When a product is labelled “hypoallergenic,” you wouldn’t be wrong to think that it would have fewer allergic reactions than other products. But that’s not actually the case.
Manufacturers use the word “hypoallergenic” to advertise that their product will produce fewer allergic reactions. When you see the word hypoallergenic, you could expect that the product has gone through testing to show it would be gentler on your skin than non-hypoallergenic cosmetics.
This is important, particularly to people who suffer from allergic skin rashes.
But according to the Food & Drug Administration (FDA): “There are no Federal standards or definitions that govern the use of the term ‘hypoallergenic.’ The term means whatever a particular company wants it to mean. Manufacturers of cosmetics labelled as hypoallergenic are not required to submit substantiation of their hypoallergenicity.”
So even though the word implies that it would be gentler on your skin and is less likely to be the cause of a reaction, the FDA says that “no scientific evidence backs up those claims.”
Hypoallergenic isn’t really a thing—Speaking of Chemistry:
Recent work led by Carsten R. Hamann, a medical student at Loma Linda University School of Medicine, in California, confirms that the hypoallergenic label on many personal care products, particularly those marketed for children, is meaningless. The researchers find that many products labelled as hypoallergenic contain at least one known skin allergen, wrote C&EN.
The study looked into 187 products that were labelled with “hypoallergenic,” “dermatologist recommended/tested,” “fragrance free,” or “paraben free.” All the products were intended for children. They then tested for the 80 most common allergens, which included things like fragrances, preservatives, and surfactants.
“The products included shampoos and conditioners, sunscreens, diaper creams, and “anything marketed toward kids that was supposed to be used on skin,” Hamann says.
The study showed that, 89 percent contained at least one chemical known to cause contact dermatitis and 11 percent contained five or more contact allergens. The most frequently found allergen was the surfactant cocamidopropyl betaine, which was found in 24 percent of the products. Other common allergens were the antimicrobial propolis/beeswax in 19 percent of products, the preservative phenoxyethanol in 18 percent, the antioxidant and skin conditioner tocopherol in 13 percent, and the preservative DMDM hydantoin in 13 percent, wrote C&EN.
There was an attempt made by the FDA back in the 1970s to regulate the word hypoallergenic. During this attempt, the FDA put in place testing requirements for company’s that would then demonstrate wheather or not they could use the label hypoallergenic. But manufacturers opposed these requirements, saying the “expensive tests posed an undue economic burden on them.”
According to C&EN, some companies are voluntarily removing allergens from personal care products. In 2011, for example, Johnson & Johnson committed to removing potentially harmful chemicals, including two preservatives—DMDM hydantoin and quaternium-15—from personal care products by the end of 2015. Both chemicals release formaldehyde, and they are also allergens. The company stopped using these compounds in response to consumer pressure against ingredients that release formaldehyde.
So the term “hypoallergenic” is more a marketing word then it is for your health. At least they are required to show the ingredients used in the cosmetics and they have to be listed on the product label. This is the only way consumers can avoid substances that have caused them problems.