Eczema: Are These Common Ingredients Triggering Your Flares?
Kristina Brooks | Oct 16, 2017
Reviewed by Michael Lehrer, MD on Dec 10, 2017
Dealing with eczema means remaining on high alert to ingredients that can trigger your next flare: some may be lurking in products already on your bathroom counter, at your favorite nail shop, or hanging in your closet. From alcohols to fragrances, here’s a look at what to keep, what to avoid, and how each can affect your sensitive skin.
Your skin will talk, but you have to listen
When you live with a sensitive skin condition, smaller flares and irritating rashes can be your body’s way of telling you, ‘hands off!’ Eczema blogger and patient advocate Ashley Wall learned what works for her skin through trial and error, and suggests looking for labels with phrases that include ‘for sensitive skin,’ ‘for dry, cracked skin,’ or ‘healing ointment.’ If her skin is bad, Wall says, “I don’t do anything. I let it breathe.”
Don’t make broad assumptions: know your triggers
Dr. Cheryl Lee Eberting, a dermatologist and former researcher at the National Institutes of Health, suggests you avoid typical irritants such as fragrances, preservatives, dyes and exfoliating agents. She also cautions that products marketed as natural or organic are not necessarily better for people living with eczema. When in doubt, reach for hypoallergenic lines. Don’t know your triggers? Consider getting tested by a dermatologist.
Get familiar with the terms
Awareness of key ingredients that often trigger or soothe eczema is a helpful and powerful tool when you shop for skin care products. Aside from the Top 10 Ingredients to Avoid, the following ingredients are ones to watch closely.
Keep It: Skin Barrier Liquids
Ceramides and cholesteryl esters (a mixture of fatty acids and cholesterol lipids) function as skin soothing agents and were rated by Paula’s Choice Skincare, a popular line for people living with various skin conditions, as some of the best kinds of emollients.
Keep It: Skin-Friendly Acids
Acid sounds like something that you’d never want to put on sensitive skin. However, polyhydroxy acids such as gluconolactone, and lactobionic acid both have water-binding power similar to alpha hydroxy acids, but won’t penetrate the skin as deeply. This helps reduce the ‘sensitizing’ side effects without sacrificing benefits to skin. In some cases, these acids may promote stronger skin over time.
Keep It: Niacinamide
Also known as vitamin B3 and nicotinic acid, niacinamide has been shown to be effective for soothing eczema, acne, and rosacea and also can help repair and restore skin that’s been damaged by over-exposure to the sun. It offers multiple benefits for aging skin and is a natural anti-inflammatory.
Keep It: 18-B glycyrrhetinic acid
This component of licorice root is a derivative of glycyrrhizin, another anti-inflammatory molecule. Licorice cream (also called glycyrrhetinic cream) is skin soothing and offers antioxidant benefits. This can also play a role in working to balance out uneven skin tone.
Toss It: Disperse dyes
Specifically, blue 106 and 124 are known to cause contact allergies and found commonly in polyester fabrics. This coloring appears in fabrics that are dark blue, brown, black, purple and some greens, and can appear in materials from nylon stockings to swimsuits to bedding. Disperse yellow 3 is found in plastics, hosiery, clothes and even carpets, as it is mostly a textile dye found in terylene (made from polyester).
Toss It: Certain vitamins and medicines
Used at one point as invisible ink and in the manufacturing of vitamin B12, cobalt chloride is a strong skin sensitizer making it a high-risk item for allergic reactions in patch tests. Reactions can include face flushing and rashes. Potassium dichromate is a corrosive oxidizing agent used in science labs, on glassware, screen printing, and as an antiseptic. Nickel sulfate can be found in jewelry, vitamins and most metals. Bacitracin another allergen, is commonly found in triple antibiotic creams.
Toss It: Phenylenediamine
On the ingredient watch list for ingredient-conscious line Annmarie Skin Care is phenylenediamine, a hair dye allergen that can often irritate the skin. It is reported to cause ‘reactions on the scalp, ears or neck’ during use, and studies have noted it as the ‘third most common ingredient, after fragrances and preservatives, that can cause contact dermatitis from cosmetics.’
Watch Out: Naturals
Propolis, a mixture of bee wax and saliva, protects the hive and can be anti-inflammatory and benefit the immune system. Many have found propolis extract ideal for soothing and protecting flares. The compositae (daisy) plant family, which includes bisabolol and chamomile can help with dry skin, but is also known to cause allergies.
Watch Out: Naturals (cont.)
Colophony, a sap-like substance from pine and spruce trees, can be found in cosmetics, ink and lacquers. While it sounds protective, it’s a skin sensitizer, which can cause flares. Allergic reactions were also noted in hair wax that contained colophony, but most were minor.
Watch Out: Preservatives
Chemicals such as glutaraldehyde (used as an equipment disinfectant, tanning agent, and cosmetic preserver) can be reactive on the skin and in the body, causing irritation in the nose, lungs, burning of the eyes and allergic reactions of the skin. Thimerosal (vaccines, preventing microbial growth) has been deemed safe for use in small doses, but can cause redness and swelling at injection sites and in some cases, can be an allergy.
Watch Out: Carba Mix
Carba mix, a known allergen, can be found in many common rubber items such as condoms, goggles, gloves, masks, hoses, rubber bands, bottle nipples, shoes and diaphragms.