Protect Yourself from Damaging Personal Care Products!

9 Nov

Our basic premise is that your body is amazing.  You get a do-over. It doesn’t take that long, and it isn’t that hard if you know what to do.  In these notes, we give you a short course on what to do so it becomes easy for you and for you to teach others. We want you to know how much control you have over both the quality and length of your life.

In the 1998 comedy, Something About Mary, Chris Elliot’s character (Woogie) breaks out in “love blisters” (hives) every time he encounters Cameron Diaz’s character (the titular Mary). Unfortunately for most folks, it’s much harder to predict what will trigger an unpleasant skin reaction—especially when it comes to encounters with personal hygiene products and makeup.

According to a new report in Jama Internal Medicine online, adverse reactions to personal care products are underreported and the industry is under-regulated. Dr. Steve Xu, the study’s lead author, notes in Europe they’ve banned 1,000 chemicals from personal care products while in the United States, only 10 are forbidden. An accompanying editorial points out that reigning in the industry is a daunting task: “The Office of Cosmetics and Colors within the FDA [Food and Drug Administration ]…is tiny…even considering its limited responsibilities and scope of authority.” At present time, the FDA cannot order a mandatory recall of a harmful cosmetic. In one case, the manufacturer of a hair care product had more than 20,000 complaints about “permanent” hair loss while the FDA only knew about 127 of them—and the product is still being sold!

The most common troublemakers (that we know about) are hair and skin care products that trigger rashes, hair loss, and other dermatological problems. However, there are reports of potentially more serious adverse events, such as cancer or severe allergic reactions.

A recent study by researchers at Northwestern University suggests that many moisturizers promoted as remedies for skin problems like eczema and labeled as `fragrance-free’ or `hypoallergenic’ may still contain chemicals that can cause irritation.  Researchers asked Amazon, Target, and Walmart to name their top 100 best-selling whole-body moisturizers sold online and then they assessed how well these popular products moisturized the skin and whether or not the ingredients within the products might trigger allergic reactions.

The study found that only 21 of the 174 individual products tested were free of allergens.  Roughly 83% of moisturizers labeled “hypoallergenic” contained at least one ingredient believed to potentially cause allergic reactions. Furthermore, 45% of products claiming to be “fragrance-free” actually contained a fragrance or a botanical ingredient.  Thus, for people with sensitive skin or problems like eczema or psoriasis, simply reading labels may not necessarily guarantee a safe or effective product. Many of the moisturizers contained fragrances and chemicals known as parabens, which can cause rashes and worsen skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. This means you can’t assume that moisturizers marketed as hypoallergenic, fragrance-free or even dermatologist-recommended will actually help skin conditions.

For moisturizers, white petroleum or pure shea butter are lower risk, but trusting the labels is not enough. Moisturizers are a great solution for patients with skin disorders because they retain moisture in the skin, reduce inflammation, help prevent infection, are widely available, and can be more affordable than prescription skin remedies.

So how can you know if a shampoo, face cream, moisturizer, or anti-aging potion is safe for you? Try an at-home patch test before using the product. The researchers suggest putting a small amount on the inside of your forearm and monitoring it for 24 hours. It’s not an overly sensitive area, so if the product triggers a reaction there, chances are you’re at risk for a true allergic reaction.


Thanks for reading. Feel free to send questions—to


Dr. Mike Roizen


PS: Please continue to order the new book by Jean Chatzky and myself, AgeProof: Living Longer Without Running Out of Money or Breaking a Hip.




NOTE: You should NOT take this as medical advice.

This article is of the opinion of its author.

Before you do anything, please consult with your doctor.


You can follow Dr Roizen on twitter @YoungDrMike (and get updates on the latest and most important medical stories of the week).  The YOU docs have two newly revised books: The patron saint “book” of this column YOU Staying Young—revised and YOU: The Owner’s Manual…revised —yes a revision of the book that started Dr Oz to being Dr OzThese makes great gifts—so do YOU: ON a Diet and YOU: The Owner’s Manual for teens.  


Michael F. Roizen, M.D., is chief wellness officer and chair of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. His radio show streams live on Saturdays from 5-7 p.m. He is the co-author of 4 #1 NY Times Best Sellers including: YOU Staying Young.

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