Do you have skin allergies or just sensitive skin?

Hypoallergenic skincare, explained.

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Curology Team
Nov 20, 2020 · 4 min read

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We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.
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Allergies are complicated. Truth be told? You can be allergic to anything — including hypoallergenic things. While navigating skincare for sensitive skin is never easy, having a specific skin allergy can make it even more difficult. Read on if you think you may have a skin sensitivity.

So what does hypoallergenic mean, anyway?

So what should you make of a skincare product labelled hypoallergenic? Many dermatologists consider “hypoallergenic” to be a marketing buzzword, and the FDA doesn’t regulate the term. Most of the time, it means a product was designed to be less likely to cause allergic reactions. Maybe it’s free of more common potential allergens like added fragrance, or certain preservatives.

That said, hypoallergenic skincare is a good starting point for sensitive skin. Read your product label for seals of approval from independent organizations you trust such as the National Eczema Association. If you’re concerned about allergic reactions, you may want to patch test new skincare products — more on this in a second!

Do you have sensitive or allergy-prone skin?

Sensitive skin isn’t a one-size-fits-all phenomenon. If anything, it’s a spectrum. It can be an inherited tendency, a reaction to your environment, or both. And sensitive skin manifests in many ways:

  • Dry skin. Dry, delicate skin that is easily damaged or irritated.

  • Tight tingling. A tingling or tightening sensation may be a sign of sensitivity.

  • Triggered by climate. A reduced tolerance to cold, heat, wind, or temperature changes can manifest in the skin.

Allergy-prone skin is a little more specific. Allergy-prone skin has specific triggers that can cause allergic skin reactions. The biggest tell of an allergic reaction is a red, itchy rash (more officially called “contact dermatitis”).

It doesn’t matter how well-researched or highly regarded an ingredient might be. If it triggers a reaction, then it won’t do your skin any favors. Here’s an example: aloe has well-researched skin benefits, making it popular among people with sensitive skin. But for people with aloe allergies, touching aloe to their skin sends a signal to their body to produce an immune response, and boom! An allergic reaction begins.

Head’s up: if you experience lip or mouth swelling or have trouble breathing, it’s important to see an in-person medical provider without delay. If your reaction doesn’t improve as expected or gets worse, you may need to see an in-person dermatologist for a specific diagnosis and treatment.

How to patch test skincare at home

Technically, a patch test is something a dermatologist does in-office (or you do at home, while under the supervision of a dermatologist). It might go without saying, but just in case: if you have more serious allergies, ask your dermatologist for an in-office patch test. Now: what we’re talking about here is a way to vet a new skincare product from the comfort of your home, which is a little different, and of course, will not be as accurate as one performed in-office. But it’s a good first step. Here’s how to do it:

Step 1: Test on your arm.

Apply to your inner arm using your product’s directions, up to twice daily. Repeat this step for up to two weeks, and look out for a reaction. Just make sure you’re applying the product to the same spot on your arm each time!

Step 2: Test on your face.

If there’s no itching, redness or flaking, repeat step 1 by applying a small amount of product on your face, following the directions for the product as far as frequency of application and time of day.

Step 3: Go slow.

At this point, if there’s still no reaction, you can start using the product — with a caveat. Apply on just one part of your face, and consider using the product just a few times a week at first.

Remember: allergies may develop after repeated exposure. So even if your previous patch tests were fine, there’s still a chance you might have a reaction.

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Take the guesswork out of skincare

If you’re struggling with skin allergies, we feel you. But give yourself props! If you’ve read this far, that means you’re taking steps to educate yourself, and knowledge is power.

We don’t diagnose or treat skin allergies at Curology — we recommend seeing an in-person dermatologist for that — but if you need help getting common skin concerns like acne, hyperpigmentation, or texture under control, then let Curology do the busywork for you. Curology members are paired with an in-house medical provider. They’ll prescribe you a custom cream with a mix of up to 3 active ingredients for your unique skin.

We also have a whole line of skincare products to complete your routine, each designed by dermatologists to be non-comedogenic, fragrance-free, dye-free, paraben-free, and hypoallergenic — made to keep your skin happy and healthy. Interested? You can get a free month of Curology — just pay $4.95 (plus tax) to cover shipping and handling on your first box. After that, you can cancel any time or choose the subscription plan that works for you.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

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