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Many mislabelled moisturisers are causing problems for skin disorder sufferers

A new study has found that moisturisers marked ‘fragrance free’ and ‘hypoallergenic’ often were not.

Image: CHAjAMP via Shutterstock

INACCURATE ‘HYPOALLERGENIC’ LABELS and higher prices make it difficult for those with skin disorders to find affordable, non-irritating and safe moisturisers.

A new study has found that moisturisers marked ‘fragrance-free’ and ‘hypoallergenic’ often were not, and products labelled as ‘dermatologist-recommended’ often came with a higher price tag.

The study, by Northwestern Medicine, examined the ingredients and performance of the top 100 best-selling, whole-body moisturisers at Amazon, and the US retailers Target and Wal-Mart to determine the best consumer products based on affordability and how well they worked without causing a skin reaction.

Nearly half (45%) of the products in the study that claimed to be fragrance-free actually had a fragrance cross reactor or botanical ingredient, the study found.

It also found that 83% of products with hypoallergenic labels included a potentially allergenic chemical.

“We looked into what it means to be dermatologist-recommended, and it doesn’t mean much because it could be three dermatologists recommending it or 1,000,” said Xu, a resident physician in dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Moisturisers are a solution for many people with skin disorders because they retain moisture in the skin, reduce inflammation and help prevent infection.

However, it’s important for people will sin allergies to know if the ingredients contain allergens –  which can be difficult because manufacturers do not have to provide a list of every chemical in their fragrance products, in the US.

The US Food and Drug Administration has limited authority over cosmetics, Xu said.

Allergen-free products 

The researchers looked for the presence of ingredients represented in the North American Contact Dermatitis Group (NACDG), which determines if a product contains typical skin allergens such as a fragrance mix.

Only 12% of the best-selling moisturisers were free of NACDG-listed allergens.

The top three most affordable moisturisers in the study that were free of NACDG ingredients were Ivory raw unrefined shea butter, Vaseline original petroleum jelly and Smellgood African shea butter.

Products currently on the market that are free of typical skin allergens include white petroleum jelly, certain coconut oils that are cold-pressed and not refined, Vanicream’s hypoallergenic products and Aveeno Eczema Therapy moisturising cream, according to Xu.

Often the products claiming to be fragrance-free contained a fragrance cross reactor or a botanical ingredient, which can lead to an allergic reaction in some consumers.

Most-used products 

Dermatologists like to prescribe ointments because evidence has shown the thickness of an ointment effectively hydrates and protects the skin better than any lotion, cream, butter or oil, Xu said.

But he said that “the worst moisturiser is the one the patient won’t use”.

The most popular moisturisers, according to the study, were lotions (59%), followed by creams (13%), oils (12%), butters (8%) and ointments (2%).

Xu said:

We could recommend a moisturiser that has no allergy risk and is affordable and effective, but if the patient doesn’t like it, it’s a wasted recommendation.
We need to programme into our minds to think differently and strike that fine balance between safe ingredients and user preference.

The study has been published in JAMA Dermatology.

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