Why Hypoallergenic in Skin Care May Be Inaccurate

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When choosing products for ourselves or our family, we often opt for products labelled “hypoallergenic” with the belief that they are gentler, safer and won’t cause allergic reactions. In fact, the term hypoallergenic simply conveys the manufacturer’s claim that their product is relatively unlikely to cause an allergic reaction but not a guarantee.


Like the terms “natural” and “organic” , seeing “hypoallergenic” on a product can lead us to think that we are choosing something chemical-free, green and free of harmful additives and preservatives. However, the truth is that it is impossible to guarantee that a product will not cause a reaction. Even one that you have used for many years without problems may begin to irritate you after some time. Skin is constantly changing and reacting to internal and external factors. Just like food allergies which can develop over time, skin may reach a threshold in terms of what it can handle before telling you, in no uncertain terms, that enough is enough.

In reality, the term “hypoallergenic” is not regulated when used on cosmetics or skin care. In Canada, it is considered neither a legal nor scientific term by Health Canada. In the US, the FDA does not require companies to submit to any tests or to substantiate their claim when using the term. There are also no set standards that manufacturers are required to meet in order to label their products as hypoallergenic.

So where does that leave consumers?

  • As always, check the list of ingredients that are required by law to be clearly labelled using the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients system, a standardized practice that allows consumers to recognize ingredients in most countries worldwide, including the US, Canada, Europe and Asia.
  • Know your skin and what it can and cannot tolerate
  • Perform a skin patch test. This is also a must for people who have a tendency to have allergic reactions like rashes, hives, burning and redness. For many with hyper-sensitive skin, it may be a simple, yet frustrating, case of trial and error.

While hypoallergenic may not have a concrete definition, using it as a guideline when choosing skin care products and bearing the onus of responsibility on ourselves can minimize the potential for irritation and allergic reactions.

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