Cosmetic and skincare products sold as ‘hypoallergenic’, ‘all natural’ or ‘organic’ can be very misleading and often, for some of us very sensitive types, anything but kind and gentle to our skin.
Cosmetic products are not bound by law to ommit any particular known allergens and most don’t have a full list of ingredients on product packaging.
So what do these terms mean? and how do you really know that the product you’re buying will be kind to your skin? Reading ingredients lists on skin care products, shampoo and moisturisers often leaves you with more questions than answers. Very few contain anything you would recognise as a natural or plant based ingredient and many plants can be acidic and cause irritation and allergies anyway, as we know, so natural isn’t always good where skincare products are concerned.
People can be allergic to, or react to, irritants which can cause contact dermatitis to pretty much anything, but there are many known ingredients that are not recommended for sensitive skin such as sodium lauryl sulphate, linalool, lanolin, perfumes etc. There are many others but do you see products that say ‘suitable for sensitive skin’ and ‘hypoallergenic’ and automatically think they’ll be good for your skin?
How do we know? Is anyone policing or checking the conduct of skin care companies? What should we look out for on packaging?
The Skin Health Alliance (SHA) is an independent not-for-profit organisation working with international dermatologists, researchers, and skin scientists offering professional accreditation to companies, services and brands seeking specialist independent dermatological recognition for their product research. However the products accredited, including Olay and Head & Shoulders, all have to pay for independent verification to be conducted. I have no idea how much they pay but if it’s expensive many smaller companies won’t be able to afford it. Launched in 2011, it’s a fairly new company and so far only seems to have a few companies signed up as accredited.
Dove Beauty Cream Bar Extra Sensitive
I’ve chosen one product which claims to be good for sensitive skin but sends my skin into melt down. I’m sure lots of people with sensitive skin can use this product without any problems but I wondered what would possibly be causing this reaction so let’s have a look at the ingredients in Dove soap.
This is what Dove say about their extra sensitive soap:
“The ingredient checklist for sensitive skin is a long one, but Dove has put it all into this bar: true mildness; fragrance free; hypo-allergenic formula; and dermatologically tested.”
Sounds lovely doesn’t it. I’m sure many, like me, dashed out to buy this to try it. My relatives acquire many products in this way as one use is enough for the ‘sensitive skin barometer’ to make its judgement. This soap had me itching in the shower just using it once and left me with mild eczema on my arms and legs. I thought I would investigate to try to pinpoint which ingredient it might have been that caused me a problem.
Ingredients as listed on Dove Beauty Cream Bar Extra Sensitive
Humectants attract moisture to your skin
Surfactants cleanse and clean your skin
- Sodium Lauroyl Isethionate – Surfactant – may dry skin
- Stearic Acid – Humectant – may sensitise you to allergens
- Sodium Palmitate – Surfactant – may dry skin
- Aqua – Solvent – just plain old water
- Lauric Acid – Humectant – may irritate very sensitive skin
- Sodium Isethionate – Surfactant – oh good. This is mild to skin and not drying
- Sodium Stearate – Surfactant – not particularly beneficial to skin, but not known to irritate either
- Cocamidopropyl Betaine – Surfactant – may be an allergen
- Sodium Palm Kernelate – Surfactant – Oh good – just a gentle cleanser
- Glycerin – Humectant – can cause allergy in very rare cases
- Sodium Chloride – Viscosity Controlling Agent – not particularly beneficial to skin, but not known to irritate either
- Zinc Oxide – Additive – non-irritant and non-allergic, unless you’re allergic to zinc
- Citric Acid – Antioxidant – may cause mild irritation to very sensitive skin
- Tetrasodium EDTA – Sequestrant – not particularly beneficial to skin, but not known to irritate either
- Tetrasodium Etidronate – Sequestrant – not particularly beneficial to skin, but not known to irritate either
- Alumina – Additive – may cause skin irritation
- CI 77891 – Colourant – eye and skin irritant
So, we can see from this that from the whopping 17 ingredients in Dove’s sensitive skin soap:
- 11 ingredients may cause irritation or dry skin
- 5 are not known to irritate skin, but not really beneficial either
- A rather pathetic 2 ingredients are mild and gentle on your skin
Be aware also, if you have a nut allergy, that some Dove skincare products sometimes contain almond oil.
So think twice before using this soap if you have sensitive skin. If you can only recognise a handful of the ingredients anyway, steer clear. It’s got water, zinc and at a push alumina we can deduce is derived from the metal aluminium. I wonder how these products get approval from bodies such as The Skin Health Alliance. Is this organisation’s accreditation really worth anything or a good gauge of a product that’s healthy for your skin? I’m sceptical.
What do the phrases Dove uses to describe this produce really mean?
True mildness, fragrance free, hypo-allergenic formula, dermatologically tested – looking at these ingredients I’d ignore all these claims entirely. Perhaps I’m in a minority and the majority of consumers see only beneficial results when using Dove Soap.
Now just because something cleans a mirror so it’s completely smear free does not mean it’s going to make a good skincare product for people with sensitive skin. What on earth is that advert all about? I suppose it’s saying there is no residue left on your skin after use, but if you rinse your skin properly there shouldn’t be anyway should there? Perhaps I’ll use Dove soap next time I clean the windows!
Can you use Dove soap? Why would a skincare manufacturer make a soap for sensitive skin with over half its ingredients being potential known irritants or allergens? I would surmise that it’s probably cheaper to use the ingredients above because they’re not chosen for their benefits to sensitive skin. Watch what you put on your skin. Your skin could absorb as much as 60% of what you put on it so be kind to it.
Further reading and resources
- Special thanks to Alabu for doing much of this analysis already. For an in-depth analysis of the ingredients in Dove products and what they all do, read Dove Ingredients Comparison from Alabu Skincare.
- Visit the SkinsMatter website and read in particular Contact dermatitis and cosmetics by Alex Gazzola, where he explains very well the difference between skin allergic reactions and skin sensitivity to irritants, which aren’t specifically an allergy, though they can feel like an allergic reaction.
- A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients by Ruth Winter, M.S