We have published pieces in the past warning consumers about the unregulated use of the term “natural” on packaging by manufacturers of food and personal care products. We have published similar warnings about the plethora of ingredients in so-called “natural” skincare products that have led to an increase in consumer allergic reactions. Now, a team of dermatologists have examined the ingredient lists of 1,651 products on the U.S. market, including lotions, soaps and moisturizers, and revealed that the vast majority of skincare products labeled “natural” contain ingredients that can cause allergic reactions. More specifically, nearly 90 percent of the personal skin care products studied contained at least one of the top 100 most common allergens known to cause contact dermatitis*.
Researchers examined product ingredient lists from the websites of three US retailers and checked them against the American Contact Dermatitis Society online database that lists common ingredients consumers with contact dermatitis should avoid. On average, the researchers found that skincare products contained between four and five known allergens. In total, 73 different allergens were listed 7,487 times across the 1,651 products studied.
Which ingredients in products labeled “natural” can be a problem?
According to the dermatologists conducting the study, many of the allergens identified were fragrances (including lavender) and other botanical extracts, which have become a leading cause of contact dermatitis. According to researchers, creating a product with three, four or more botanical additives means a final formula contains more than 200 different chemicals!
Unfortunately, due to a lack of regulation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), consumers wishing to avoid unwanted synthetic and industrialized ingredients in their skincare products are left trying to navigate the maze of marketing gimmicks, with manufacturers using terms like ‘hypoallergenic’ and ‘dermatologist tested’ (concocted by the industry to give an allure of medical credibility) and ‘natural’ **. The best solution is to ignore marketing terms like “natural” and focus on the ingredients lists, choosing the product that has the least amount of ingredients–including botanicals.
*Contact dermatitis is caused by exposure to substances that either irritate or inflame the skin. It is the fifth most prevalent skin disease in the U.S. The symptoms include red, itchy rash that can blister (an allergic reaction). Rates of contact dermatitis are on the rise worldwide, up almost three-fold in three decades since 1996. Researchers say that a lack of regulation of the marketing tactics of the rapidly growing skincare and beauty industry worth billions is responsible.
**The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not defined ‘clean’ or ‘natural’, allowing manufacturers and sellers to freely advertise using these terms that imply safety and health benefits.
Journal reference: Peter A. Young, Haiwen Gui & Gordon H. Bae, MD, Prevalence of Contact Allergens in Natural Skin Care Products From US Commercial Retailers, JAMA Dermatology, September 2022;158(11):1323-1325. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2022.3180