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    Chemical Allergies: Shampoo, Cleaners, and More

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    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.

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    These reactions -- what your doctor calls allergic contact dermatitis -- happen when your immune system overreacts to chemicals that are normally harmless. They can be in products you're exposed to over and over, like cleaners, colognes, hair dyes, and personal care items.

    Even if you've used them 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 spoiling
    • 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


    Your skin is one of the first places where the warning signs can show up. They often appear 24 to 48 hours later, but can start as late as a week after you come in contact with the irritating chemical.

    Each person may have different chemical allergy symptoms. Some of the most common are:

    • Red skin
    • Scaly patches
    • Blisters that ooze
    • Burning or itching, which may be intense
    • Swelling of the eyes, face, and genital area
    • Hives
    • Sun sensitivity
    • Darkened, "leathery," and cracked skin

    The symptoms tend to be worst 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.

    Other conditions can cause similar symptoms, so see your doctor to find out what the problem is.


    Often your doctor may be able to diagnose your allergy by doing a physical exam and asking you about your symptoms.

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