That moisturizer your friends swear by? Left your face red and scaly. The cleaner you've been using for years to make your bathroom sparkle? Made your hands itch and burn. For some people, the chemicals in shampoos, cosmetics, and detergents can trigger allergic skin reactions.
If you find yourself developing a killer headache when riding an elevator with someone who was a bit generous dabbing on the perfume, you have company. More than 2 million Americans have fragrance allergies or sensitivities -- and the number is on the rise.
Although that person's perfume may have been all too obvious a culprit, there are many hidden sources of fragrances, says Clifford W. Bassett, MD, medical director of Allergy & Asthma Care of New York. Bassett helped WebMD sniff out the truth...
Allergic skin reactions – what your doctor calls allergic contact dermatitis -- happen when your immune system overreacts to chemicals that are normally harmless. These chemicals can be in products that you are exposed to over and over, like cleaners, colognes, hair dyes, and personal care items.
Even if you've used these products before, you can still have a reaction.
Cosmetics and personal care products have a lot of potential allergens, things you could be allergic to:
Fragrances in soaps, colognes, deodorants, body creams, cosmetics, detergents, and tissues
Preservatives and antibacterials, added to many liquids to keep them from becoming rancid or contaminated
Substances added to thicken, color, or lubricate a product
Chemicals in permanent hair dyes and other hair products
Formaldehyde resin, an ingredient in many nail care products
Sunscreens, often found in cosmetic moisturizers, lip balms, and foundations
Symptoms of Chemical Allergies
Your skin is one of the first places where allergy symptoms can show up. They often appear 24 to 48 hours later, but can start as late as a week after exposure. Each person may have different chemical allergy symptoms. Some of the most common are:
The worst of the reaction tends to be where you touched the thing you're allergic to. If you get the allergen on your finger and then touch another part of your body, like your face or neck, you can set off an allergic reaction there.
Because the symptoms of allergic contact dermatitis can be similar to other conditions, you should see a doctor if you have any of these symptoms.
Diagnosing Chemical Allergies
Often your doctor may be able to diagnose your allergy by doing a physical exam and asking you about your symptoms.