6 Red Flags Your Products Are Causing an Allergic Reaction (and Why)

6 Red Flags Your Products Are Causing an Allergic Reaction (and Why)

Skin allergies take on all different forms, and once they crop up, they’re a nightmare to try to diagnose. 

And we’re not helping. Washing our hair with a new shampoo, trying a moisturizer sample in the morning, buying a different dish soap because your favorite one was out of stock… 

Sure, more serious skin conditions may be an indication of something that needs to be addressed internally, but skin allergies can also be a reaction to the DOZENS of products we use daily - especially if we haven’t taken a good look at product ingredient labels. 

The average person probably doesn’t have a diligent log of every substance or product that comes into contact with their skin (although that’s a great way to rule out irritating ingredients!) 

Why is it so difficult to determine if our products are the culprits? Consider that skin allergies

  • don’t appear instantly, so we may not associate them with the product. 
  • can develop with consistent use of an irritating product, even if it didn’t initially cause a reaction. 
  • may be caused by a product that interacts with your skin indirectly, like a fabric sanitizer or hair spray. 
  • may be a reaction to one of a series of ingredients, making it difficult to pinpoint which products are to blame.


Many more people have probably been the victims of skin allergies caused by mainstream skincare and beauty products than we realize. 

Here are some skin allergy symptoms to watch out for that may make you second-guess what’s coming into contact with your skin:

1. Hives 

Hives can range from small red bumps to full scale raised rashes and welts that take on different patterns. 

Hives tend to be the most obvious allergy symptom, and in some ways, that makes them the best symptom to have. Knowing you have an allergy early on is a helpful hint to take a more thorough look at products we’ve used on our skin. It may also result in a faster resolution. 

More reputable natural skincare companies typically understand the sensitive nature of skin, which is why they are more likely to advise patch-testing (or testing products in a small area first). 

Patch-testing any product is a safe practice (even with products that use natural ingredients) because everyone’s skin reacts differently to ingredients and may have unique triggers that cause a hive reaction.

2. Itching

Itching is often the first minor sign of an allergy, but dubbing it an “allergy” may be far off or worse - never fully solved. Because itching is often a milder symptom, it’s more difficult to track down the source of an allergen. It’s also unfortunately treated with the band-aid solution of applying a steroid cream rather than getting to the real root cause. 

It may seem like common sense to first look at the fabric of our clothes (looking at you - polyester) or our diet as the origin of an itch, but a sudden onslaught of itching should immediately make us question if there’s a potential allergy. This is the first step to more thoroughly examining the way products indirectly interact with our skin.

Laundry detergent or softener may never officially touch our skin, but they commonly include undisclosed “fragrance” and long lists of chemicals that can leave irritating residue that leaves our skin crawling as a result of an allergic reaction. Those with sensitive skin may find instant relief from itching by seeking out unscented skincare products (like those listed here!)

3. Flaking or peeling

Cracked, flaking, or peeling skin is unsettling, and the severity of this reaction often makes the “aha!” lightbulb come on more quickly in terms of realizing we have a skin allergy. 

But even flaking or peeling skin can be mistaken for something else… 

I spent a week on the beach with my family when I was sixteen years old. What I thought was my first experience with a peeling sunburn turned out to be a severe skin reaction to an irritant in my sunscreen! With each passing day, I made sure to apply MORE sunscreen to prevent my skin peeling only to realize later that I had been increasing the irritation. 

What ingredients are to blame? The list could go on, but alcohols and sulfates play a major role, particularly as their function is to remove excess oil. Their presence can cause an allergy resulting in dryness, flaking, or peeling. 


4. Facial swelling 

If you wake up with a puffy face, don’t automatically assume it’s the result of a poor night’s sleep. Instead, look to the skin and beauty products you’ve been using recently. 

Facial skincare products in particular are chock-full of skin irritating ingredientsAHAs, or alpha-hydroxy acids, can be naturally occurring in things such as fruit juice; however, you should be wary of mainstream skincare lines that manufacture these AHAs in a lab. They’re especially irritating in higher concentrations. AHAs are typically used as exfoliants, so it makes sense that their abrasive nature can trigger an allergic reaction. 


5. Allergic contact dermatitis

In 2011, it was estimated by Europe’s National Institute of Health that 20% of the European population was living with allergic contact dermatitis. 
Living with…meaning, living with an allergic reaction without knowing how to prevent it. What a miserable situation!

The NIH speculated that allergic contact dermatitis - pinkish itchy rashes on the skin - could result from everything from occupation to gender, age to consumer products. Though there was no definite conclusion, the fact that women overall were drastically more represented may be a clue that these allergic reactions are more closely tied to consumer skincare products. 

Skin and beauty products have been notorious for including all types of known irritants like preservatives, parabens, and vague “fragrances” that can all contribute to allergic contact dermatitis.

6. Respiratory issues

If you’ve ever experienced sneezing, coughing, or wheezing shortly after applying a lotion or spray, don’t rule it out as a sneezing fit. It could very well be your body’s way of telling you it has an allergy. 

Skincare products use all sorts of harmful ingredients that may be behind your allergies.

Formaldehyde, yes, the SAME formaldehyde funeral homes use to preserve the recently deceased according to King Tut standards, is commonly found in beauty and skincare products. Why? For its preservative powers, of course!

And the consumer market is sneaky. You won’t find FORMALDEHYDE written in bold on the back of your products. Formalin, methanol, and dimethoxymethane are commonly used in place of the more adverse form of the carcinogenic irritant. 

It’s not the only ingredient that can trigger an allergic reaction; respiratory discomfort and distress is a result of many preservatives commonly used in the industry. 

There’s a world of allergies outside of our control, but our skincare products don’t have to be a contributor. Knowing which ingredients to look for and which symptoms to be aware of can help you retain your healthy skin. 

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