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Fragrances, potential allergens common in popular ‘hypoallergenic’ moisturizers

A new study looking at the 100 best-selling full-body moisturizing products has found that many make inaccurate claims of hypoallergenicity. Also, those products identified as ‘dermatologist-recommended’ tend to have elevated prices. Both factors can contribute to patients with skin conditions having difficulty finding affordable, non-irritating products.

Published online ahead of print in JAMA Dermatology (Sept. 6, 2017), the study examined the ingredients and performance of the top 100 best-selling, whole-body moisturizers at Amazon, Target and Walmart to determine the best consumer products based on affordability and how well they moisturized without causing a skin allergy.

Investigators found that 45% of included products that claimed to be ‘fragrance free’ contained a fragrance cross reactor or botanical ingredient. As well, 83% of products labelled ‘hypoallergenic’ included a potentially allergenic chemical.

The products that included a ‘dermatologist-recommended’ label had a median price of US$0.20 more per ounce than those that did not have the label.

“We looked into what it means to be ‘dermatologist-recommended,’ and it doesn’t mean much because it could be three dermatologists recommending it, or 1,000,” said lead author Dr. Steve Xu, a resident physician in dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, in a press release.

It is important to know if the ingredients of a given moisturizer contain allergens, said Dr. Xu, but this can be difficult because manufacturers do not necessarily have to identify fragrances used in their products. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also has limited authority over cosmetics, he added.

“If manufacturers did list all the ingredients, their labels would be 75 pages,” Dr. Xu said. “As it stands now, patients have a challenging time making an informed decision by glancing at the back of the bottle. Our study highlights that and aims to make that search easier on consumers by informing dermatologists.”

Products currently on the market that are free of typical skin allergens include white petroleum jelly, certain coconut oils that are cold-pressed and not refined, Vanicream’s hypoallergenic products and Aveeno Eczema Therapy moisturizing cream, Dr. Xu said.

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