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How Contact Dermatitis Can Result from ‘Natural’ Skin Care Products

by | Aug 25, 2023 | Blog, skincare

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Natural skin care products have become increasingly popular as people seek alternatives that are perceived as safer and healthier for their skin. The allure of “natural” products lies in the belief that they are free from potentially harmful chemicals and toxins commonly found in conventional skincare products. However, it is important to address the misconception that “natural” automatically equates to safety.


Quick Overview of Natural Skin Care Products

Natural skin care products are derived from plant-based ingredients and often feature formulations that prioritize botanical extracts, essential oils, and other naturally occurring substances. These products aim to harness the benefits of nature and provide a gentler approach to skincare. The Misconception that “Natural” Means “Safe” 

There is a common belief among consumers that if a product is labeled as “natural,” it must be safe for use. This assumption stems from the idea that natural ingredients are inherently better and less likely to cause adverse effects. 

The research letter published in JAMA Dermatology revealed that numerous products marketed as “clean” and “natural” can still trigger skin problems due to the presence of ingredients that may contribute to allergic contact dermatitis.

By addressing the misconception surrounding the safety of natural skin care products, we can better understand the need for careful evaluation and consideration when choosing these products. In the subsequent sections of this article, we will delve deeper into the factors that challenge the assumption of safety associated with “natural” skincare and explore the potential risks and precautions individuals should be aware of.


The Truth Behind “Natural” and “Clean” Labels

Skincare products causing contact dermatitis have raised concerns about the true meaning and implications of labels such as “natural” and “clean.” Understanding the truth behind these labels is essential for consumers to make informed choices and avoid potential risks.


What “Natural” and “Clean” Really Mean

The term “natural” in skincare refers to products formulated with ingredients derived from nature, such as plant extracts. However, the lack of standardized definitions makes it challenging to determine the true nature of these products. Similarly, “clean” labels imply that products are free from certain potentially harmful ingredients. However, without regulation, these labels can be subjective and misleading.


The Risks of Unregulated Labels

Unregulated “natural” and “clean” labels can pose risks to consumers. Manufacturers can use these terms without adhering to specific guidelines, leading to products containing potential allergens or irritants. This can result in contact dermatitis and other adverse skin reactions. It is crucial to be cautious and consider ingredients rather than relying solely on these unregulated labels.


Understanding Skin Care Product Labels


Common Terms in Skin Care Labels

When it comes to skincare products causing contact dermatitis, understanding the meaning behind common label terms is crucial. Let’s take a closer look at some of these terms:

Fragrance-free: Products labeled as fragrance-free do not contain added fragrances, which can be potential allergens for sensitive skin. This reduces the risk of contact dermatitis caused by fragrance-related allergies.

Hypoallergenic: Hypoallergenic products are formulated to minimize the risk of allergic reactions. While they may still contain certain ingredients, they aim to be less likely to cause skin irritations or contact dermatitis.

Organic: Organic skincare products are made from ingredients grown without the use of synthetic chemicals or pesticides. While this term relates more to the sourcing and cultivation of ingredients, it can signify a more natural and potentially less irritating option for those prone to contact dermatitis.


Impact of Label Terms on Your Skin

Understanding how these label terms affect your skin is vital. Fragrance-free products can help prevent allergic reactions, while hypoallergenic options minimize the risk of skin irritations. Organic products, although not guaranteed to be entirely allergen-free, can provide a more natural alternative that may reduce the likelihood of contact dermatitis caused by synthetic chemicals.

It is essential to consider your individual sensitivities and consult dermatologists or allergists when choosing skincare products to address concerns related to contact dermatitis.


The Difference Between “Natural” and “Organic” Products

Understanding the distinction between “natural” and “organic” skincare products is essential when considering options that may cause contact dermatitis. Here’s a brief overview:


What Distinguishes “Natural” from “Organic” Skin Care Products:

“Natural” products primarily utilize ingredients derived from nature, but there is no standardized definition or regulation.

“Organic” products are made from ingredients grown without synthetic chemicals and are regulated by organizations like the USDA.


The Role of USDA in “Organic” Product Regulation:

The USDA plays a vital role in certifying organic skincare products. Their rigorous evaluation process ensures that these products meet strict standards and guidelines, providing consumers with confidence in their organic claims. The USDA certification seal signifies that the product contains a high percentage of organically sourced ingredients and has adhered to the USDA’s standards throughout manufacturing. This certification gives consumers assurance that the skincare products they choose are less likely to contain synthetic chemicals, pesticides, or potential allergens that could lead to contact dermatitis.

Are Natural Skin Care Products Better?

When considering skincare products causing contact dermatitis, it’s important to evaluate the pros and cons of natural skincare products. Here’s a brief overview:


  • Natural skincare products often utilize plant-based ingredients that can be gentle on the skin.
  • They may be free from certain synthetic chemicals, potentially reducing the risk of skin irritations.
  • Some individuals may find natural products to be more compatible with their skin, leading to improved overall skin health.


  • Natural ingredients can still cause skin problems or allergies in some individuals.
  • Lack of standardized regulations for natural skincare products can lead to variations in product quality and effectiveness.
  • Natural products may have shorter shelf lives and require stricter storage conditions.

While natural skincare products have their advantages, it’s essential to be mindful of individual sensitivities and potential allergens. Conducting patch tests and consulting dermatologists can help determine the best approach for skincare routines to minimize the risk of contact dermatitis.


Natural Skin Care Products and Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a skin condition characterized by inflammation and irritation due to direct contact with certain substances. Even natural skin care products, often regarded as safe, can sometimes be culprits in causing this reaction.

Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis can be categorized into two primary types:

Allergic Contact Dermatitis (ACD): This results from an immune response triggered by an allergen. Upon repeated exposure to the allergen, sensitized individuals may experience an allergic reaction that includes symptoms like itching, redness, and swelling. Common allergens can include certain plants, metals (like nickel), fragrances, and even some natural ingredients used in skincare products.

Irritant Contact Dermatitis (ICD): Unlike ACD, ICD is not an immune response but rather a direct irritation of the skin. It happens when substances cause damage to the outer layer of the skin. Common irritants include soaps, detergents, and some chemicals. Natural ingredients with high acidity or alkalinity, such as lemon juice or baking soda, can also cause ICD when applied to the skin.


Natural Ingredients and Dermatitis

  • Essential Oils: While they are potent and beneficial, some essential oils can be allergenic. For example, tea tree oil, while heralded for its antimicrobial properties, can be a potent allergen for some.

  • Botanical Extracts: Plant-based ingredients like chamomile or lavender are calming for many but can induce an allergic reaction in others.

  • Natural Acids: Ingredients like lemon juice or apple cider vinegar, popular in DIY skincare, can be overly acidic and cause irritation.

Experiencing Skin Irritations, Allergies, or Unusual Symptoms?

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Advice for People with Sensitive Skin

If you have sensitive skin or underlying skin conditions, you might be at an increased risk of reactions from certain skincare products, potentially leading to conditions like contact dermatitis. Here are some guidelines to help you choose products wisely:

Choosing Products for Sensitive Skin

  • Opt for skincare products that are labeled as “gentle,” “fragrance-free,” and “hypoallergenic.”
  • Prioritize products that are specifically formulated for sensitive or reactive skin types.
  • Familiarize yourself with common irritants and allergens and read ingredient labels carefully. Keep in mind that what might be irritating to one person might be fine for another, so personal experience and patch testing are valuable.


Understanding “Hypoallergenic” Products:

  • The term “hypoallergenic” suggests that products are formulated to reduce the risk of allergic reactions. However, it’s essential to note that, according to the FDA, there are no federal standards or definitions for the term “hypoallergenic.” This lack of standardization means companies can define the term as they deem appropriate.
  • While many hypoallergenic products undergo testing to ensure they are less likely to cause skin irritations, it’s always a good practice to perform a patch test when trying a new product.
  • Hypoallergenic options, though not foolproof, can be a safer choice for many individuals with sensitive skin.


When to Seek Professional Help

If you think your skincare products might be causing contact dermatitis, it’s vital to recognize when you need professional advice. Here’s what you should watch for:

Symptoms that Need a Doctor’s Attention

  • Persistent or worsening skin reactions, such as redness, itching, or swelling.
  • Development of blisters, sores, or oozing on the skin.
  • Symptoms affecting a large area of the body or interfering with daily life.

How a Dermatologist Can Help:

  • They can run different tests, like patch testing, to pinpoint the exact cause of your contact dermatitis.
  • During a patch test, they’ll place tiny amounts of possible allergens on your skin to see if any reactions occur.
  • If your symptoms are ongoing or intense, it’s vital to see a doctor. They can give you the right treatment and advice on picking skincare products that won’t cause flare-ups.

If you experience persistent or severe symptoms, consulting a doctor is crucial for accurate diagnosis, appropriate treatment, and guidance on selecting skincare products that are less likely to trigger contact dermatitis.



  1. Slomski A. Almost All “Natural” Skin Care Products Contain Contact Allergens. JAMA. 2022;328(17):1677. doi:10.1001/jama.2022.18440
  2. Ortiz KJ, Yiannias JA. Contact dermatitis to cosmetics, fragrances, and botanicals. Dermatol Ther. 2004;17(3):264-271.
  3. Kuller JM. Infant skin care products: what are the issues? Adv Neonatal Care. 2016;16(Suppl):S3-S12.
  4. FDA. Hypoallergenic Cosmetics. Accessed June 23, 2023. Available at:
  5. Scheinman, P. L. (1996). Allergic contact dermatitis to fragrance: a review. American Journal of Contact Dermatitis7(2), 65-76.

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