Itching to look beautiful?

Now, we ladies at Beauty Without The Beasts Towers love testing new beauty products, but we have all had that moment in the past when we try a new lotion or potion and get red and itchy blotches rather than a radiant and glowing complexion.

There are two main reasons for this:

  1. Irritant Reaction
    Ths is when, for example, too much soap or shampoo on the skin leads to chapping, dryness and soreness. Delicate areas of the body are particularly susceptible, such as the face, skin fold and the eyelids. Liquid foundations, mascaras, face masks, toners and anti-ageing creams are more likely to cause irritation, particularly among those with sensitive skin or with skin complaints such as rosacea and dermatitis.

  2. Allergy
    he second type of reaction is much more serious and involves the body's immune system, which is meant to fight infection, but occasionally gets the wrong target. In order to develop an allergy, you have to be exposed to the allergen more than once, so you can find it suddenly happens even though you've been using a product for a while.

It's a mystery

No one quite knows what triggers these allergies, but they will often last a lifetime and can cause symptoms such as itchy, sore, red, bumpy skin. They can also spread further than the actual area on which the product was applied. So what can be done about it?

First of all, if you know you are susceptible to skin reactions, then look for products designed for sensitive skin, particularly unfragranced or organic products. When testing any product always begin by applying a small amount, about the size of a 5p, to the skin in the crease of your elbow every morning and every night for a week. (Please note, though, that you should not carry out this type of test with products you would usually wash off, like shampoos and shower gels, as this will cause further irritation.) If redness and small bumps appear, it suggests intolerance to something contained in that product. A patch test would then need to be carried out to determine the exact ingredient.

Ditch the perfume

The most-common ingredients that cause the more serious reactions are fragrances and preservatives.

You know a product contains fragrance if 'parfum' is shown on the ingredients list. To be sure there's no perfume, look for products marked 'fragrance-free' or 'without perfume'.

Look for 'fragrance-free' or 'without perfume' on the label

If you are allergic to fragrance, you may also need to avoid fragranced plant extracts that may be labelled separately with their Latin name. Plant extracts which may cause allergic reactions include tea tree oil, citrus extracts and lavender.

Preservative chemicals are needed in most cosmetics and toiletries to stop them degrading and becoming contaminated by bacteria but they can also cause reactions. Look for those long names like imidazolidinyl urea, quaternium 15, and methylisothiazolinone.

A strong reaction

Other products to watch out for include hair dye, which is a common cause of allergic contact dermatitis. This is almost always caused by phenylene diamine chemicals. Strong allergic reactions can develop causing a lot of swelling and redness of the ears, face and neck as well as the scalp. This sort of allergy often affects people who have coloured their hair for years without any problem.

Natural substances such as pure henna and indigo are safe, but beware that black henna, used for temporary tattoos around the Mediterranean, contains phenylene diamine and frequently causes allergic reactions in children.

The advice is that if you suffer from a reaction you should stop using the product and try to find another. If the problem continues, Allergy UK advises people to contact their GP, who may then choose to refer you to an allergy specialist.

A spokesman for the charity said: "Allergy is caused when the body's immune system reacts to a normally harmless substance. The body identifies the substance as a threat and produces an inappropriate, exaggerated response to it. What we are only beginning to understand is what tips the balance in favour of allergy."

In terms of cosmetics, he added: "Some people suffer from particularly sensitive skin and experience itching, burning or stinging within minutes of using a product. This is usually a form of irritation rather than allergy and is more common in people with skin complaints. It may help to use products that say they are for use on sensitive skin. It may, however, be a matter of trial and error to find products that are tolerated."

Allergen-free skincare

Many cruelty-free ranges address these problems, including Raw Skin Food, which was specifically developed by Richard Clark in response to the allergies he suffered while growing up.

The Raw Skin Food range is free of the eight most common food allergens

As he explains: "Many people put 500-plus chemicals onto their skin every day before they leave for work. As your skin covers your whole body, the things you put directly onto it get into your bloodstream and can also cause a reaction." The Raw Skin Food range is therefore free of the eight most common food allergens: Soy, Wheat (Gluten), Dairy, Eggs, Shellfish, Fish, Tree Nuts and Peanuts.


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The information given in this feature (ie the cruelty-free status of the brands, product information and prices) is correct at the time of publication (June 2013). For an up-to-date list of cruelty-free brands and their contact details, please see our Where To Shop Guide.