?

One of the Stanford University researchers, Dr. Gordon H. Bae, had previously wrote about the lack of diversity amongst dermatology medical student and how it would affect dermatology medical student's observations of skin diseases.

The current study regarding allergens in all natural skincare coupled with his previous research, leads one to consider whether additional additives are being included in skincare products marketed specifically for persons with melaninated skin.

In the current research, the researchers extracted product ingredient lists from the websites of three US retailers and checked them against an online database that lists common ingredients people with contact dermatitis should avoid. The American Contact Dermatitis Society maintains the database.

Is reading labels the only answer?

Contact dermatitis is preventable. However, managing contact dermatitis requires reading and interpret the long list of ingredients found in skincare products and know which ones might aggravate the skin. A typical skincare or cosmetic product may contain anywhere from 15 to 50 ingredients. Research suggests people could be applying over 500 different chemicals to their skin each day, depending on your skincare routine.

In other words, the more products you use, the more you expose your skin to potential allergens.

Many of the allergens identified in the study were fragrances – like lavender and other botanical extracts – which have become a leading cause of contact dermatitis.

On average, skincare products contained between four and five known allergens. In total, 73 different allergens were listed 7,487 times across the 1,651 products studied.

That's only based on product information available online, but it still gives you a sense of the scale of the problem.

"These results suggest a need to educate patients and health care professionals to ensure the public is informed about the products they apply to their skin," Bae and colleagues conclude in their paper.

Of course, this isn't the first study examining allergens in personal care products. In 2017, another US study found few moisturizers were free from allergens, and even 'fragrance-free' products sometimes contained fragrances, which can irritate the skin.

The issue has been on dermatologists' radar for some time, but their message rarely seems to cut through the marketing buzz around natural products – which often emphasizes what supposedly harmful ingredients products don't contain, hoping savvy consumers don't scrutinize ingredient lists too closely.

Why Teddy's Eczema Bar doesn't say our products are "natural"?

Labeling products as "natural" is not very helpful to you. The title doesn't state whether or not the ingredients are safe for your skin. In the skincare industry, natural is a euphemism for skincare brands to use a combination of ingredients that are formulated from both natural and synthetic compounds. "Natural" is just a marketing catchword.

At Teddy's Eczema Bar we are vegan - meaning we utilize only plant based ingredients.  We list all our ingredients on the website, our product pages and on the product itself.  We pride ourselves in ingredient transparency to prevent any customer from getting contact dermatitis.

Is the use of "natural" just industry hocus pocus?

Marketing sways consumers' perceptions, and this can have real consequences. An " epidemic" of contact allergies erupted, for example, when a more allergic preservative called methylisothiazolinone started replacing another safer preservative, parabens after they fell out of favor with the beauty industry because of now-refuted claims based on very pseudo science.

Did you know that there is no legal criteria that manufacturers must follow in order to claim that a product is "hypoallergenic" or "dermatologist tested"? Although these terms sound great, they, like the term "natural" are marketing terms created to give the appearance of medical credibility to skincare brands. 

"Both consumers and physicians should demand that the clean beauty movement back up their claims with evidence," two dermatologists at the University of Pennsylvania, Courtney Blair Rubin and Bruce Brod, wrote in an editorial in 2019.

You as a consumer deserve better

*Portions of this article are from Claire Watson's article in Science Alert

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