Allergic reactions: What are they?
It is difficult to determine whether the general increase in allergy reports is due to increased awareness or to an increase in incidence overall since allergies are a highly complex immune systemic issue. A particularly confusing thing is that sometimes the immune system can mount an allergic reaction after years of repeated exposure to an ingredient. The result may be an ingredient being overlooked as a cause of the allergic reaction.
There are a number of ingredients in hair and skin care that can cause allergies or irritations. There are also some reactions that are reported by users to seemingly harmless ingredients that are generally recognized as safe and effective.
Sensitization: What is it?
It is referred to as sensitization when an allergic reaction occurs after repeated exposure to a potential allergen. First exposure to an unknown substance usually leads to the body not knowing what to do with it and basically just observing it. After subsequent exposures, it appears to recognize the substance, and if it considers it dangerous, it mounts an attack leading to a full-blown allergic reaction.
There are some instances in which sensitization occurs after a single small exposure, but it is more likely to occur after a single high dose or large surface area exposure or even after repeated exposures. This is why it is recommended to do a patch test every single time you intend to use a hair dye or relaxer.
Common symptoms of sensitization is a rash, scaly skin conditions, contact or atopic dermatitis, inflammation or even eczema.
So with all that said, here are the 4 most common ingredients that cause allergies.
It is well known that fragrances can trigger allergic reactions in many people. This unfortunately also includes naturally derived fragrances like those from essential oils*.
In most cases, the manufacturers of hair products do not disclose what is in their proprietary formula that is used in creating the scent. They will usually be labeled as “parfum” in the list of ingredients.
Therefore, it becomes difficult to avoid a particular compound you may be allergic to. Because of this those with sensitive skin may try to use only fragrance-free products which are often very difficult to find. Scents are often added to most products in order to mask any unpleasant odors from the other ingredients.
Oils may seem harmless, but they too can cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. These can include coconut*, jojoba, or castor oil* but can also include animal-derived oils like lanolin. Mineral oil* can also cause sensitization in a small percentage of the population.
In hair care products, preservatives are probably the most common cause of allergic reactions. These include compounds like diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, or formaldehyde donor antimicrobials, although this is not an exhaustive list.
A lot of unexplained eczemas can often be explained by sensitivity to preservatives in hair and beauty products. You should work with a dermatologist to determine the best process to eliminate common sensitizers and allergens and to get suggestions for alternative products to use.
4. Ingredients from food allergens
Ingredients derived from food allergens are also likely to cause allergic reactions in people with extremely severe food allergies. People with wheat/gluten, nut, and corn allergies seem to be most affected by this.
Ingredients you are likely to find in hair products that may be obvious allergens are wheat germ oil*, wheat proteins, hydrolyzed wheat proteins, wheat amino acids or even nut oils. These are very easy to spot and avoid.
Where it becomes difficult is in ingredients like propylene glycol and ethylene glycol that may be corn-derived. Vitamin E* and A can be derived from wheat, while the vitamin C* can be derived from corn. The source of any ingredient is not required to be stated on product labels making truly allergen-free products difficult to find.
Again, if you have very sensitive skin you may find it necessary to work with a dermatologist to help you avoid common allergens and ingredients.