Allergy to cosmetics is the body’s response to the effects of a number of substances in cosmetics that behave like allergens.
Most often, an allergic response develops in the form of symptoms from the skin, red border of the lips, hair and nails. Often there are combined manifestations – for example, allergic dermatitis and rhinitis.

Diagnostic methods are the same as in the analysis of other types of allergies (allergic skin tests are the most informative). Treatment is symptomatic.

Table of contents: 1. General information 2. Reasons 3. Development of pathology 4. Symptoms of allergies to cosmetics 5. Diagnosis of allergies to cosmetics 6. Differential diagnostics 7. Complications 8. What to do with allergies to cosmetics: treatment 9. Prevention 10. Prognosis.

An allergic reaction to cosmetics is a manifestation of the sensitization (hypersensitivity) of the body to a number of components that are used in the production of shampoos, soaps, mascaras, lipsticks and other cosmetics.
The frequency of pathology has increased in the last 5-10 years – this is due to factors such as:

  • the use in cosmetics production of an increasing number of sensitizing (causing increased body sensitivity) components;
  • abuse of cheap and low-quality components for the manufacture of cosmetics.

Officially, it is believed that in 1% of the total population of the planet an allergic reaction to cosmetics was observed at least once in a lifetime. But clinicians say that in fact the incidence is higher, and almost one in ten people (which means 10% in equivalent) detected an allergy to cosmetics at least once in a lifetime. Moreover, not all patients seek help from doctors through the lack of expression and the transient nature of allergic manifestations. It is believed that in developed countries a person uses from 3 or more varieties of cosmetics every day (the minimum set is soap and toothpaste). This increases the risk of developing allergies in comparison with the same residents of African or Asian countries, who, for example, brush their teeth with a wooden stick and wash themselves with clean water, without using any products of the modern cosmetic industry. Mostly women in the age group of 20 to 30 years suffer – they more often than others use decorative cosmetics.

The second “surge” in allergic reactions is observed at the age of 45 years, when women use hard:

  • cosmetics to restore skin, hair, nails;
  • decorative cosmetics to hide age defects of the skin.

In all age categories, they suffer more often if such people:

  • have dry skin type;
  • its damage is observed – not only injuries visible to the naked eye, but also microdamage.

According to various statistics, from 50 to 150 thousand cases of an allergic reaction to cosmetics are identified annually in the United States.

Allergies can cause almost all types of cosmetic products.Most often it is:

  • perfumes;
  • deodorants;
  • shaving creams and foams;
  • lipsticks and shine; shadows;
  • mascara;
  • creams.

Less commonly, an allergic reaction occurs when using such cosmetics as shampoos, hair dyes, bath foams, toothpastes, sunscreens.

 In total, according to statistics, currently in the world for the manufacture of cosmetics using about 70 thousand components of organic (natural) and inorganic (synthetic) origin. As a result of various types of studies (including surveys), it turned out that all components can cause an allergic reaction.

Allergies can occur when applying the product not only to the skin or to the mucous membranes, but also to the nails and hair. What components of cosmetics most often cause allergies?
These are: natural oily and fatty components; emulsifiers; substances with preservative properties; perfumes; flavorings.

The allergen enters the body in the following ways:

  • by direct contact through the skin and mucous membranes (applying lipstick, mascara, cream, soapy water or cleansing milk in the eyes);
  • airborne – when drops of sprays and deodorants get into the respiratory tract and onto the skin.


In the case of the described pathology, the sensitivity of the body can manifest itself in the form of reactions:

  • allergic
  • non-immunological.

In the second case, hypersensitivity is manifested by banal dermatitis – an inflammatory lesion, but it should be distinguished from the true allergic manifestation.
In turn, allergic reactions are:

  • immediate type;
  • slow type. As a rule, an allergy to cosmetics develops in the form of a delayed type reaction.

There are two mechanisms:

  • an allergic reaction when an allergen enters the tissue;
  • an allergic reaction when a particle of a cosmetic agent gets in, which only after interaction with tissues turns into a full-fledged antigen.

When contacting with a cosmetic substance, the allergy does not appear immediately – first you need to increase the sensitivity of the cells of the immune system. Simplified, it looks like this: first, the lymphocytes perceive information about the presence of foreign agents in the tissues, and already upon repeated contact with them, they give a kind of “signal” to macrophages (cells-eaters) about the presence of an “enemy”. Those primary changes that occur during sensitization (namely, redness and thickening, swelling of tissues) are the result of infiltration (impregnation) of immune cells of tissues that have been attacked by allergens.

Pay attention. To start and realize the body’s response to the introduction of an allergen, the cells need 12 to 20 hours — it is after such a time period that the peak of the reaction to cosmetics is observed in the tissues.

Tissue and cellular features were highlighted in which an allergic reaction starts easier.

  • a certain structure of the surface layers of the skin – namely, the location of cells;
  • increased exudation (skin moisture);
  • rich capillary network;
  • tissue friability in a specific area – because of this, they are more quickly absorbed by immune cells, easier infiltration (thickening, swelling and some hardening) occurs.


An allergy to cosmetics is manifested by signs:

  • lesions of the skin;
  • disorders of the nasal cavity;
  • bronchial asthma.

Skin allergy symptoms of cosmetics are as follows:

  • itching
  • feeling of heat;
  • skin cracks;
  • maceration – wet erosion;
  • rash;
  • sensitivity to sunlight.

The rash can be polymorphic – as a rule, it is:

  • erythema – red spots;
  • peeling;
  • keratinization enhancement;
  • bubbles are mostly small.

Large bubbles form when cosmetics with pronounced alkaline or acidic properties get on the skin.

It is necessary to distinguish the reaction of the skin of an allergic and non-allergic nature.
In the first case, the following will occur:

  • more pronounced hyperemia;
  • more intense skin edema;
  • a large number of bubbles.

Even if the skin did not come in direct contact with the allergen, those areas that are adjacent to the affected can respond to it due to the massive “arrival” of lymphocytes and macrophages.
Sometimes the border between the foci directly affected by cosmetics and neighboring reacted areas is almost impossible to distinguish. Most often, the skin of the face and decollete is affected – in 75-80% of cases of allergies. In turn, the most severe reaction develops when an allergen enters the skin around the palpebral fissure (those areas that cover the eyelids) and behind the ears. The nails of the hands are most rarely affected.

If the tissues of the red border of the lips are irritated, then an allergic reaction can trigger cheilitis – an inflammatory lesion. Often, allergic manifestations go away, but inflammatory ones remain and progress with increased sensitivity of tissues. Such patterns should be remembered in order to adhere to competent treatment tactics: at some stage, a patient with lip irritation no longer needs desensitizing therapy, but requires only anti-inflammatory (usually local) treatment.
Hair consists of a biological substrate, therefore, they themselves respond to exposure to an allergen. But due to the increased amount of keratin, which cannot be infiltrated by lymphocytes and macrophages, a typical allergic reaction is not observed.

Symptoms from the upper respiratory tract are as follows:

  • discharge from the nose;
  • feeling of dryness in the nasal cavity;
  • itching – often intolerable, tormenting the patient;
  • burning;
  • foreign body sensation in the nasal cavity.

The clinical course of the type of bronchial asthma is most difficult. Even with the receipt of a negligible amount of allergen into the body, serious disorders such as:

  • shortness of breath – the difficulty of breathing. It may be expiratory (on exhalation) and inspiratory (on exhalation), but in case of allergy to cosmetics, it is usually mixed;
  • suffocation – a feeling of lack of air;
  • cough. At first it is dry, then due to the fact that under the influence of antigen-antibody complexes, exudation (fluid sweating) occurs, a certain amount of liquid is released, which leaves the respiratory tract in the form of sputum;
  • streaks of blood in the sputum. With an allergic reaction, vascular permeability increases, blood elements penetrate through them and exit together with the liquid. But bloody traces are more likely to be detected due to the fact that the patient, trying to cough, strains, thinned walls of blood vessels are damaged, traces of blood appear in the sputum.


A diagnosis of allergies to cosmetics is not difficult to make. It is more difficult to determine which component provoked an increased sensitivity of the body. In general, the patient’s complaints, details of the medical history (history) of the disease, and the results of additional research methods play a role in the diagnosis of allergies to cosmetics.

From the anamnesis should clarify the following:

  • what cosmetic product the patient had contact with;
  • how it happened – directly on contact with the skin, or by inhalation;
  • whether funds were taken to reduce the effects of sensitization.

A physical examination determines this:

  • upon examination, the patient’s skin at the point of contact with the allergen is bright red, covered with small blisters, peeling may be observed in a later period. Often, skin lesions are detected in the form of characteristic foci – the skin of the victim is covered with large spots with irregular shapes that can merge with each other. In some cases, a urticar type reaction is determined – multiple blisters against a background of redness that merge together (the picture resembles the condition of the skin after exposure to nettle)
  • palpation (palpation) – there is an increase in the local temperature of the skin. With damage to the mucous membranes, there is no such sign.

From instrumental research methods informative are:

  • study of the skin with a magnifier;
  • their examination using a Wood lamp is a research method using ultraviolet radiation, which allows you to identify and evaluate the border between the affected and unchanged areas of the skin;
  • skin biopsy – carry out the sampling of its tissues with subsequent examination under a microscope. It is performed in complex cases requiring differential diagnosis of allergies to cosmetics with other dermatological disorders.

In some cases, it is necessary to involve other instrumental methods of research in order to conduct differential diagnosis – in particular, with a clinical picture developing according to the type of bronchial asthma. This is important because asthma itself also has an allergic component. To identify bronchial lesions are carried out:

  • X-ray examination of the lungs – with bronchial asthma, increased airiness of the lung tissue may be noted, which is not observed with a transient allergic reaction to cosmetics;
  • spirometry – the definition of volumetric indicators of external respiration, carried out using a spirometer, in which the patient blows. With the bronchial type of allergic reaction to cosmetics, minor changes can be determined, but they are transient – in contrast to the same changes with true bronchial asthma;
  • bronchoscopy – study of the condition of the bronchi from the inside using a bronchoscope (endoscopic device with mounted optics and illumination). Their changes may be observed at the peak of an allergic reaction, but they are transient.

From laboratory methods of diagnostics are involved:

  • general blood test – since reactive inflammation occurs, its nonspecific signs are observed in the form of an increased number of leukocytes (leukocytosis) and ESR. But such inflammation from true can be distinguished by a simple method – blood counts practically do not change after emergency therapy, a decrease in the level of leukocytes and ESR is observed slowly. Also, a large number of eosinophils and lymphocytes are noted in the blood;
  • bacterioscopic examination – it is necessary for differential diagnosis of allergies to cosmetics with an infectious lesion. Under the microscope, a smear imprint of the mucous membranes is studied, the pathogen is identified and identified in it;
  • bacteriological research – is carried out for the same purpose. A smear culture is done on special nutrient media on which colonies should appear after some time, according to their characteristics, an infectious agent is determined. It should be borne in mind that representatives of microflora can be sown, which normally populate human integument, therefore, the presence of colonies does not yet indicate an infectious lesion;
  • histological examination – the tissue structure of the biopsy is examined under a microscope. In this case, pronounced tissue infiltration, characteristic of an allergic reaction, is determined;
  • cytological examination – the cell structure of the biopsy is examined under a microscope. A large number of immune cells are found in the preparation;
  • allergic tests – cutaneous intradermal, subcutaneous. At the same time, a certain amount of allergen is applied / introduced, it waits 30 minutes, the results of the presence of redness, the appearance of papules, and vesicles are evaluated. Re-assessment of the condition of the skin at the site of application of the allergen is carried out after 3, 4 and 5 days. The study is carried out between allergic manifestations.


Differential (distinctive) diagnostics of allergies to cosmetics is carried out with such diseases and pathological conditions as:

  • allergic dermatitis under the influence of other allergens – inflammatory damage to the skin of an allergic origin;
  • neurodermatitis – a skin lesion that occurs against a background of damage to nerve endings;
  • urticaria of a different origin – an allergic reaction to skin irritation by other allergens;
  • bronchial asthma – a chronic recurrent inflammatory-allergic lesion of the bronchi, which is manifested by their narrowing, attacks of shortness of breath and suffocation;
  • chronic obstructive bronchitis – an inflammatory lesion of the mucous membrane of the bronchi, against which there may be signs of impaired external respiration (shortness of breath);
  • rhinitis – an inflammatory lesion of the mucous membrane lining the inside of the nasal cavity;
  • sinusitis – an inflammatory process in the mucosa of the maxillary sinus.


Complications of allergies to cosmetics are:

  • disturbances in external respiration by the type of shortness of breath and suffocation;
  • infectious skin lesions on the background of scratching.

In the latter case, the severity of complications depends on the extent of microdamage (sometimes the patient combs a rather large surface of the skin) and the presence of an infectious agent at that time.

Complications may be:

  • pyoderma – superficial pustular skin lesions;
  • abscess – limited purulent lesion;
  • phlegmon is a secondary complication that occurs against the background of an abscess and manifests itself in the form of a diffuse purulent lesion.


Cosmetic allergy treatment is conservative: general and local.
The first rule of treatment for allergic conditions is the most rapid termination of the patient’s contact with the agent that caused the reaction, and the removal of its residues from the skin, mucous membranes, nails, hairline. It is more difficult to remove the allergen from the mucous membranes of the bronchi, to which it got during inspiration (inhalation of the vapor of a cosmetic product).

As a general treatment are used:

  • desensitizing (antihistamines) agents;
  • glucocorticosteroid drugs. They are used for the ineffectiveness or low effectiveness of desensitizing agents, the treatment of allergic symptoms, and the manifestation of complications (shortness of breath, suffocation).

Local treatment is carried out as symptomatic – to reduce the manifestations of allergies and ease the suffering of the patient. It:

  • compresses;
  • lotions of herbal decoctions;
  • ointments made on the basis of glucocorticosteroids.


Measures for the prevention of allergies to cosmetics are:

  • careful selection of cosmetics;
  • Avoiding the purchase of cheap cosmetics – as a rule, in its production using untested ingredients, which can turn out to be powerful allergens;
  • medical examination at the slightest sign of skin irritation. It should be recalled that the initial reaction to cosmetics can be unexpressed, since the body only recognizes the allergen and is determined with measures of “safety”. But repeated contact can cause a violent allergic reaction – if it passes on the type of bronchial asthma, then this may be fraught for the patient with a prolonged attack of suffocation;
  • avoidance of contact with other allergens – it is able to increase the general sensitization (sensitivity) of the body, due to which the allergic reaction will be more pronounced.


The prognosis for allergies to cosmetics is generally favorable. But in some cases, there is a pronounced reaction of the body with the need to hospitalize the patient in the clinic (with the development of a reaction of the type of bronchial asthma – in the intensive care unit).
Timely detection of pathology and competent medical actions will help stop this pathological condition. But it should be remembered that treatment as such does not exist – an allergy to cosmetics can occur in a person many times throughout his life.