Your Hypoallergenic Lotion Isn’t Hypoallergenic, and Your Fragrance-Free Lotion Has Fragrance in It

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Hypoallergenic. Fragrance-free. These claims often adorn the packages of our favorite moisturizers, promising clear, smooth skin unblemished by pesky chemicals and sultry but questionable French aromas of lavender extraction.

What if it was all a lie? What if hypoallergenic and fragrance-free really meant “meh, we’ll just say anything to make a buck?”

What if our lotion labels were lying to us?

After constant queries from patients about which product was best to use, Dr. Steve Xu, a dermatologist at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine decided to test them. As he explained to NPR, “I found myself really struggling to provide evidence-based recommendations for my patients.”

The inconsistencies between what the products’ labels promised and their contents was quite steep — 45 percent of the products that claimed to be fragrance-free were anything but, and an even greater percentage of hypoallergenic products contained potential allergens. That’s right, 83 percent of the “hypoallergenic” moisturizers were anything but what their fancy packaging claimed.

Moisturizers are considered cosmetics, so the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t really regulate them. Yes, there are labeling requirements, but they’re few and far between, and fairly easily avoided.

Just ask the people who actually have sensitive skin, or a skin condition like eczema. Their conditions can be aggravated by allergens and fragrances, and using an incorrectly labeled product can lead to severe consequences, including hives, blemishes, and cracked skin.

For people with conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and allergies, moisturizers can provide a lot of relief. Wrongly labeled packaging, however, can send all that sideways. According to Matthew J. Zirwas, and Sarah A. Stechschulte, authors of a study published in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, “Irritation, sweat retention, allergic contact dermatitis (ACD), [and] contact urticaria [aka hives]…” can result from allergens in moisturizers.

Use single-ingredient products like cocoa butter, shea butter, aloe vera, and petroleum jelly. At least, of course, until Congress finally gets to regulating moisturizer labels for real. Better safe than sorry, aye?