It’s National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month, and while you’re taking care of your pollen woes with some medicine, we’d like to focus on so-called hypoallergenic cosmetic products. Manufacturers such as Clinique and Almay say that their lines are hypoallergenic , meaning they produce fewer allergic reactions than others, but there are no FDA standards that limit this definition. In other words, it means whatever the company wants it to mean.

To be fair, some of these brands do quantify their degree of “hypoallergenic”-ness. Clinique says that its products are not JUST formulated without known allergens, but they are also allergy tested for unknown ones. This means their products are specifically tested twelve times on 600 different people and if one incites a reaction, the product is reformulated. But somehow that didn’t stop the brand from including sodium cocoyl sarconisate in its Liquid Facial Soap, a contact allergen restricted in Japan.

Physician’s Formula says it undergoes stringent testing and quality control, formulating products without over 100 known irritating ingredients still used in the market today. But as Sarah found, the company’s Baked Sands Eyeshadow still did contain the irritant bismuth oxychloride. And while Copley found that SkinMD’s hypoallergenic formula for its Natural Shielding Lotion steered clear of risky chemicals, artificial fragrances and parabens, it did use phenoxyethanol,which the European Union classifies as an irritant.

On the other side of the spectrum, products specifically geared for people with sensitive skin like Free and Clear Shampoo may not be the most effective at their primary function either. Shyema found that while the product got positive reviews from consumers, it simply used common sudsing ingredients, and nothing much else of substance.

Some companies are trying to adjust their formulas. A new scar fading product called InviCible Scars avoids Vitamin E in it’s hypoallergenic formula, which they say causes an allergic reaction (contact dermatitis) in up to 33% of users. What is in it then? A scar treatment complex of aloe vera, linoleic and oleic acids, licorice, dual complex vitamin C, and dimethicone silicone gel. While the dimethicone silicone gel could be an allergen, there are several studies that show silicones have no adverse reaction.

The key is knowing just what you are allergic to. Some people may not find themselves reacting to any of these irritants, but if you’re plagued with sensitive allergy-prone skin, here are a few others it’d be best to avoid:

  • DMDM Hydantoin: It can cause irritation or an allergic reaction on sensitive skin.

  • Oxybenzone: Allergen that could lead to contact eczema

  • Triclosan: Studies link it to increased dermal sensitization

  • Fragrances: Among the top five allergens

  • Dyes: Allergic reaction and also linked to cancer

  • Triethanolamine: Can cause burning and itching, especially in higher concentrations

  • Benzyl & Isopropyl Alcohol: Causes skin irritation and dryness

  • Methylisothiazolinone: A preservative that is a skin sensitizer and has neurotoxicity concerns