Many products claim to be hypoallergenic. The name hypoallergenic implies that the ingredients in the item will not cause an allergic reaction or that they are specifically formulated for sensitive skin. How do we know that they contain these less reactive substances? Is there really such a thing as hypoallergenic cosmetics?
The term hypoallergenic came from a cosmetic marketing pitch in 1953 as some substances in cosmetics had been found to be overly irritating to skin. In those days, hypoallergenic cosmetics could be tested on animals to determine whether they caused a skin reaction. Animal rights activists protested this type of testing so the term “cruelty free” was added to labeling to indicate no animals had been exposed.
The term hypoallergenic does not come from a medical or nutritional professional’s evaluation though today, it is often used to describe products, foods and even dogs that are less likely to cause an allergic reaction. To date, there is no certification performed that supports a substance is hypoallergenic.
The United States Food and Drug Administration does not test or approve what goes into cosmetics; manufacturers are expected to prove and provide safe products to the public. In 1975 the FDA did attempt to enact regulations requiring that the term “hypoallergenic” could only be used after a company performed scientific studies on humans that showed the listed ingredients did not cause allergic reactions. However, the U.S. courts declared the regulation invalid so manufacturers are allowed to use the term hypoallergenic as it suits them.
Since new products listed as hypoallergenic are not required to be tested before they go to market, manufacturers may simply avoid using ingredients that have been found to cause allergic reactions or skin sensitivities in the past. In essence, hypoallergenic products may not be any better than those not touting this claim.
What to do to protect yourself:
Always do a patch test on any new product you try. Do not assume that items marked hypoallergenic are more protective than those that aren’t. If you have a reaction to a product, take note of the ingredients.