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

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… Trista - January 23, 2020
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 of 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. 

Photocontact 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 breakout, especially if you are already acne-prone. The list of emollients to avoid is lanolin, cocoa butter, isopropyl palmitate, isostearyl isosterate, and myristyl lactate.

The solution to this problem is easy: simply switch to a water-based, non-comedogenic moisturizer if you are prone to break-outs. 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, isopropylparaben, and isobutylparaben. 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 that are used in many products, but contains 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.