These Skin Creams and Makeup Products Might Cause a Rash and Other Problems

Almost every woman is familiar with beauty products: we all have our own products we use regularly, and we all have our unique application routine. Some… Trista - January 23, 2020

Almost every woman is familiar with beauty products: we all have our own products we use regularly, and we all have our unique application routine. Some of us put our “face” on every morning and have a separate supply of products to apply at night, either to reintroduce moisture into our skin or to clean our face of all evidence of makeup. If you have extra sensitive skin, there may even be certain products you have to avoid. But have you ever wondered why your skin reacts the way it does?

It’s essential to learn why skin creams and cosmetics produce rashes as well as which specific types of makeup are smart to avoid to prevent skin conditions from developing. Preventative measures and treatment options will also be discussed. Let’s first cover skin cream and then move into the world of cosmetics.

Skin cells have natural fat in them. Shutterstock.

Natural Fat in Skin Cells

I think the most important question to answer is why, exactly, skin creams and makeup produce a rash. New research here suggests that the underlying problem is that both of these products strip the skin of its natural fat within skin cells. It would seem that there are certain chemical compounds within these products that cause this to occur. T-cells cause the resulting skin reaction within your body; T-cells are utilized in your body’s natural immune response. When the T-cells detect something foreign within your body (which could be any of the multiple chemicals present in the products you use), they spring into action: their destruction of foreign material is what produces skin rashes.

Researchers went on to explain that small compounds within these products cause contact dermatitis, but lack certain chemical groups that are imperative in producing an allergic reaction. Said chemical compounds should be too small for T-cells to notice and seek out for destruction, but sometimes the T-cells do react.

The concept is not as complex as it seems. Shutterstock.

More Theories About Allergic Skin Creams

The new theory is that CD1a, which is a molecule found on the outer layer of skin, might be the reason T-cells recognize smaller compounds. Experiments with CD1a were conducted, and it was determined that this particular molecule would readily bond with known chemicals to produce an allergic reaction, thus causing your body’s T-cells to react. The substances that were identified as a problem were Balsam of Peru and farnesol, both being found in skin creams, toothpaste, and fragrances.

The researchers also came up with a solution to this particular problem: apply other fats to the affected area to displace the fats that are causing the issue. This idea is revolutionary, considering the only option to stop a reaction from happening at present is to try to determine which chemical is causing you to develop a rash. There are also skin ointments on the market that can help soothe your rash, which may take up to a month to produce results. If you consult a physician due to the severity of the outbreak, they are most likely to prescribe a corticosteroid.

Carefully read the ingredients of your skin creams. Shutterstock.

Tips for Choosing Skin Creams

To try to prevent a reaction from occurring in the first place, here are some tips you can take into consideration the next time you go shopping for skin creams. One of the most natural things you can do is take a gander at the label: choose products with the fewest ingredients. This small effort will make a lousy reaction less likely to take place.

Another good idea is to perform a patch test: this just means that you place a small amount of the new skin cream on the inside of your elbow and wait for up to two days to see if a reaction takes place. As long as there is no redness, swelling, itching, or burning on your test area, the product is safe for you to use.

Try natural skin creams as opposed to ones with perfumes. Shutterstock.

Steer Clear from Fragrances

Beware of fragrances; it is not a skin cream, in particular, but they have been known to react to other products you may be using. It is important to remember to spritz any fragrance on your clothes, never directly on your skin. This concept will ensure that there is no harmful interaction between the products you use on your skin and the fragrance you use on your body.

Another note to keep in mind: just because a skin cream is labeled as being appropriate for sensitive skin does not necessarily mean you will not have an adverse reaction to it. It is not altogether a bad idea to give these products a try if you have had no luck with previous skin creams. One last tip: if you do wind up developing a rash from your skin cream, stop using that product immediately. You could also try applying a hydrocortisone cream to help soothe the rash.

You could end up with an adverse allergic reaction if you’re not careful. Shutterstock.

Skin Reactions to Skin Creams

There are two major types of skin reactions that occur when using skin creams. The first is a simple irritation. The name irritant contact dermatitis may also know it. It is the most common reaction to beauty products, especially skin creams. Symptoms of irritant contact dermatitis include burning, itching, stinging, and redness around the area of application. If you have dry skin or if you have some injury to your skin, skin irritation will be more likely to occur and will often be harsher than if your skin were moisturized and smooth.

The second most common skin reaction to skin creams is dubbed an allergic reaction, or, more specifically, allergic contact dermatitis. It could include sensitivity to a product, or it could mean a full-blown allergic reaction to some compound within the skin cream. Indications that an allergic reaction is taking place include redness, swelling, itching, or blisters. Fragrances and preservatives are the two most common culprits behind allergic contact dermatitis.

Some of these skin reactions could spread to other parts of your body. Shutterstock.

More Skin Reactions

Why do fragrances cause an allergic reaction? They often contain masking agents (even when the label claims the product is unscented), which is a fragrances used to mask chemical scents. Though you may not be able to detect the aroma, it may still be present, and it may still be capable of inciting an allergic reaction. To avoid this, look for labels that say fragrance-free or without perfume.

What about preservatives? These are hard to avoid, as it is in most products that contain water. Preservatives need to be present to maintain the integrity of the product. All of the common preservatives found in skin creams are known to cause an allergic reaction in the user. It does not mean you will necessarily be affected; it merely means that there is a chance that one of these preservatives may affect your skin.

Be aware of these products so that you can avoid them. Shutterstock.

Beauty Products Known to Cause a Skin Reaction

There is an exhaustive list of beauty products that have been known to produce either one or both of the skin reactions discussed previously. The index consists of the following: bath soaps, detergents, antiperspirants, eye makeup, moisturizers, permanent wave lotion (in particular, the kinds that contain the chemical glyceryl mono thioglycolate), shampoos, long-wearing lip stains, nail polish that contains formaldehyde and fingernail glue consisting of methacrylate. Remember, just because a product can cause an allergic reaction does not mean that you will automatically break out in a rash the first time you use it. It merely means that these products have the potential to cause harm to the skin.

Other products deserve mention in this section: hair dye is one of them. While most people have no problem with this product, issues have been known to arise. Hair dye products that contain the compound p-phenylenediamine have been known to cause skin reactions. Products used to lighten hair that is infused with ammonium persulfate have also produced unwanted results.

You may be allergic to alpha-hydroxyl acids. Shutterstock.

More Makeup Products to Avoid

Any beauty product that has alpha-hydroxy acids may cause swelling, itching, redness, blistering, or a rash for specific individuals: this usually only takes place if the concentration of alpha-hydroxy acids is 10% or higher or if the pH is 3.5 or less. Contact dermatitis may happen if a person is exposed to tretinoin, which is found in wrinkle creams and serums.

The last product on our list is sunscreen: again, most people do not have any particular problems with this product. If you are one of the few individuals who cannot use traditional sunscreens, try looking for a brand that has few ingredients and products that claim to be physical blockers (these products tend to be made with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide). This particular type of sunscreen has been associated with few risks.

Use a stopwatch to see how quickly you get a reaction. Shutterstock.

Timing of Skin Reactions

We have already talked about the two most common forms of skin reactions caused by skin creams: these were irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis. While we may know what causes them and how they present themselves, it is still unclear how soon after application, skin conditions will develop. There is quite a difference between these two types of skin reactions: while allergic contact dermatitis will occur quickly after the application of a product, irritant contact dermatitis can take time to present itself, with reactions delaying for up to years after the first use of a product.

Why do these reactions happen in the first place? It is because people are so dependent on their beauty products. It may not be the case that these skin creams are harmful to you per se; it is the simple fact that long-term exposure to any skin cream can degrade the top surface of the skin, which makes skin reactions more likely to occur. A common culprit of this phenomenon is facial cleansers; they are capable of stripping the skin of natural moisturizing factors that protect the skin. Over time, the product may eventually cause damage to the top layer of skin wherever it is used, leaving the skin vulnerable to a reaction.

Using more natural products may help to avoid these reactions. Shutterstock.

Natural Products

While it may seem that natural products cannot cause harm to the skin, this is simply not true. They have as much potential to cause damage and rashes as their non-natural counterparts. Contact dermatitis can develop due to exposure from a multitude of natural ingredients, with the most significant problem coming from essential oils. Essential oils are used to provide fragrance to skin products and can become irritating to the skin if used in high concentrations.

Tea tree oil is the number one culprit when it comes to essential oils; the bad thing about this particular compound is that not much of it is needed to cause dermatitis. If you have particularly sensitive skin, it would be safe to stay away from peppermint essential oil, ylang-ylang essential oil, clove essential oil, cinnamon essential oil, and cassia essential oil. Another natural product that can cause skin irritation is lanolin, which is derived from sheep wool and can be found in body lotions and facial creams. So if you are reacting to your beauty products, remember that you cannot rule out natural products as the culprit.

Some creams may be the only solution to get rid of these rashes. Shutterstock.

Treatment for Skin Rashes

Rounding out the section on skin creams, I thought it would be appropriate to end on a good note: how you can treat your skin irritation once it’s started. Some good news here: most cases of contact dermatitis will go away on their own; this solution works only if you stop using the offending product. Minor irritation of the skin can safely be treated at home. If you have a severe case of contact dermatitis, it would be wise to seek medical attention.

Whichever method you must seek out, remember to treat the affected area gently — no scrubbing or washing with perfumed soaps or lotions. If the affected area has become dry, it is safe to place a layer of petroleum jelly or some other soothing cream such as Aquaphor on the irritated skin. While it may be hard to ignore the irritated skin, it is important to not scratch at it: you need to let the skin heal in its own time. There are creams available through a physician that can help reduce the itching sensation caused by your skin cream.

Getting an allergic breakout on the face isn’t the most pleasant. Shutterstock.

Makeup Allergy Facts

Here’s the makeup section with a few simple facts about the allergies most commonly produced by this particular product. Like we have discussed above, there are two major types of skin reactions that occur from using these types of compounds: irritations and allergies. When it comes to makeup, most often, users will experience irritations, not allergies to a product. It is a little different than skin creams, which are known to cause both types of dermatitis. As with skin creams, if you notice irritation to a particular brand, you should stop using that product immediately.

Another critical fact to remember: cosmetics are comprised of a complex configuration of chemicals, any of which could produce skin irritation after use. Something else to keep in mind: other skin conditions can mimic skin irritations due to makeup: these include seborrheic dermatitis, atopic dermatitis, and rosacea. These should be treated appropriately with the help of a physician. Once you have an allergic reaction to a particular chemical within your cosmetics, the result will persist and occur every time that compound comes in contact with your skin.

There are always risks; that’s why it pays to read the labels. Shutterstock.

Risk Factors for Cosmetic Irritations

Unwanted reactions to cosmetics are quite common, considering how often they are used. Only a physician will be able to determine the difference between an allergic reaction and a simple irritation. The actual number of cases per year of skin irritations or allergies caused by cosmetics is hard to determine: most individuals will simply stop using a product rather than go into a physician’s office for help.

Cosmetics, along with skin creams, have the potential to irritate skin directly, which is a more common type of reaction, or the immune system can become involved. If a response is going to occur, it will most likely happen the first time the product is used; an allergic reaction occurs after repeated exposure to the product, which then invokes an immune response. The most common risk factor for developing skin irritation to cosmetics is if an individual already deals with rosacea. Other people simply have sensitive skin without having an underlying problem.

If your skin starts to burn or itch, it’s best to make the switch. Shutterstock.

Skin Reaction Symptoms and Locations

Since the face is the most common area for cosmetics to be applied, this is the area that has the most skin irritations. The reaction that occurs is termed inflammatory dermatitis. Obviously, women are more likely to be affected than men because they are usually the ones to apply makeup to the face.

The rash that typically occurs after applying makeup that irritates your skin usually presents itself as a scaly, dry and itchy red zone termed eczematous dermatitis and generally stays confined to the area the cosmetic was applied. In some instances, individuals will break out in hives after using a product that does not agree with them. Hives can be either allergenic or non-allergenic; it can often be difficult to distinguish between the two. If stinging occurs right after application, it is most likely an irritant (non-allergenic). Still, if some sort of reaction takes place a few days or weeks after trying a new product, it is most likely an allergic reaction taking place. Less common responses to cosmetics include blackheads, folliculitis, and darkened skin.

Keep in mind that safer cosmetic brands may end up being more expensive. Shutterstock.

Safe Cosmetic Brands

Sadly, there is no governing body out there to test the safety of cosmetic products. Even the FDA has no legal authority to test cosmetic products before they are placed on the market. There are also no required test products that must pass before they are put on the shelves. The responsibility all falls back on the company producing cosmetics: they must ensure that all of their products are safe for consumption. The FDA only becomes involved after a company has falsely advertised its products as being safe when following the directions on the label.

The top eleven natural and organic cosmetic brands to try are as follows: 100% Pure, Juice Beauty, Alima Pure, W3LL PEOPLE, RMS Beauty, Au Naturale, ILIA, Kosas, Beautycounter, Vapour and P/Y/T Beauty. They range in not only their bestselling products but also their price range. Remember that, just as is the case with skin creams, natural products still have the potential to cause skin irritations and rashes. Always read labels before purchasing a new cosmetic.

Antihistamines can definitely do the trick to treat your symptoms. Shutterstock.

Treatment for Makeup Rashes

There are many different options when it comes to the treatment of reactions from makeup. First and foremost, you could try your hand at antihistamines: this drug, in particular, will help reduce redness, itching, and swelling that may occur. You could also try your hand at special moisturizers that not only help to hydrate skin but can also reduce the itching sensation as well.

Want a quick fix? Try applying a cold compress to the affected area; this will help decrease swelling and itchy sensations. If you are having a more complicated reaction to your cosmetics, you may have to get yourself a bottle of corticosteroids, which will help the sufferer breathe more relaxed and reduce inflammation. Mild corticosteroids can be found over the counter and do not require you to see a doctor. If you need oral steroids or a stronger form of cream, you will have to get a prescription from a physician. The type of treatment sought out depends on how you want to handle the situation and how adverse the reaction is to the product.

Contact urticaria may be one of the reactions you have to certain makeup products. Shutterstock.

Adverse Reactions to Cosmetics

While we have touched upon the common symptoms of a reaction due to makeup, other conditions may occur due to some ingredients found in cosmetics. One of the states, termed contact urticaria, manifests itself as a local burning, itching, and tingling sensation in the area in which cosmetics were applied. This response can happen minutes to about an hour after makeup has been put on. Swelling and redness may also be present. The rash itself will most likely dissipate about twenty-four hours after it starts.

Anaphylaxis is a more intense reaction to a specific cosmetic product. Anaphylaxis can cause difficulty in breathing, nausea, vomiting, acute urticaria, and angioedema. This type of response is rare and can often be fatal. Anaphylaxis has been reported as a reaction to an allergen in hair dye.

Photo contact dermatitis only occurs when sunlight interacts with certain ingredients found in cosmetics. Makeup also causes the same reactions as skin creams do: both allergic contact dermatitis and irritant contact dermatitis can occur due to certain parts found in cosmetic products. Always seek the attention of medical professionals if you are unsure of what is causing the problem.

These are salicylic crystals under the microscope. Shutterstock.

Learn About Acids

Now that we have adequately covered both the topics of skin creams and cosmetics, let us take up the rest of the article with particular compounds that are known to cause irritation and rashes that are found in both skin creams and cosmetics. Acids (we will name a few in particular) are used to help slough off skin cells from any area they are applied. Watch out for these acids: salicylic acid, which is used in acne creams and used to treat oily skin, topical retinoids, which normalize skin cell maturation and help promote collagen stimulation and glycolic acid, which is the active ingredient in most chemical peels. All three of these acids may cause skin irritation, dryness, redness, or burning from extended use.

It is still possible to use products that contain these acids, but caution is warranted. You may need to use fewer applications than instructions call for and work your way up to the recommended usage, or you may need to decrease application to every other day or every few days to keep skin irritation to a minimum. If you have a problem with glycolic acid peels, in particular, try switching to a Vitamin C or fruit enzyme peel. You could also switch to a non-chemical form of face exfoliator, such as a facial scrub.

Emollients can be too heavy for some people’s skin. Shutterstock.

What About Emollients?

These chemicals are designed to make your skin feel great. But they do not always have this effect. Many of these chemicals cause a person to break out, especially if you are already acne-prone. The list of emollients to avoid is lanolin, cocoa butter, isopropyl palmitate, Isostearyl Isostearate, and myristyl lactate.

The solution to this problem is easy: simply switch to a water-based, non-comedogenic moisturizer if you are prone to breakouts. These products will not only help your skin to retain water, but it will also not clog your pores.

Parabens are preservatives that aren’t great for the skin. Shutterstock.

Parabens Might be a Problem

The next dangerous chemical to be discussed is parabens. Parabens are a form of preservative, which we have touched on briefly. Parabens are present in lotions, soaps, and makeup. If a product has water in it, parabens are likely to be present: they hinder the growth of bacteria. While this is useful, parabens can also cause skin reactions to occur in specific individuals. Examples of this chemical include methylparaben, propylparaben, isopropyl paraben, and isobutyl paraben. If paraben can be found in the name, you should avoid that product altogether. It was determined that 90% of parabens are carcinogenic.

You may be wondering why exactly parabens can be so destructive. They are known endocrine disruptors; one of its primary mechanisms of action is to mimic estrogen, thereby disrupting hormone levels and can even lead to breast cancer. While this may sound far-fetched, several studies have proven it: one study, in particular, looked at tumors found in breast tissue and found an alarming amount of parabens, specifically methylparaben, in the samples taken. Another study found that 99% of all cancerous breast tumors contained at least one paraben.

You’ll find sodium lauryl sulfate in products that foam up, like soap. Shutterstock.

Watch Out for Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate

Both of these chemicals can be found in a range of products: skincare (such as face wash), cosmetics (such as foundation), shampoo, toothpaste, body wash, and mouthwash. These chemicals are what help these products to produce foam. They are both classified as surfactants and are known to cause skin irritation and cause allergic reactions. Sodium lauryl sulfate has also been linked with canker sores, disruption of the skin’s natural oil production, and eye damage. It has also been associated with an increase in acne around the chin and mouth.

The sulfation method produces compounds known as nitrosamines. This process can only occur under certain circumstances: there must be a nitrosating agent and an amine ingredient present for this process to occur. Cosmetics are formulated to eliminate and decrease the number of nitrosamines present; if they do occur, they often appear in deficient levels in any given product. Today, the FDA is responsible for regulating and keeping track of the level of nitrosamines in cosmetic products.

Clear beads of polyethylene are used in many products, but contain an ingredient that is carcinogenic. Shutterstock.


While there are many more chemicals we could discuss, the last one on our list today is polyethylene and PEGs. Polyethylene can be found in a myriad of products, including scrubs, body wash, makeup, and toothpaste. Do you know those small beads found in some of the best facial scrubs on the market? They contain polyethylene! These beads can be found in face scrubs, lip scrubs, and exfoliating washes. Why are they used if they are known to be harmful? They are gentler on the skin when compared to other natural exfoliators such as walnut shells.

What makes polyethylene so dangerous is the chemical called 1,4-dioxane, which has been classified in the United States as a human carcinogen. While it may not seem like much of a risk (we come into contact with carcinogens every day), the problem with 1,4-dioxane is that it is absorbed readily by the skin.

Another scary thing about this chemical is that it is often not listed on cosmetic labels! This notion is because the compound is produced after other agents have mixed within a particular cosmetic product. Switching back to polyethylene: this chemical is known as a skin irritant and is never recommended to be used on broken skin.