Are hypoallergenic products really safer?

by beautifulwithbrains
what hypoallergenic in skincare really means

What does hypoallergenic mean in skincare?

Hint: it’s NOT safer.


I’ll give you a moment to digest that.

I know it’s a shock. If you’ve rosacea, eczema or just sensitive skin that throws a tantrum every time you try something new, you’re probably scouring the shops for safe products that won’t cause another flareup.

Hypoallergenic products promise you just that. But they can’t deliver on their promises. Truth is, it’s impossible to formulate a product that won’t cause a negative reaction to someone.

You could use the gentlest ingredients out there, and still someone will react badly to them. There are people out there who are allergic to water, and it’s pretty hard to find something more gentle and natural than that!

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So, what does hypoallergenic in skincare mean?

Nothing. Nada. Niente.

That’s right, there is no standard definition of the term hypoallergenic. No agency, governmental or otherwise, that policies its use. No rules to determine what products can be labelled hypoallergenic or not.

You know what that means?

Anyone can put the word hypoallergenic on any product. Someone could create a nasty thing chock full of mint, sodium lauryl sulfate and fragrance (the worst irritants in skincare products), and still label it as hypoallergenic. Isn’t that a joke?

P.S. The word hypoallergenic was coined by advertisers. That says it all, doesn’t it?

But, wait! Don’t skincare brands have to test hypoallergenic claims?

Some brands (the more serious ones) do. But you can’t take them seriously.

Here’s the deal: without a clear definition of the term hypoallergenic and strict standards to meet it, every company can devise its own test. Some may test a new product for irritations on 20 people. Another company on 200 people.

If one of them has a negative reaction, the brand may tweak the formula. If no one is harmed, they’ll sell it as hypoallergenic.

But, no matter on how many people they test it on (and the more the better), there is still no guarantee the product won’t cause a negative reaction to someone else. We’re all different, and we all react differently to the same substance.

Again, take water. You could test it on a million people and no one would have an allergic reaction. So few people are allergic to it, chances are you won’t find one in the testing group.

But, what if you are allergenic to it and, because you read hypoallergenic on the label, you put it on your skin without checking the ingredient list first? It’s gonna be nasty.

So, how can you choose products that won’t irritate your skin?

There are several things you can do to protect yourself:

1. Check the ingredients

I know, those ingredient lists are long and boring, and most of the names on there don’t make any sense. But, if you know you can’t tolerate or have an allergy to something, checking the ingredients to make sure the product you plan to buy is free from it is the ONLY way to stay safe.

Related: How To Read A Cosmetic Ingredient List

2 Go minimal

If your skin is particularly sensitive, choose products with very short ingredient lists. The less stuff is in there, the less likely it is to cause problems.

3. Do a patch test

Even if you followed all the tips above, you should still do a patch test. Why? Because you may not know you’re allergic to something yet. Or maybe you didn’t recognize the name on the label (some ingredients can have up to 5 or 6 names, and they’re all complicated and hard to remember, of course). Or, maybe you can tolerate an ingredient in small doses, but this particular lotion has a high amount of it and will trigger an irritation. You don’t want to end up with a red, itchy rash all over your face, do you? Do the patch test.

Related: How To Do A Skin Patch Test

The Bottom Line

Hypoallergenic in skincare means nothing. If you want to be sure a product won’t irritate your skin, check the label for any ingredients you know your skin hates. And always do a patch test!

P.S. Hypoallergenic isn’t the only unregulated term in skincare. For a list of misleading marketing terms that mean nothing, click on the image below and download the “Misleading Skincare Claims Cheatsheet”:

More Misleading Claims!

Sign up to my newsletter to receive the "Misleading Cosmetic Claims Cheatsheet" and find out more ways beauty brands trick you into buying their products.

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Did you know what hypoallergenic means and how do you feel about it? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Nikki April 6, 2009 - 2:54 pm

I believe that not all hypoallergenic products are safe!

ohmypetticoat April 6, 2009 - 2:57 pm

Wow, thanks for writing this article. I’m a sucker for hypoallergenic products but now I’ll think twice before buying them. 🙂

Citrine April 6, 2009 - 9:17 pm

It’s funny that most products (I mean, all?) that I have a hard time with have one of those claims printed on the bottle…

Olay and Aveeno being worst in my case , olay sensitive lotion just hurts on even scratched skin while the Aveeno “oil free” can melt off the writing on a bourjois blusher.

Most high-end products I’ve seen doesn’t have such thing written.

Dao April 6, 2009 - 11:16 pm

Unlike Citrine, my skin does not love high end products that much. The only high end brand I can use is Estee Lauder. I go for scent free and non-comedogenic products since hypoallergenic is a hoax. And yes, reading labels does help.

Danielle April 6, 2009 - 11:40 pm

It all depends on what you’re allergic to, anyways. You could be allergic to something that is used regularly in a hypoallergetic product. This is kinda like that “organic” and “pure” craze that’s going on. I can’t wait for it to finally be over!!

Danielle April 6, 2009 - 11:42 pm

P.S. I noticed that you do not have the Beauty Brains listed as a link on your site. Have you ever gone there?

beautifulwithbrains April 7, 2009 - 9:30 am

Nikki: good for you hun, the whole hypoallergenic thing is just a hoax!

ohmypetticoat: you’re welcome. Hypoallergenic products aren’t bad, it’s just that they aren’t safer as comapnies want people to believe. It’s important to always check out the ingredients list to be sure the product doesn’t contain substances that can cause problems for your skin.

Citrine: I’m sorry to hear that. I seen this claim on some high-end products too but I usually take no notice of it and just scan the ingredients list. I can’t believe that companies can get away with making such false claims and make money off people that buy products genuinely thinking they’re better for the skin only to found out they’re not and still have breakouts of irritations. The use of teh term should be rgulated, if not prohibited, soon.

Dao: I always check ingrdient lists and prefer fragrance-free products when possible. That’s the best way to make sure the products won’t cause any problem for your skin. I have to say that I’m a bit skeptical about the non-comedogenic claim though. It’s true that these products are less likely to cause blackheads etc. But there are just so many ingredients that can clog pores and eveyone’s skin is different and it’s impossible to be sure that a product is non-comedogenic for everyone. But they’re still the best products to use if you oily or acne prone skin as the chances of them causing breakouts are much more slimmer.

Danielle: You’re so right and I couldn’t agree with you more! I never take any notice of all these claims as they are just false advertising and I’m appalled that companies can get away with it.
And I love the Beauty Brains blog! I have their link on my blogroll and it’s one of my daily reads. 🙂 I’ve really learnt a lot from them and I’m glad that you follow them too. They’re a great resource and really help you to amke smarter choices.

Danielle April 7, 2009 - 8:11 pm

Ooh, I see them now under The Beauty Brains. My mistake. Love their stuff!

anastacia April 7, 2009 - 11:13 pm

Awe! love that smashbox shadow color

beautifulwithbrains April 8, 2009 - 1:57 pm

Danielle: that’s ok, there ar so many links in the blogroll that even I can’t find what I’m looking for sometimes lol. I love them too!

Anastacia: it really is a vey pretty color.

The Ohio Academy August 27, 2009 - 8:13 pm

Thank you for this article. I have extremely sensitive skin and find myself always having an issue with lotions, sun screens, face lotions…now I know not to trust ‘hypoallergenic’

beautifulwithbrains August 30, 2009 - 2:39 pm

The Ohio Acadmy, you’re welcome. Hope this article helped you 🙂


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