Allergic reactions to cosmetics

As it is Allergy Awareness Week we thought we would offer you something a little different. We have already said allergies affect different people in many different ways. Did you know a surprising amount of women (and men) are allergic to make-up? As always we want to give you the very best advice so we’ve asked a professional makeup artist, Kat Green from Hadassah Makeup.


Kat Green is an international makeup artist with over 7 years experience. Kat started out as a Beauty Therapist working within some of the top spa’s in the UK (including the spa that held the renounced 2010 Ryder Cup). Since then Kat has been working within the makeup industry, being published worldwide within magazines such as Vintage life, Ifathom, Hoffington post and working with Nottingham University fashion students on Ted Baker Ted’s Travels menswear collection. This experience has given Kat the knowledge of not only makeup but also skin care.

Over to Kat…….

In today’s society on average we use 7-12 cosmetic products a day, this includes men and women. 20% of people within the UK & US suffer from some kind of allergy, although a percentage of them are cosmetic products, there are no statistics for how many of them are caused specifically by cosmetics alone. Preservatives and fragrance are the most common ingredients in cosmetics to cause allergic reactions.


“Allergic reactions involve the body’s immune system which is meant to fight against infections, but occasionally get the wrong target – in this case an ingredient of the cosmetic. In order to develop an allergy, you have to be exposed to the allergen more than once, and usually repeatedly.” – Allergy UK
This could mean that all of a sudden you can become allergic to the products you’ve always been used too. I myself have worked in spas and seen many people that have told me they have all of a sudden become allergic to their products or feel a burning sensation when using certain products.
“You can become allergic to something which you have been using for a long time without problem. What triggers the allergy process is unclear, but once developed, allergies like this are usually life-long.” – Allergy UK
I have seen it first hand where my mum all of a sudden became allergic to all of the cosmetics she was using. The allergic reaction was pretty horrendous for her, the reaction happened within seconds! She felt a burning sensation in her face, it went red and she developed a rash that started to swell (think Will Smith in hitch where he has an allergic reaction to shellfish). For my mum, it usually takes a good 3-7 days for the swelling to go down. Now she refuses to put anything on her skin and we sometime resort to making home made products (that article is coming soon).


Symptoms of an allergic reaction

Symptoms of an allergic reaction can come in many forms: burning sensations, redness, a rash, itching, swelling and hives. In severe cases your skin can blister and ooze. The most common places to have an allergic reaction from cosmetics are the face, eyes, ears, lips and neck, but an allergic reaction can also appear on any part of the body.


How long does the reaction take to appear?

The reaction can appear (depending on the area or severity) within seconds, minutes or even hours. Most appear within 48 hours of use.


So what to do if you have an allergic reaction?

I would recommend immediately washing off the product with cold water and apply a cold compress, this will help with the irritation and help take down any swelling. Do not scratch the area no matter how itchy it is, especially if it is on the areas of your skin that are thin ie: your eyelids (this is the most delicate area on your face and will make it more irritated). If you are worried about a reaction, contact your doctor or pharmacist, call 111 to get advice or call 999 / 112 if your breathing is affected.


Is there a product that you can use?

We hear the term Hypoallergenic and Natural all the time as most of us are looking for that natural ingredient that doesn’t contain chemicals, allergens or harmful ingredients. Make sure that if you have an allergy it isn’t within the product, you may even want to be aware of their Latin names as some companies / brands prefer to use this on their labels.


I couldn’t specifically recommend products or a product range to best suit you or your skin without meeting you all individually, however you will be happy to know that there are product brands on the market that are trying to make their products more natural. I know some companies are starting to develop the use of fruit preservatives within their cosmetics (similar to the ones used in tinned fruit) as we already (if you eat tinned fruit) consume them. There are already mineral based products on the market and many more. The good thing is it’s developing and evolving everyday!
The best way of preventing spending out on cosmetics that you may react to, where a known allergic reaction may occur is by taking a patch test. This is commonly done 48 hours before applying the product directly all over the skin. Most common places to do a patch test are behind the ear, the crease of the inner elbow or (for fragrances) the wrist. You should make sure you leave the product on without washing it off for 24 hours. All skincare specialists are more than happy to do this for you or you can easily do this yourself if you are planning to buy a product from the high streets as most places have testers.
Here are some testimonials from two ladies that have had allergic reactions and what happened to them. If you have had an experience, why not contact Kat or leave a comment below about your experience and how it affected you..

Liz – Business owner
“A product house did a ‘tailored to your skin type’ thing, it was a total disaster. The shop assistant had to find water to wash it off. Hard to know which bit of the cleanse/tone/moisturiser it was but probably toner.”
Gem – Full time Mum

“It was an all over spray fake tan, thought I would splash out a bit and get a decent one. I was going for a friends birthday night out and by the time I got to her place I’d come out in a red, itchy rash. My skin went quite dry, it was worse on my sensitive areas, my face, inside of my arms and back of my legs. I looked awful, luckily it was an army themed night out so I used camouflage face paints to cover it up (little did I know we would bump into Will Mellor later that evening! embarrassing!) Anyway, that was the short term fix, I got home after the night out and scrubbed it off, but it was a slightly more permanent one so took a few days for it to completely wash off, just made sure I moisturised it, but it took about a week for the blotchy redness to completely go. I also took antihistamines, (I have hay fever so it came in handy!)”
A huge thank you to Kat for taking the time out of her very busy schedule, if you have any questions or need advice from Kat, please feel to contact her on any of the details below:

If you would like to learn more about how to treat a casualty in any emergency situation, please have a look at our courses page for a variety of different options.


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