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Contact allergens frequently found in “hypoallergenic” personal care products

More than one-third of personal care products marked as hypoallergenic at major online retailers have been found to contain common skin allergens, according to research presented at the British Association of Dermatologists Annual Meeting in Liverpool. The meeting was held from June 27 to 29, 2023.

According to a press release, investigators from Wrexham Maelor Hospital and Glan Clwyd Hospital in Wales reviewed personal care products marketed as hypoallergenic from two major health and beauty retailers in the U.K. for the presence of allergens in the British Society of Cutaneous Allergy (BSCA) baseline series.

The researchers included 208 products in their review. Of those, 47 (23%) were products that are rinsed off during use and 161 (77%) were leave-on products. At least one substance from the BSCA baseline series was an ingredient in 79 (38%) of these products. Of these, 54 (26%) had one potential allergen, 21 (10%) had two and four (2%) had three potential allergens from the series.

“Our research suggests that some brands understate or downplay what constitutes a hypoallergenic product,” said study author Dr. Siwaporn Hiranput of Wrexham Maelor Hospital, Wrexham, in the release. “There are various regulations governing marketing claims in the U.K., however, many terms used to market personal care products aren’t clearly defined. Given the huge market for products suitable for sensitive skin, there is every incentive to stretch these terms to their limit. Clearer regulation or better enforcement of the existing rules is needed.”

“In the meantime, we would urge members of the public with a contact allergy to learn the names of ingredients that you are allergic to and look for these on the packaging of products, regardless of whether they are advertised as hypoallergenic or not.”

The most frequently encountered allergens the researchers identified in the studied products were cetearyl alcohol and paraben mix, found in 42 (20%) and 37 (18%) of products, respectively. Other BSCA baseline series allergens identified included 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol, lanolin, decyl glucoside, diazolidinyl urea, methylisothiazolinone, limonene and linalool.

In addition to allergens in the BSCA baseline series, the researchers looked at related ingredients known to cause reactions in people with allergies to chemicals in the baseline series. Overall, 153 (74%) of the 206 products marketed as hypoallergenic contained BSCA baseline series allergens or ingredients that may cross-react with them.

The press release notes that while there are various regulations relating to marketing claims made by cosmetic products, there is no official standard for what constitutes a hypoallergenic product in the U.K.

“It’s important that consumers are aware that it is not unusual for products labelled as hypoallergenic to contain common allergens,” Prof Mabs Chowdhury, President of the British Association of Dermatologists said in the release. “There is no official standard for what constitutes a hypoallergenic product; however, it is reasonable for users to expect that these products will be unlikely to cause an allergic reaction.”

“While it is possible that some of these ingredients could legitimately feature in hypoallergenic products if they are used in very low concentrations, it’s hard to see how products containing ingredients such as formaldehyde releasers, methylisothiazolinone, and fragrances such as limonene and linalool could possibly be described as hypoallergenic.”


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