June 23, 2017 4 min read

Product allergies are a very real thing for me. I learned it the hard way, of course. For someone who has eczema, and a sensitive nose and eyes, I wasn’t very careful about what I was putting on my face until I woke up one morning several years ago with thousands of little red bumps on my face.


I’m not even exaggerating. Through tears, I managed an emergency appointment with a dermatologist. I took the products I used on my face the previous night, and sure enough, the culprit was a new product I had never used before.

While I’m no scientist who can tell you what’s good or bad for your skin, years of religiously looking things up and consulting both my doctor and my dermatologist has given me enough insight to avoiding another dramatic episode. Having eczema means I have an impaired skin barrier, which increases my susceptibility to skin allergies and irritations.

Skin reactions to products vary: it can be a burning sensation when you apply it, or it may result in zits, or in my case, irritation and rashes. Most companies do a lot of serious testing to ensure the safety of the products placed in the market, but there are differences in the way people react to the same product.


I see my dermatologist, Dr. Tan, once every few months because of my eczema, and I always come bearing questions. She said that one of the things people tend to do, especially with sites like WebMD, is diagnose themselves and go out and buy products in hopes of alleviating the problem.

She referenced the recent case that involved Japanese cosmetics brand, Kanebo, which recalled 54 of its skin-whitening products from Japan and other Asian markets such as Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. The voluntary recall was initiated when consumers in Japan reported white patches on their skin after using the products which contained Rhododenol, a synthetic version of a natural compound extracted from white birch bark, made and patented by Kanebo.

Whitening products work by regulating or inhibiting melanin production to give users a more even skin tone. Some even break up existing melanin pigment clusters, causing dark spots to lighten.

“The problem with whitening agents is that [many] contain ingredients like retinol, which, if not used as instructed, can have dire effects. If applied in the day, and if your skin is exposed to the sun, the skin might end up becoming red, itchy and tight,” says Dr. Tan. “Of course, whether it's whitening or any other kinds of products, there are always people who never read the instructions that come with the products or apply more than the amount recommended in hopes of hastening results.”

As a precaution, consult a dermatologist if you can afford it to determine the cause of a skin problem so that he or she can help you treat it according to your skin type. If you have a history of skin sensitivity, too, there are prescription products that can work better for you than over-the-counter formulas.

If you can’t afford dermatologists (and I know they can be bloody expensive!), go for tried-and-tested formulas.


Make it a habit to test a small amount of product on your skin over the course of several days. We all know the excitement of tearing through the packaging of a new product, but try to curb the enthusiasm for a bit and use the formula on an inconspicuous corner of your jawline. Only use it on your face if you’ve had no adverse reactions on the test area after three days.

Also, make sure you follow the instructions and be patient. Some sheet masks, for example, should be used once a week at most, but some use them every other day.

“Some masks have a very high concentration of ingredients. For a product to work, it’s not about how much product you slather on your skin, but how consistent you are in using it,” Dr. Tan explains.

However, patch tests aren’t always a surefire way of determining if you’re allergic to a product. Sometimes, reactions can occur after years of uneventful exposure to the same product. This can result from the changing nature of your skin as it ages, or even a change in the product’s formulation.


Even if the product comes with labels like “hypoallergenic!” and “suitable for sensitive skin!” and “like a unicorn caressing your face!” it may just be catchphrases use by those scheming, evil geniuses called marketers who want you to succumb and buy the product.

If you have bought a bunch of new products, try incorporating one product at a time into your regimen, a week apart. This will help you determine which product is causing inflammation, if any, so you can stay away from it.

Avoid drying agents that can be found in some cleansers. They can be listed as sodium lauryl sulfate, ammonium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, or ammonium laureth sulfate in the ingredients list.

I know it's a lot of things to consider and think about before buying a freakin' cleanser, but hopefully reading the labels and taking time for patch tests will ensure that you don't have a nasty reaction in the future.


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