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The Most Common Allergens Found in Cosmetics

Are you wondering how to avoid a makeup allergy, or keen on clean products for your skin? Here are cosmetic allergens to avoid, and how to buy smart.

The Most Common Allergens Found in Cosmetics

Is there any greater spoil than buying yourself some new cosmetics and beauty products? But when you place that new shiny product on your body and break out in a rash, you may realize it's time to get familiar with allergens in cosmetics and other ingredients. Yup - it's boring fine print, but it could be the difference between flawless skin and peeling, dry patches. 

Worth broadening your knowledge? We think so. 

Allergens aside, many Gen Zs and Millenials, the largest consumer age bracket of beauty products, have other motivations for splurging on creams, makeups, and similar paraphernalia. Sensitive skin users are not the only ones who want clean and hypoallergenic cosmetics. 

  • When looking at the top skincare lovers of the times, 79% of Gen Zs site health and wellness as their top priority when purchasing cosmetics. 
  • 81% of Millenials are motivated to buy "clean" products, with a close 79% wanting brands that align with their beliefs regarding sustainability and environmental responsibility. 

Whatever your motivation for buying cosmetics, understanding that ingredients list is wise. And this wisdom may even save you from wasting money on products that will irritate rather than feed your skin. 

Do you want to know what to avoid? Here are the most common allergens found in cosmetics:


Fragrance chemicals can have many different names, so it's easy for you to skim over this ingredient when you're studying that fine print. Fragrances are the top allergen for users and can cause headaches, breathing difficulties, or physical afflictions such as redness, swelling of eyelids, itchiness, and more.


Also known as Parabens, these synthetic compounds can cause allergic reactions if your skin is on the sensitive side.
Look out for:

  • phenoxyethanol
  • methylisothiazolinone
  • Quaternium-15
  • DMDM hydantoin
  • Formaldehyde


Paraphenylenediamine is one of the common cosmetic allergens found in hair dyes. Mild reactions can manifest as an itchy dry rash on eyelids, where severe reactions can show reddening, swelling of the eyelids, scalp, neck, and face. Blisters may even form. 

Continued exposure can lead to Dermatitis and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation or scarring.


Some people are sensitive to or allergic to Octyl methoxycinnamate or OMC. An Octinoxate allergy can present as atopic dermatitis, acne, or issues that lead to developmental and reproductive problems. This chemical ingredient is commonly found in:

  • sunscreens
  • cosmetics and makeup foundation
  • shampoo
  • lotions
  • lip balms
  • hair dyes
  • nail polish

Octinoxate is a controversial additive that has scientists looking into its ability to affect the human body systemically and cause harm to animals and the environment.

Natural Rubber Latex

Roughly 1-6% of the population is allergic to natural rubber latex. Your first thought might be to avoid rubber gloves and latex condoms. Still, many cosmetics contain natural rubber latex, such as toothpaste, eyelash and hair adhesives, makeup, various foaming tools, and feminine products. 

Rubber latex is tough to avoid, but if you have an allergy, finding latex-free cosmetics will become a priority to prevent skin irritations, rashes, respiratory problems, or even severe anaphylactic shock.


Sulfates are mineral salts and natural ingredients commonly used in cosmetics. You might see sodium laureth ether sulfate (SLES) and sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) in your hand soap, bath products, and facial cleansers. Brands love to use them for their ability to form a nice lather. 

Unfortunately, sulfates are not always good for us. They are common cosmetic allergens and can cause skin inflammation, redness, and dry, itchy skin. 

Propylene Glycol

Propylene Glycol is a popular additive in food, medications, and some cosmetics and beauty products. It's one of many cosmetic allergens that can cause topical irritations and dermatitis, most commonly on the face.

Essential oils

You may be reaching for products that are clean, ethical, and even vegan, but there are a number of essential oils that are common cosmetic allergens. Here are the top essential oils that could be causing an undesirable reaction on your skin or even affect your breathing:

  • Tea tree
  • Ylang-ylang
  • Bergamot
  • Lemongrass oil
  • Jasmine oil
  • Chamomile
  • Lavender
  • Oregano oil

How to avoid cosmetic allergens

  • Avoid products that list "Aqua" as their first ingredient. Water-based products must contain chemical preservatives and various synthetics to achieve the desired consistency. Water also dries out the skin and strips it of its natural oils. 
  • Instead, choose water-free cosmetics. They're often more sustainable, concentrated, and beneficial for your skin. Plus they're free of many of those pesky irritants that make you want to hide under your bedcovers rather than face the world with confidence and glow!

Do a DIY patch test

If you're concerned that you are allergic to a particular product or nervous when trying a new one, perform a patch test. It's a simple test to determine how your skin will react to a new product. 

  1. Ask for samples of products to reduce cost.
  2. Use a clean patch of skin where you will be able to leave the product on for the whole day.
  3. Apply a small amount of product to the skin and cover with a bandaid.
  4. Wait for about 24 hours.
  5. If burning, rashing, or itching occurs, wash it off and put the product on your 'do not try this again' list. 
  6. If the product produces a redness that takes a while to fade, you might have a mild allergy.
  7. A severe allergy will present as red, raised, itchy skin. 
  8. Speak to an allergy specialist if you need further advice or testing.

Find cosmetics that help you shine!

It may take a while to adjust your buying habits. Hypoallergenic or water-free products can come with a higher price tag, but considering what you're putting in your skin is worth it. Rather than asking "What makeup brands are hypoallergenic?", ask yourself:

  • What does my skin like and need?
  • What brands resonate with my convictions? 
  • What am I really putting into my skin?
  • Am I seeing the results I want to see?

Say goodbye to irritated skin for good and search for a clean brand that leaves you feeling great!