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Allergens and Natural Skincare; What You Need to Know

Allergens and Natural Skincare; What You Need to Know

Many of our customers discovered us when they found that mainstream beauty and skincare ranges were irritating their skins. 

Some have full allergies, some are intolerant. All wanted a skin-safe alternative.

Going natural with your skincare can certainly help. But it’s important to recognise that: 

i) products that call themselves natural aren’t always natural - it’s a completely unregulated area (at Suvarna we do those checks for you and make sure products are living up to their claims);

ii) some natural ingredients can be allergens. 

So where relevant, we’ve detailed potential allergens to look out for in natural skincare too.

What is an ‘Allergen’ in Skincare?

An allergen refers to anything that creates an allergic reaction.  This might be pollen, food, types of rubber and plastic or other ingredients; you can in theory be allergic to anything.

An intolerance to something just means that you’ll have a mild reaction – effectively your body doesn’t like it.  But if you’re allergic you may experience swelling, itching, hives, difficulty breathing and in severe cases, even death. 

Most often, an allergic reaction will show as contact dermatitis (itchy, peeling skin, redness and soreness) or itchy welts on the skin.  This is an overreaction in the skin’s immune system to an otherwise harmless substance. Doctors are not sure why they occur, but when they do it’s wise to be very careful about the skincare and beauty products you choose.

There are numerous allergens in skincare, so we take our responsibilities to you extremely seriously.

What are the Common Skincare Allergens?

The FDA (the organisation that regulates beauty products in America) puts skincare allergens into five categories:

1. Rubbers:

Latex doesn’t just get used in gloves, it can also appear in cosmetic products that typically contain natural rubber latex, including hair bonding adhesives, face and body paints, eyeliner, and eyelash adhesives.

Just because it says ‘natural’ doesn’t change the allergenic nature, so if you see latex listed on a product, and you know you’re allergic, stay well away from it.

2. Metals:

As a rule, the two allergenic metals are nickel and gold.  Gold in particular has been a hugely popular ingredient in recent years.  The idea is that it helps balance ‘ions’ in the skin. Not only is this largely untrue, but it has also led to some unpleasant cases of irritation and soreness when suspended in lip balms and serums. 

Also look out for it turning out in lipsticks, eyeshadow, and skin formulations. 

3. Preservatives:

All products that contain water require some kind of preservative to help prevent growth of harmful bacteria and give enough shelf life for a product to be used. However, preservatives are among the most allergenic ingredients.

Traditionally, preservatives that people react to are:

  • Methylisothiazolinone
  • Methylchloroisothiazolinone (CMIT)
  • Formaldehyde and formaldehyde releasing ingredients:
    • Bronopol (2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol)
    • 5-bromo-5-nitro-1,3-dioxane
    • Diazolidinyl urea
    • DMDM hydantoin (1,3-dimethylol-5,5-dimethylhydantoin)
    • Imidazolidinyl urea
    • Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate
    • Quaternium-15 (Dowicil 200; N-(3-chloroallyl) hexaminium chloride)

Parabens - a widely used preservation system that can be a key allergen.   These might turn up in makeup, haircare, skincare, dental tools, styling aids and any liquid-based skin or beauty care. 

Parabens show on ingredients lists as:

methyl-, ethyl-, propyl-, butyl- paraben and sometimes under the longer name of benzyl-parahydroxybenzoate.

No products sold on Suvarna contain the above preservatives.

In natural formulations, brands often use potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate to preserve, and occasionally people can be sensitive to these. Alcohol and naturally derived preservation systems like sodium levulinate / sodium anisate are generally well tolerated.


4. Dyes and Chemicals in Colourants:

Traditional dyes used to contain an ingredient called p-phenylenediamine (PPD), which was so allergenic that it was banned. 

You also need to watch for Black Henna. Black Henna uses Indigo (from the plant Indigofera tinctoria) to get its colour, but it is mixed with chemical preservatives, para-phenylenediamine (PPD), and potentially other additives which can cause allergic reactions.

If left on for more than three days, Black Henna can burn and cause permanent scarring.  

If you have used Black Henna, even once, there is every chance you may be at a far higher risk of reaction to commercial dyes and any hair colourant, so it’s extremely important to carry out a full patch test every time you dye your hair.

It’s used in some countries to darken hair shades, but this can be done naturally with natural indigo in a far safer way.

Ammonia is another hair dye ingredient that can cause allergic reactions. Similarly, hydrogen peroxide, used to lighten hair is very harsh on sensitive scalps, leading to burning.

5. Fragrance:

The European Commission lists the following 26 fragrance ingredients listed as allergens in Annex III of the European Union Cosmetics Directive.

  • Amyl cinnamal
  • Amylcinnamyl alcohol
  • Anisyl alcohol
  • Benzyl alcohol
  • Benzyl benzoate
  • Benzyl cinnamate
  • Benzyl salicylate
  • Cinnamyl alcohol
  • Cinnamaldehyde
  • Citral
  • Citronellol
  • Coumarin
  • Eugenol
  • Farnesol
  • Geraniol
  • Hexyl cinnamaladehyde
  • Hydroxycitronellal
  • Hydroxyisohexyl 3-cyclohexene carboxaldehyde (HICC), (also known as Lyral)
  • Isoeugenol
  • Lilial
  • d-Limonene
  • Linalool
  • Methyl 2-octynoate
  • g-Methylionone
  • Oak moss extract
  • Tree moss extract

Some of these compounds occur naturally in certain essential oils. For example, limonene and linalool are the primary components of lavender essential oil and limonene is prevalent in citrus oils. And unfortunately, sometimes, skin that has been hyper-sensitised to allergens and toxins then can’t tolerate those essential oils. This isn’t necessarily permanent, and can improve over time as the skin desensitizes. 

For skin that is sensitised, many of our products, in particular several from Odylique, don’t contain essential oils.

If you’re unsure, a patch test is always a good idea.

Additional Allergens:

If you’re allergic to nuts, you must pay attention to skincare ingredients that contain tree nut oils like almond oil, argan oil, macadamia oil, apricot kernel oil (not an exhaustive list). Sesame oil may also be unsuitable for those allergic to sesame seeds.

Other common allergens include the synthetic antioxidants Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT). 

And independent toxicologist has identified a further list of problem ingredients and allergens that are banned under organic health and beauty standards. These include several artificial sunscreen chemicals and the detergent polysorbate 20. None of the chemicals banned under organic standards are used in products sold by Suvarna.


Does Hypoallergenic, Dermatologically Tested or Fragrance-Free Mean Allergy Proof?

In short, no.  These labels indicate that you are less likely to have an allergy due to absence of fragrances or common allergenic ingredients, but you should always patch test.

Keeping yourself safe from allergens

1.   Avoid: The best way to avoid an allergic reaction is to know what you are sensitive to and do your best to avoid exposure to it.

2.  Always read the ingredients list and avoid ingredients you know or think you are allergic to.

3.  If you aren’t sure always contact the retailer or manufacturer to check

4.  Carefully read application instructions and only use as advised

5.  ALWAYS carry out a patch test; not just for hair colour but for any skincare product you think you may react negatively to.  Apply a small amount of product to the wrist or behind the ear and leave for 48 hours.  If there is any irritation or negative reaction, discontinue use.

6.  Stop using any product that irritates your skin, as your reaction will continue to worsen

Allergens and Suvarna Products:

We advise all sensitive skin sufferers and those with allergies to patch test before using. 

All of our hair colours are natural and PPD free.

Our fragrance free products are here

Beauty Kubes are a plastic free way to use shampoo for sensitive scalps  

Odylique who specialise in sensitive skin is here.

If you’re ever unsure of a product or ingredient, don’t hesitate to ask our natural skin and hair care experts


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