Makeup is an everyday item for many people and non-negotiable for some. Is it bad for our skin? As always, the answer is not clear cut and depends on the individual, their skin type and the products they use.
With an overwhelming selection of cosmetics available, most people don’t even know where to start with makeup. Biological? Natural? Without perfume? Hypoallergenic? Non-comedogenic? Paraben free? What does all this mean, and are they better?
The term makeup generally describes the group of cosmetics used for beautification. Other cosmetics include products used to clean, treat or protect the skin and hair. These days, however, we commonly see all-in-one products, such as BB or CC creams, that combine makeup for coverage with other ingredients to provide sun protection and skin benefits. Reducing the total number of products can be helpful for problem skin, but can complicate things for some.
What does makeup do to our skin?
While in most cases makeup is harmless, some products can cause problems for some people. It is very important to use makeup and cosmetics suitable for your skin type or skin condition.
Skin types are generally classified into four groups:
• oily – excessive sebum production, enlarged pores, blackheads and tendency to acne
• sensitive – tight, pungent, intolerant to many products and prone to redness
• dry – dull, rough or scaly and prone to itching
• normal/combination – can be oily in the T-zone (forehead, nose and chin) but no problem elsewhere
Although most people have a good idea of their basic skin type, they may not recognize the existence of an underlying skin disorder. Conditions such as eczema, contact dermatitis, rosacea, and sun damage can cause inflammation and disruption of the skin barrier.
Inflammation causes itching or tenderness, redness, lumps and bumps, while barrier breakdown results in tight, tender, dry and easily irritated skin. These symptoms may be the same as those caused by reactions to cosmetics and should therefore be considered before assuming that makeup is the cause. Conversely, a continuous reaction to products applied to the skin may explain why the skin does not respond to regular treatment.
Skin problems caused by cosmetics
Cosmetic acne is a form of acne triggered by the use of certain cosmetic products. It is linked to certain ingredients that cause the formation of comedones (a blockage in the pores) and usually appears as small, bumpy pimples resembling rashes. A common misconception is that makeup physically blocks the pore, when in reality the block is made up of dead skin cells.
Mild inflammation leads to excessive skin turnover and clogged pores, with mineral oils being the most common culprit. It is not always possible to determine that makeup is the cause simply from the ingredient list, as it can be influenced by formulation, quantity and delivery methods.
Irritant dermatitis accounts for the majority of reactions to makeup and other cosmetic products. It can occur in anyone, but it is more likely in people with pre-existing sensitive skin or those with an underlying barrier disruption caused by a condition such as eczema or rosacea. It usually causes a red, scaly rash that itches, but may even blister or weep. Symptoms may appear immediately but may take weeks or even months to develop with weaker irritants, making it difficult to pinpoint the cause.
Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when a person has become sensitized to an ingredient that has been applied to the skin. A red, itchy rash sometimes associated with swelling or blistering develops 12-48 hours after exposure and may become chronic with continued use. The allergen can be very difficult to identify because in some cases the product is used for months or years before sensitization occurs.
Are there any ingredients we should avoid?
Perfumes and preservatives are the most common cause of contact allergy due to cosmetics. There are over 5,000 different scents used in skincare products, many of which are natural plant extracts and essential oils.
Other common allergens include preservatives, lanolin, coconut diethanolamide (a foaming agent), and sunscreen agents. Preservatives, such as parabens, formaldehyde and Quaternium-15 are needed in all liquid products to stabilize them and prevent the growth of microbes. A common misconception is that natural and organic ingredients will not cause allergy or irritation, but in people who are prone, this can actually be quite problematic.
Unless you have a known allergy or sensitivity, there are no specific ingredients that everyone should avoid. But looking for products that are hypoallergenic, fragrance-free, and non-comedogenic is smart. Those with oily skin or a history of acne should also limit oil-based cosmetics.
Those with sensitive or dry skin, an underlying inflammatory skin condition, or a history of contact allergy should try to avoid potential irritants and allergens. Foaming agents, astringent products (such as toners that remove oils), scrubs, and acids (such as alpha hydroxy acids used for acne and aging) tend to be irritating. Hypoallergenic formulations and those targeting sensitive skin are a good choice.
What should I do if I think I might have a reaction?
If you develop a new rash or skin irritation, the first thing to do is try to confirm the diagnosis. If you suspect you are reacting to one of your cosmetics but are unsure which one, then ideally you should stop using all of your current products in the problem area. You should try to simplify your daily routine by choosing products specially formulated for sensitive and allergic skin.
If the problem clears up, you can reintroduce your cosmetics one at a time to see if you can identify the culprit. It’s a good idea to test each in a small, localized area on your neck or face for a week or two before using it all over your face. This process is known as “open application test rehearsal”.
If you can’t get to the bottom of it or find cosmetics that won’t irritate your skin, you may need to seek professional help to rule out other skin conditions and formally test for allergies if necessary.
Cara McDonald, Consultant Dermatologist, St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
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