People should be wary of relying on labels of many skin-care products, warn dermatologists. "The language on the label is not always an accurate description of the product inside the bottle or its potential effects on your skin," said Dr. Rajani Katta of the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
"Manufacturers may use certain language for marketing purposes, and the same terms may mean different things on different products — and that makes it difficult to determine what they mean for our skin," Dr. Katta explained.
Since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States does not regulate descriptions on skin-care product labels terms such as ‘for sensitive skin’ or ‘hypoallergenic’ are no guarantee that a product will not irritate or cause an allergic reaction, she added.
Even products described as ‘all-natural’ are not necessarily good. "Remember, poison ivy is 'all-natural.' And even if a natural ingredient is good for your skin, some products may combine that ingredient with additives or preservatives that could be harmful," she warned.
In addition, products described as ‘fragrance-free’ may legally contain fragrance chemicals, as long as they are being used for a purpose other than scent. The term ‘unscented’ also does not indicate that a product is fragrance-free. It can describe products that use fragrance chemicals to mask other strong smells.
"Unfortunately, there is no labeling language that guarantees a product is hypoallergenic and suitable for sensitive skin," she said. Complicating matters, reactions to skin-care products may not be noticeable right away. Some people develop an allergy even after using a product for months or years.
To help prevent skin reactions, Dr. Katta offered these tips:
• Before using a new product, test a small amount on your forearm for a week to see if it triggers a reaction.
• Read and follow all product directions.
• Avoid new products while your skin is irritated or inflamed.