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!

What Does Hypoallergenic Mean In Skincare?

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?

Related: The Top 7 Misleading Skincare Claims

Struggling to find skincare products that don’t irritate your sensitive skin? Download your FREE “Skincare Ingredients To Avoid” cheatsheet to find out what the most common culprits are and cut them out of your skincare routine:

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.

How Do You Choose Skincare Products That Won’t Irritate Your Skin?

There are several things you can do to protect yourself from skin irritation and harm:

1. Check The Ingredient List

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 the culprit 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!