Allergic Contact Dermatitis


Allergic contact dermatitis (ACD) is an escalating public health concern that affects people in all walks of life – young, old, all races, and both genders. It is an acquired immune reaction that develops with repeated exposure to allergenic ingredients found in cosmetics.
Anyone can develop ACD from skin care products, even if they have had no prior allergic reactions or history of sensitive skin. The more exposure you have to certain high-risk ingredients, the more likely you are to develop ACD. The best way to avoid ACD is to use hypoallergenic, or minimally allergenic products, whenever possible.

Facts
  • ACD is an acquired, allergen-specific, immune reaction that develops with repeated exposure to certain high-risk ingredients in cosmetics, the so-called sensitization phase.
  • The disease phase is characterized by recurrent, intensely itchy, inflamed, red rashes in response to exposure to even minimal amounts of the allergen. This phase  is without alterable factors aside from strict allergen avoidance.
  • Common medically recognized skin allergens include fragrance, formaldehyde, and preservatives, among others.
  • Currently, the definition of ‘hypoallergenic’ varies by skin care company and is not overseen by the FDA.
  • The Skin Trust Society offers the first industry-wide, dermatologist developed definition for the term ‘hypoallergenic.’ Per our definition, hypoallergenic means that the skin care product is fragrance-free, formaldehyde-free, methylchloroisothiazolinone-free and has two or fewer medically recognized skin allergens.

Allergic Contact Dermatitis FAQs

Is allergic contact dermatitis the same as anaphylaxis?

Absolutely not! Allergic contact dermatitis is typically limited to the skin. Anaphylaxis, however, is a severe, potentially-life threatening,  whole-body allergic reaction characterized by hives, throat tightness, swelling of the eyes, face, lips or tongue, or difficulty breathing. For example, peanuts and shellfish may cause anaphylaxis in people who are allergic to these foods. Anaphylaxis requires immediate medical attention. Our evaluation process only determines the risk of allergic contact dermatitis, NOT the risk of anaphylaxis.

How do you avoid developing ACD?

The more exposure you have to certain high-risk ingredients, the more likely you are to develop ACD. So, the best way to avoid ACD is to use hypoallergenic, or minimally allergenic products, whenever possible.

Who is at risk for allergic contact dermatitis?

Anyone can develop allergic contact dermatitis, even if they have had no prior allergic reactions or history of sensitive skin. The more exposure you have to certain high-risk ingredients, the more likely you are to develop ACD. The best way to avoid ACD is to use hypoallergenic, or minimally allergenic products, whenever possible.

What is the T.R.U.E Test®?

The T.R.U.E Test® is an FDA approved diagnostic tool that may be used by your dermatologist to determine whether you have developed a skin allergy to  cosmetic ingredients. It consists of a panel of the most common skin allergens which are applied directly on your back and then removed on the 3rd day. The skin is checked by your dermatologist on the 5th day to look for the development of an allergic skin reaction. While the T.R.U.E Test is a good starting point, several studies have shown that it may fail to diagnose up to 1/3 of cases of allergic contact dermatitis.

What is allergic contact dermatitis?

ACD is an acquired, allergen-specific, Type IV, immune reaction that develops with repeated exposure to certain high-risk ingredients in cosmetics, the so-called sensitization phase. The disease phase is characterized by recurrent, intensely itchy, inflamed, red rashes in response to exposure to even minimal amounts of the allergen. The disease phase is without alterable factors and only improves with strict allergen avoidance, which can be very challenging.

Example: Poison ivy causes an allergic skin reaction which is characterized by an intensely itchy red rash, blisters, and swelling. The only way to prevent this allergic skin reaction is to avoid poison ivy completely. Avoiding plant allergens is often much easier to do than avoiding certain skin care ingredients, which are found in numerous products.

What are some common skin allergens?

There are several, medically recognized, high-risk skin allergens including nickel, topical antibiotics (neomycin, bacitracin), and other skin care ingredients such as fragrance, formaldehyde, and methylchloroisothiazolinone, among others.

Does “hypoallergenic” mean there is no chance of an allergic reaction?

No product is completely allergen-free. Currently, there is no universal definition for the term hypoallergenic.  Its definition varies by skin care company and is not overseen by the FDA. The Skin Trust Society offers the first industry-wide, dermatologist developed definition for the term hypoallergenic. Per our definition, hypoallergenic means that a skin care product has the least number of high-risk skin allergens is less likely to cause an allergic skin reaction. Our database of dermatologist approved products is not patient-specific and you should consult with your physician for guidance if you have known skin allergies to specific ingredients.

Does “hypoallergenic” mean these products are “organic”?

No. While some products that are certified hypoallergenic by the Skin Trust Society may also have been certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), there is not necessarily an overlap between these two categories. The Skin Trust Society is committed to producing a database of the least-allergenic skin care products, which may include both conventional and organic products.