Featured, Skin

What Is The Validated Hypoallergenic Rating System (VH-Rating System)?Featured

“Hypoallergenic” can be an ambiguous term. It is regulated in some FDAs, but not all. When regulated, certain evidence is normally required to justify the claim but requirements can differ. Our founding dermatologist-dermatopathologist wanted a more objective, consistent, and clear way to prove what “hypoallergenic” meant in formulations.

VMV Hypoallergenics was the first to validate what it meant by “hypoallergenic” for its products with a “grading” system: the VALIDATED HYPOALLERGENIC RATING System, or VH-Rating System, created in the late 1980s (VMV was founded in 1979).

What Is The VH-Rating System?

It works a bit like an SPF in that it is a clear, immediately visible “grade” given to a formulation. While an SPF shows the product’s tested protection factor against UVB rays, the VH-Number shows how many top contact allergens are NOT in a formulation. In both cases, the higher the number, the better the “grade.”

The VH-Rating System uses published contact allergen lists of the North American Contact Dermatitis Group and European Surveillance System on Contact Allergies — based on thousands of patch tests conducted in multiple countries — as independent references.

The VH-Rating System was the first and is still the only hypoallergenic rating system in the world. A study on it published in Dermatitis, the journal of the American Contact Dermatitis Society, concludes:

“The VH Rating System is shown to objectively validated the hypoallergenics cosmetics claim.”

Verallo-Rowell VM. The validated hypoallergenic cosmetics rating system: its 30-year evolution and effect on the prevalence of cosmetic reactions. Dermatitis. 2011 Mar-Apr;22(2):80-97. PMID: 21504693.

The same study shows that VMV products had less than 0.1% reactions reported in over 30 years.

How It Works:

Check out this handy video in our YouTube Channel: Validated Hypoallergenic – The VH Rating System

Very simply, the higher the number, the more allergens are NOT in the formulation.

Every product has a VH-Rating on its label followed by a slash and the total number of current top contact allergens. The higher the VH-Rating, the more allergens are not included in the formulation.

In case an allergen is present, the VH-Rating will be lower than the total number of current top contact allergens. An asterisk will also be seen that corresponds to the allergen in the ingredient list (which will also be underlined) for quick identification.

Breaking Down the Elements

  • VH stands for Validated Hypoallergenic.
    • The product has been tested specifically for hypoallergenicity.
    • At VMV, this includes patch testing each raw material, ingredient, applicator, and final formulation.
  • -# (the minus sign followed by a number)
    • Shows how many allergens are ABSENT from the formulation.
  • /# (slash followed by a number)
    • Means “over this current total of top allergens.”
    • This shows the total count of the current top allergens.

A VH-Rating of VH-109/109 would be read as: “Validated Hypoallergenic MINUS 109 over 109.”

A rating of VH-108*/109 would be read as “Validated Hypoallergenic MINUS 108 over 109.” The asterisk alerts you to check the ingredients list for its counterpart, which would be the allergen present in the formulation.

Examples of VH-Ratings on products:

VH -109/109

The highest (current) VH-Rating: VH-109/109
  • Validated Hypoallergenic minus all 109 common allergens.

VH -108*/109

A lower VH-Rating: VH-108/109. Note the asterisk.
The asterisk from the VH-Rating corresponds to the present allergen in the Ingredients List … which is also underlined so you can’t miss it! If it’s not one of your allergens, you can still use the product.
  • Validated Hypoallergenic minus 108 of 109 allergens.
  • Allergens present in the formulation are identified with an asterisk and underlined in the ingredients list.
  • In this example, if you’re allergic to parabens, fragrance, or dyes but not to vitamin E (a great antioxidant), you can still use this oil-free moisturizer.

Need More Help?

Ask us to customize recommendations for you based on your patch test results and even possible cross reactants.

Where to get a patch test?

  • In the USA: search contactderm.org. You can search by zip code and members of the American Contact Dermatitis Society also use CAMP (the Contact Allergen Management Program) to show you not just the ingredients and substances you need to avoid but brands and products that you can use (where you’ll see VMV Hypoallergenics a lot!)
  • In the Philippines: PM VMV Skin Research Centre + Clinics, where patch testing is a specialty.
  • In other countries: ask your official dermatological society about local contact dermatitis experts who offer patch testing.

Haven’t had a patch test but have a history of very sensitive skin? Choose products with the highest VH-Rating!

Our team of “dew gooders” at VMV Hypoallergenics regularly shares “skinsider” tips! Follow us on Instagram for more of their hacks, “skintel” and tutorials!

Featured, Skin

For Sensitive Skin, Is Sticking To One Brand Really Safer or a Marketing Ploy?Featured

For Sensitive Skin, Is Sticking To One Brand Really Safer or a Marketing Ploy?

Marcie Mom from EczemaBlues.com interviews Laura, CEO of VMV Hypoallergenics, to find out more about product claims and why they’re important when choosing your skin care…particularly if you and/or your child have eczema.
Is it really not a good idea to use different brands? Or is this just a way for companies to keep customers away from the competition? 
A:  Both 🙂 Companies of course want customers to stay with them. But there are actual risks when using lots of different products from various brands, particularly if you have very sensitive skin.
I read that there is a possibility of cross reactions between different companies’ products. Is there a way for a parent to compare the ingredients and assess if there’s a high likelihood of this?
A:  That’s one of the risks, for sure. Even if you could compare ingredients, that may not be enough because while the ingredients may look the same, they may not be exactly the same.
Cross reactants require some knowledge of chemistry. You’d need to know that if you patch tested positive to propolis, you might not be able to use beeswax, for example. Or that while green tea is sometimes categorized under “botanicals,” pure green tea is not a top contact allergen.
Some ingredients contain allergens in the raw material. For example, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil is not an allergen. If you see “Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil” listed as an ingredient, however, this would not tell you if the coconut oil is pure, virgin, or organic, or if it is RBD (Refined, Bleached, Deodorized) coconut oil (which has had reports of allergies to it), or if the oil has trace amounts of fragrance present in the raw material. None of this information is required to be disclosed in the ingredients list. Only the INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) name of the ingredient itself is required, not the breakdown of the raw material, its purity, or its quality.
Especially for products made by brands who outsource manufacturing (which many do), it would be close to impossible to find out whether the product was mixed or stored in containers shared with other formulations that contain fragrance or other allergens. Some of these allergens leave residue that can be difficult to fully remove without very strong cleaners and disinfectants…many of which contain allergens or irritants (like chlorine) themselves.
Another reason that using lots of products from different brands can be risky is just the quantity of factors to consider. When a reaction occurs, a dermatologist will ask you for a thorough history. One question that’s sure to be there is “what products are you using”? The more products you list, the harder it is to determine what is actually causing the reaction. And again, just because none of your allergens are listed in the products’ ingredients lists doesn’t mean they’re not hidden in the raw materials or get to the formulation in other ways, like mixing and storage.
We get lots of customers who ask us if they can use one of our products along with a product from another company. We always say that we can’t answer that question. I think it may be irresponsible for us to guess. We do not outsource any of our R&D, research, clinical studies, or manufacturing, so we can answer for our products and processes. We know where we source our ingredients, their raw materials, and their quality. We know how our plant is cleaned and how materials are stored. This is information that we simply would not be able to get from another company. Sticking to one brand (ours or someone else’s) at least gives you the advantage of customer support that is familiar with all the products they offer, everything that went into them, and how they were made…particularly if the brand does not outsource its manufacturing.

This article was originally published in eczemablues.com as one of a multi-part series focused on understanding and using products for sensitive skin. Inspired by her daughter Marcie who had eczema from two weeks old, Mei (aka MarcieMom) started EczemaBlues.com with the mission to turn eczema blues to bliss. In this series of interviews, MarcieMom interviews Laura, CEO of VMV Hypoallergenics, to learn more about product claims when choosing products to care for skin with eczema.

Featured, Skin

“Skintimate” Problems: Skin Issues Related to Underwear, Sex & Other Things That Might Embarrass You (But Shouldn’t)Featured

Skin problems can cause embarrassment. This can be especially true for skin problems affecting the “nether regions” — areas of the body that so many of us are taught to think of as shameful, not to be spoken of, or at least extremely private. Of course, they aren’t shameful and we should all know more about skin problems that appear on the genitals, or that are related to sex or our undergarments. Furthermore, we shouldn’t be shy about consulting a dermatologist to make sure that we get an accurate diagnosis and address the problem properly.

Darkening and other Skin Problems in the Groin, Stomach, and Bra Areas

Elastics, dyes, chemical processing (bleaching), scratchy fabrics, and preservatives in fabric can cause itching, rashes and, over time, darkening around the groin, scrotum, buttocks, bra area, and stomach. But it’s not just underwear that can cause these problems. Seats and lower back cushions with leather, rubber, vinyl, and other allergens can also be at fault.
While a rash, itching, or discomfort may bring you to your dermatologist, an asymptomatic condition called pigmented contact dermatitis (PCD) — a faint to mild and progressive darkening that is frequently considered “just part of aging” — might be missed. PCD can be seen around the groin, in between the buttocks, in the genital and scrotal areas, on the nipple and surrounding areola, under the breast, and/or on the stomach. It’s often missed as a type of contact dermatitis because it doesn’t start out as a rash or itching…it darkens gradually over time. While strong bleaches (some with steroids) can work to lighten the hyperpigmentation, the darkening will recur without proper prevention. Patch testing easily proves the (+) and relevant chemicals that cause the reactions.
In addition to getting a patch test so that you can practice more accurate prevention, good practices include choosing underwear that is made with elastic-free, organic (bleach and dye-free) cotton like those from Cottonique. Choose chairs with seats and lower-back surfaces that are not made of rubber or leather, or dyed. If this isn’t possible, place a barrier between you and the surface. Try a white (or, even better, uncolored) cotton towel.
Wash underwear and the barrier you use on your seat in Fawn & Launder or diluted Superwash. If you are sensitive to chlorine which is often present in tap water, rinse these items with distilled water.


Anyone, of any age, who uses diapers can develop irritations and/or allergies on the areas of contact, especially because of the extended time of contact and in an enclosed, often humid environment. Many allergens and irritants go into the materials of diapers themselves, so try to look for unbleached options. Or consider cloth diapers or underwear with built-in pads. Pure organic virgin coconut oil (VCO) like Know-It-Oil is a great option as it cleans well without roughness, provides antimicrobial protection, and also moisturizes the area to help prevent diaper rash. Adding a purely mineral barrier might also help prevent irritations from chafing or contact with elastics.

Diseases That Can Involve the Genitals…

…include viral warts and herpes lesions (which are infectious and spread faster in ano-genital skin). Other more infectious diseases include chlamydia (the most common STI in the world), gonorrhea, syphillis, and HIV. Use a condom when having sex but get a patch test as you might be allergic to some materials commonly used in condoms. Note that not all these skin lesions are sexually transmitted. Toilet paper can cause skin problems and molluscum contagiosum can be transmitted via towels and sheets.
Don’t be shy: if you see or feel lesions in the genital areas, set a consultation with your dermatologist or gynecologist.

Genital Skincare

Irritations and abrasions on or around the anus and other genitals can be helped by Boo-Boo Balm.
Know-It-Oil can also be inserted to soothe and reduce inflammation: put some into a needless syringe. Store it in the refrigerator for a few minutes. When the VCO is a cold “butter,” insert the syringe into the vagina or anus and push the plunger. The oil is quickly absorbed and does not tend to leak — if you’d like more precautions, do this before going to sleep and place a towel between you and the bed. Important: Consult your gynecologist. There are no studies on inserting VCO into the genitalia at this time. There seems to be some discussion in the medical community about whether VCO is preventive of yeast infections or has the potential to disrupt the native flora of the vagina (since it is antibacterial and antifungal) because VCO innately only treats non-commensal microbes. There are a number of well-respected hospitals (Sloan Kettering) and published doctors who do recommend using virgin coconut oil as a lube or moisturizer. But because your doctor knows your particular history best, check with them. If your doctor does give you the go-ahead, make sure that the oil you insert is pure, organic, cold-pressed VCO (not coconut oil with additives, grown with pesticides, or handled with less sanitary methods).
When using lube, look for for fragrance- and preservative-free options. VCO can also be used as a lube, but not with latex condoms as latex is broken down by oils (of any kind).
Sanitary napkins with fragrance, dyes, and preservatives are common causes of itching, irritations, and allergies. While harder to find, there are unscented and unbleached options. Feminine washes and douches are unnecessary and potentially harmful: risks include skin issues as well as offsetting the important and delicate balance of microbiota in the area.
Wash with a gentle, allergen-free liquid soap like Clark Wash instead. Pure organic virgin coconut oil like Know-It-Oil can be used for cleansing and/or barrier repair of chronically irritated and inflamed skin.

Hyperhidrosis (Sweating a LOT)

Excessive sweating that is visible and even drip from the skin may be a condition called hyperhidrosis (if it is accompanied by a bad odor, it might be bromhidrosis — see below). The sweating can be localized on the underarms, palms of the hands and soles of the feet, or generalized, affecting larger areas of the body or the whole body. All the typical things that trigger sweating (such as anxiety, heat, exercise, spicy food) worsen sweating but with hyperhidrosis, sweating can occur without triggers and even in the cold.
Hyperhidrosis can be caused by thyroid problems, menopause, diabetes, obesity; some cancers or neurological damage; or could be related to other underlying conditions. Your doctor can help you investigate the cause further. Even if unrelated to another health condition, hyperhidrosis can be frustrating. It can cause visible sweat stains and ruin fabrics. It can cause discomfort with simple social interactions like shaking hands. If severe, the sweating can cause keyboards and other electronic equipment to malfunction. And an unpleasant odor can develop.
Use a strong antiperspirant like Essence Skin-Saving Antiperspirant or Illuminants+ Axillight Treatment Antiperspirant on all affected areas. Botox® injections can stop the production of sweat in the area for several months. Consult your dermatologist for options.

Bromhidrosis (“Bad Smell”)

This perceived “bad smell” mostly occurs in the axillary or underarm area (if it is apocrine bromhidrosis). It can also be from other parts of the body (eccrine bromhidrosis). Apocrine and eccrine refer to the two types of (sweat) glands that we have.
Eccrine glands are most numerous on the palms of the hand and soles of the feet but are everywhere on the body. When the body’s temperature increases, they produce sweat that is normally odorless, more dilute, and watery. It can also begin to smell due to bacteria, some foods and medications, or alcohol.
Apocrine glands are located in the groin, breasts, and underarms and produce a thicker sweat that contains pheromones. Apocrine sweat begins without smell, with odor developing as bacteria break down the sweat.
All humans have a natural, healthy colonization of bacteria and other microorganisms that coexist in a complex, sophisticated, functional balance. Sometimes, when this balance is thrown off, one microorganism can begin to dominate and cause problems.
Odor is caused when bacteria break down sweat resulting in fatty acids and ammonia. In bromhidrosis, a higher level of bacteria break down the sweat in the apocrine areas (the most common type of bromhidrosis is in the armpits), resulting in a stronger or foul-smelling odor. If hyperhidrosis  is also a concern, it needs to be addressed as well for the bromhidrosis to be managed.
Management of bromhidrosis includes…

  • The same sweat control with Essence or Illuminants+ Antiperspirants mentioned in hyperhidrosis, above.
  • Practicing proper hygiene (wash the areas at least twice a day) with…
  • Unscented products such as Essence Superwash. While it may seem counterintuitive, a common cause of bromhidrosis is the scent of sweat interacting with perfumes in products.
  • Following antiperspirant with Id Monolaurin Gel or Kid Gloves for additional sweat control as well as antibacterial care. Id Gel and Kid Gloves can be reapplied throughout the day, too.
  • Removing hair regularly to help prevent the accumulation of bacteria and sweat on hair shafts (particularly armpit hair).

Depilation or Hair Removal

Laser hair removal is a great option but — especially if you have brown skin — comes with the risk of hyperpigmentations. Make sure to see a specialist familiar with laser procedures on brown skin. Brown skin can include paler mixed skin as well. And note that laser hair removal might not not work for individuals with very light hair coloring. For this procedure, it’s clear that a specialist is important.
Waxing and sugaring are also worth considering, but hair growth will recur. Particularly when waxing (because of the heat and tearing), consider using an anti-inflammatory like Red Better Calm-The-Heck-Down Balm and ice afterwards.

Caring for Someone Who Needs to Spend Several Hours In Bed or Otherwise Not Moving Regularly

VCO is an excellent option for the daily washing of the perineal area, and can be applied at every diaper change to prevent rashes, sensitivity, and infection. This, plus regular massaging of the areas with VCO can also help prevent bed sores.

This information should not be considered medical advice. For skin problems, and certainly for those affecting sensitive areas of the body such as the genitals or that may be related to sexual activity, see your doctor.

Laura is our “dew”-good CEO at VMV Hypoallergenics and eldest daughter of VMV’s founding dermatologist-dermatopathologist. She has two children, Madison and Gavin, and works at VMV with her sister CC and husband Juan Pablo (Madison and Gavin frequently volunteer their “usage testing” services). In addition to saving the world’s skin, Laura is passionate about health, inclusion, cultural theory, human rights, happiness, and spreading goodness (like a great cream!)

Featured, Skin

Why Virgin Coconut Oil Is So Great for EczemaFeatured

Marcie Mom from EczemaBlues.com interviews Laura, CEO of VMV Hypoallergenics, to find out more about product claims and why they’re important when choosing your skin care…particularly if you and/or your child have eczema.
I read with interest that your products contain certified organic virgin coconut oil and monolaurin (derived from coconut oil) as, among other things, a substitute for parabens. Do all products containing coconut oil have the same antibacterial, antiviral and disinfectant properties that your products have? Could the “wrong” coconut oil be bad for your skin?
A:  Let me tackle all that one by one…

Yes, most of our products contain certified organic virgin coconut oil (VCO) and coconut-derived monolaurin…

Yes, in part as a substitute for preservatives, not just parabens. I should also point out that our proprietary preservative system that replaces preservatives is not just monolaurin. It’s a delicately balanced mix of a few ingredients. It’s a lot of work, I won’t lie — saving the world’s skin isn’t easy but it’s what we do, and we love the challenge 🙂
And you’re right, some of the other reasons they’re there is because they provide clinically-proven antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal benefits without the common side effects like increased tolerance to treatment or dryness. Yet other reasons they’re there include as anti-inflammatories because eczema is an inflammatory condition, and to protect the skin’s important barrier layer (which tends to be damaged in conditions like eczema). They also feel phenomenal on the skin and are wonderful moisturizers.

Does Any Product With Coconut Oil Provide Antimicrobial Protection?

Coconut oil in any product should provide some antimicrobial benefits, but how much depends on the type of coconut oil. Virgin coconut oil is definitely better but not the end game. Many “VCOs” are extracted or processed with heat (one used to be able to tell this quickly by smelling the oil…but now masking fragrances are added to mimic the purer oil which has less of an odor), which can lessen these benefits. Which brings us to the answer to your last question…

The Type of VCO Matters

Not all VCOs are created equal. VCOs are sometimes extracted with heat or allergenic chemicals, or stored in containers also used to store or move other products with allergens. This explains why the only reactions to coconut oil reported medical literature are to RBD (Refined, Bleached, Deodorized) coconut oil. Certified organic VCO is a better bet, for sure, as it is not an allergen and will have been checked to confirm organicity and lack of additives. But we of course can only vouch for the one we produce because we control it from seed to bottle, and it is the oil with which all our published clinical studies are done.
In summary, we use virgin coconut oil so much for skin with eczema because the skin’s barrier layer becomes compromised in eczematous skin. VCO provides barrier repair like virgin coconut oil. Daily use of VCO can help prevent flare-ups. VCO can also help skin quickly after a flare. Early on, apply virgin coconut oil (VCO) to soften the crust as it forms (the crust makes the skin dry, hard and itchy). Keep applying the oil for occlusion, giving skin a secondary barrier against water loss. We have an allergen-free collection of multitasking Mom & Baby care that can help. This post on a regimen for kids with eczema is a great read, as is Top Recommendations For Patients With Eczema. And don’t forget to follow your doctor’s advice!

This article was originally published in eczemablues.com as one of a multi-part series focused on understanding and using products for sensitive skinInspired by her daughter Marcie who had eczema from two weeks old, Mei (aka MarcieMom) started EczemaBlues.com with the mission to turn eczema blues to bliss. In this series of interviews, MarcieMom interviews Laura, CEO of VMV Hypoallergenics, to learn more about product claims when choosing products to care for skin with eczema.

Featured, Skin

Is "X-Ingredient-Free" Really Safer?Featured

Marcie Mom from EczemaBlues.com interviews Laura, CEO of VMV Hypoallergenics, to find out more about product claims and why they’re important when choosing your skin care…particularly if you or your child has eczema.

So many products claim “X-FREE!” and there’s lots online about ingredients that are toxic or otherwise harmful. What’s real? Should parents use a product that says “X-Free”?

A: It depends on the “X.” 🙂 A lot of marketing-speak says “free this” and “free that” but unless you’ve really done your homework and have an expert-level understanding of ingredients and allergens, you might not be able to correctly judge:

  • If the offending ingredient is indeed absent — it could be present but listed with a name you do not recognize;
  • If cross reactants or related ingredients are present — which can cause the same problems as the “X” in “X-Free”; or
  • Whether the omitted ingredient is harmful to begin with.

“X-FREE!” is a powerful marketing phrase on its own whether or not it has objective merit. That is, “X-Free” makes the product sound safer whether or not it is. In some cases, the X could actually be a beneficial ingredient…but tagging “free” onto it immediately makes it sound sinister.

One thing that might help is if the “X” in “X-free” is more specific because it could imply that the manufacturer is being really careful about what they’re claiming. But this, as you’ll see below, is not always the case.

Here are some examples of how the “ingredient-free” claim might not be so straightforward:

“Sulfate-Free” or “SLS-Free”

“Sulfate-free” sounds safer for allergic or eczematous skin but sulfates aren’t allergens so their omission might not be necessary. Importantly, many of the ingredients used to replace sulfates are published contact allergens and are more likely to cause skin and scalp problems. “Amido-amine” surfactants, for example, like CocAMIDE-Dea, CocAMIDOpropyl-Betaine, and CocAMIDOpropyl Hydroxysultaine are common allergens and are frequently used  in “Sulfate-Free” cleansers and shampoos. So if you’re looking for more hypoallergenic products that are safer for extremely sensitive skin, “SLS-Free” may be exactly what not to choose if they contain “amid-amines” instead.

“SLS-Free” is better because it’s more specific. But there are two ingredients with the initials SLS: Sodium LauRYL Sulfate and Sodium LaurETH Sulfate. Neither are common contact allergens but the former (laurYL) is a well-known skin irritant. The latter (laurETH) can also be an irritant but far less so, and particularly in lower concentrations.

“Free of Cancer-Causing Ingredients”

When you read a lot about ingredients that “cause cancer”, it’s natural to worry. These claims are serious and you don’t want to take them lightly. However, it is important to remember that some of these reports are skewed to be sensational — they may not be balanced. For instance, much of the evidence of the carcinogenicity of certain ingredients is determined in laboratory experiments with animals fed the ingredient in very high doses (sometimes the equivalent of the animal’s body weight and the equivalent of a lifetime of consumption at these doses). Some of the same ingredients used in cosmetics are present in minuscule or even trace amounts and in molecular sizes that are too large to penetrate the dermis, much less get to the bloodstream. An example would be parabens. We stopped using them because they are allergens, not because of the cancer panic. There simply is not enough to go on. Both the US FDA and American Cancer Society (ACS) independently point out that the study that found parabens in breast tumors does not conclude that parabens caused the tumors. The ACS states, “The study did not show that parabens caused or contributed to breast cancer development in these cases—it only showed that they were there. What this means is not yet clear.”

What causes cancer is a complex question. Birth control pills were once discouraged to prevent breast cancer, but newer studies show that they may prevent other types of cancer in women. If you have been treated for cancer, trust your oncologist because cancer — even the same type of cancer — is not the same for everyone. Ask your doctor what skincare and makeup ingredients you can feel safe using. They should be able to guide you better based on the ingredients themselves, the concentrations normally found in cosmetics, and your particular cancer and history.

“Mineral Oil-Free”

Mineral oil is an excellent ingredient that has gotten a bad reputation. It is NOT an allergen and is a dermatological staple. Ask any dermatologist and they’ll tell you mineral oil is a go-to, reliable hydrator even for extremely sensitive skin and even for sensitive areas like the genitalia. There are some reports of comedogenicity but it is otherwise a reliable moisturizer.


Many of us think that alcohol is a liquid that dries out the skin but this is not the case. Some alcohols should be avoided, but many alcohols are actually safe and even good for the skin. “Alcohol” is merely a categorization based on atomic structure. Most alcohols are waxes (and waxes aren’t drying). Sperm oil, jojoba, rapeseed, mustard, tallow, beeswax, and many other plant ingredients, for example, are alcohols.

If a product says “alcohol-free,” what does that mean? Methyl alcohol (“wood alcohol”) is derived from methanol. Used for industrial and automotive purposes, it is poisonous on the skin and is not approved for cosmetic applications. Short-chain fatty alcohols are generally considered eye irritants, while long-chain alcohols are not. Benzyl alcohol is related to fragrance and is an allergen. Cinnamic alcohol is a fragrance and an allergen. “Alcohol-free” in these cases is a good thing — in the case of methyl alcohol, it would be illegal for a product to contain it.

But what about lanolin? This fatty substance from sheep’s wool is an alcohol, is not drying, is highly moisturizing, but is a common contact allergen. Because the “alcohol-free” claim seems to target consumers looking for “non-drying” products (which is an important concern for very dry or allergic skin) and because “alcohol-free” is not a regulated claim, lanolin could be present in an “alcohol-free” product. If you’re allergic to lanolin and it is present in an “alcohol-free” product, “alcohol-free” wouldn’t be helpful to you at all. In this case, “lanolin-free,” “allergen-free,” or “non-drying” would serve you better.

In yet other cases, “alcohol-free” may be a not-so-great thing. Ethyl alcohol is not known to cause irritations. Isopropyl alcohol is “good” in that it is a reliable antiseptic, it is not a common contact allergen, and it is accepted for cosmetics. Stearyl and cetearyl alcohol are waxes needed by many formulations to mix and, based on the latest publication of common allergens, are not known to irritate skin. Other alcohols are beneficial to skin, like those from coconut and palm oils. “Alcohol-free” in these cases is a disadvantage.


As a rule, this claim is important for those with contact dermatitis or skin allergies. But even a product that says “fragrance-free” may contain fragrances or products that are related to fragrance. As dermatologist Dr. Rajana Katta shares,

Even using products labeled “fragrance-free” or “unscented” may not help, as some of these can legally contain fragrance additives. In fact, a recent US study that looked at best-selling body moisturizers found that for products that claimed to be “fragrance free,” 45% of these products actually contained at least 1 fragrance cross-reactor or botanical ingredient.

Yes, definitely, “fragrance-free” is important but are you confident that you know all the chemical names of all substances that are fragrances or masking fragrances, or that cross-react with/are related to them (e.gcinnamic alcohol)?

At VMV Hypoallergenics, we claim “all-types-of-fragrance-free” to indicate that a formulation is free of fragrances, scents, masking fragrances, and ingredients that are not called fragrances but are related to them.

“Free of Toxic Ingredients”

This claim makes us uncomfortable because we feel that it fuels an inaccurate myth of toxicity in skincare and makeup. The cosmetics industry is regulated in most markets and nothing”toxic” in the real sense of the word (poisonous) is allowed in cosmetics. Ingredients (and often their concentrations) are reviewed by regulators to ensure that nothing toxic is included in cosmetics as these products are intended for use on the skin, which is a major organ.


This claim seems clearer but neither “allergen-free” nor “hypoallergenic” are regulated claims. Many ingredients touted for sensitive skin are actually highly allergenic. Some natural and/or organic ingredients are allergens, too. Which is why at VMV, we state “validated as hypoallergenic” which means that we patch test all our ingredients and final formulations. We also rate how many allergens are included (or not) in a formulation. Furthermore, the ingredients list highlights any allergens that are in the formulation so that you know whether you can use the product — if it contains an allergen but not one of yours, it should be safe to use.

When you see “allergen-free,” make sure that the brand is referring to proven and published common contact allergens. The North American Contact Dermatitis Group and European Surveillance System on Contact Allergies patch test over 20,000 people in multiple countries to compile their lists of allergens. They regularly publish their findings and, crucially, they update these lists every few years. These lists are statistically relevant, consistently updated, and put together by two of the most respected groups of doctors in the world who concentrate on allergens and contact dermatitis. This allergen list is what our VH-Rating System uses and, considering we’ve had less than 0.1% reported reactions in 30 years, it’s quite reliable.

Allergenicity is different for everyone; we have different tolerances. But what VMV has done is to validate the claim (by patch tests and using an exclusion list based on common allergens published by objective, independent sources) and to standardize how the claim is used (with a clear, simple method of allergen omission). This decreases the probability of allergic reactions and is a valid, evidenced-based claim.

This article was originally published in eczemablues.com as one of a multi-part series focused on understanding and using products for sensitive skinInspired by her daughter Marcie who had eczema from two weeks old, Mei (aka MarcieMom) started EczemaBlues.com with the mission to turn eczema blues to bliss. In this series of interviews, MarcieMom interviews Laura, CEO of VMV Hypoallergenics, to learn more about product claims when choosing products to care for skin with eczema.

Featured, Skin

Is Cheap Skincare Ok For Eczema? How To Care For Sensitive Skin On a Tight BudgetFeatured

Marcie Mom from EczemaBlues.com interviews Laura, CEO of VMV Hypoallergenics, to find out more about product claims and why they’re important when choosing your skin care…particularly if you or your child have eczema.

I have to rebuild my child’s entire stash of products. Should parents on a tight budget start their child on the cheapest skincare available? Is it possible to properly care for sensitive skin on a tight budget?

A: This is a great question for anyone. It is possible to care for eczema and other sensitive skin conditions when you’re on a tight budget if you know what to look for: reputation, clinical proof, and validated safety. These 5 best practices can save you a lot while still keeping your sensitive skin well cared for:

1) Don’t Let Price Be Your Only Guide.

For sensitive skin, price — high or low — is not the best way to choose a product:

  • Cosmetic ingredients can be cheaper or costlier due to the rarity, quality, purity, and source of the ingredients. Most businesses need to be profitable in order to operate. We can therefore assume that very affordable brands are tightly controlling costs in all areas, including ingredients. This is not necessarily “bad” but cheaper ingredients can be less pure or of a lower quality than their more expensive counterparts.
  • On the other hand, expensive brands might use the same cheaper ingredients but choose to have a higher profit margin. Pricier does not mean higher quality.
  • Sensitive or complex skin conditions tend to need higher-quality, specifically-sourced (more stringent requirements for the raw material), or less popularly-used ingredients. In general, this means more expensive ingredients.
  • Some cheaper products use allergens to make them more appealing and repetitive contact with allergens over time can break down sensitive skin’s already fragile (or damaged) barrier — as “Prioritize Prevention Over Treatment” below explains, protecting the skin’s barrier is incredibly important. Some cheaper products use lots of fragrances to cover up the sometimes stronger scent of less-pure cosmetic ingredients. These products could also be dyed to make them look more attractive and stand out more in their highly competitive market. Preservatives could be heaped on in order to help a product last much, much longer without special storage conditions (which many stores really like).

In summary: For very sensitive skin conditions that require a higher quality of ingredients and stricter controls, I’d suggest ruling out the bargain basement options. Something needs to be sacrificed to make them that affordable. But I wouldn’t just reach for the most expensive products either. Instead, study the brand you’re considering well — look for legitimacy, safety, and reputation. Choose less products that might be more expensive but that are multitasking, that last longer, that you can share at home, and that are proven to work. And prioritize prevention over anything else.

2) Less is More.

A best practice in hypoallergenicity is using products with few ingredients and using just a few products in general. Perhaps your child’s hair and body shampoo is pricier than most, but you can save money but not using a body soap. Pick the few, fundamental products that your child really needs.
The basics for babies and young children could be just 3 products:

  • Hair and Body Shampoo (which you can also use to launder baby’s clothing and linens)
  • Virgin Coconut Oil for face and body moisturizing (which can be used as a conditioner, too). If you’re on a very tight budget, choose pure mineral oil or pure petroleum jelly (pure meaning allergen-free: no preservatives, scents, dyes, etc.)
  • Steroid-Free Anti-Inflammatory Balm

All our products are formulated so that you don’t need a lot to get the benefits they promise, which helps them last longer.

In summary: tight budget or not, sensitive skin needs LESS products, not more.
Just be hyper selective and maximize your minimalist collection by choosing…

2) Multitasking Ingredients and Products.

The right skincare formulation can meet multiple needs. As the list above shows, an ultra-gentle product can be an excellent hair and body shampoo, and even be used for laundry.
Virgin coconut oil (VCO) is a master multitasker. It’s a phenomenal daily moisturizer that doubles as a hair conditioner and triples as an anti-inflammatory for flares. VCO is a natural antimicrobial — it needs no preservation and is broken down by lipases of friendly skin bacteria into monoglycerides with antiseptic properties — so that it also helps control microbial invasions that can occur in cracked skin. And you can use it as a facial cleanser, makeup remover, on food, and more (check out these 12 uses of virgin coconut oil for mom and baby).
Also, share your care! Pretty much all our products are meant to be shared between parents and kids, siblings, and partners.

In summary: Don’t buy into marketing categorization that would have you believe that you need “male” or “female” products. Most extremely gentle formulations can be shared (ask the manufacturer and your doctor to be sure, especially with products for children). And if you select wisely, the few products and ingredients that you do use will give you as many uses and benefits as a cabinet full of creams and ointments.

3) Prioritize Prevention Over Treatment.

Prevention is powerful. In eczema and allergic skin, the top thing to care for is the skin’s barrier layer. If you are guided by nothing else, be guided by this:

No allergens, ever, and moisture-moisture-moisture.

In different forms of eczemas, it is the skin’s outermost barrier layer that we need to pay attention to the most.

  • Genetic innate barrier dysfunction initiates atopic dermatitis: in eczema, the skin’s barrier layer has an innate dysfunction and needs extra care to protect…this is where to focus.
  • An allergic or irritant reaction breaks down the barrier in contact dermatitis. This is why it is so important to avoid allergens and irritants as much as possible.
  • Food around the mouth area can physically act on the barrier to cause problems. Food and skin (and even pet) allergies are not the same. If food allergies are also an issue, see an allergist, get a prick test, and perhaps try an elimination diet with your doctor’s guidance. But for skin, a patch test is much more reliable, as is the avoidance of contact allergens. For skin with atopic dermatitis (eczema), the role of food isn’t so much its ingestion but its contact with the skin. For example, lemon, lime, and citrus are top contact allergens and while someone who patch tested positive to them might be able to eat them just fine, the skin around the mouth might experience a reaction.
  • Secondarily, bacteria/opportunistic microbes cause a cross-damaged barrier layer in all types of eczemas. As the skin dries, cracks appear which are inviting to microbes. This can cause secondary infections which can worsen the dryness and itching. A skin-safe, non-allergenic antimicrobial like monolaurin would be ideal.

In summary: The few products that you do use should be hyper-focused on keeping the skin’s barrier as intact as possible. Choose the least irritating but most moisturizing and partially occluding products you can find without scents, preservatives, antibiotics, dyes and other common contact allergens. Again: focus on allergen avoidance in everything, from skincare to clothing, laundry, hair care, everything. Browse through Allergen-Not An Allergen to check what some common contact allergens are, or use our products with the highest Validated Hypoallergenic Rating (VH-Number) which are free of all published contact allergens. You can also drop us a private message on vmvhypoallergenics.com or Facebook with your patch test results and we’ll customize recommendations for you based on your allergens and possible cross reactants.

4) Spend a Bit More Where It’s Really Worth It.

A patch test isn’t cheap but knowing precisely which contact allergens you need to avoid will save you so (so) much money and time and reactions. It’s worth it. Save-up-for-it worth it. Check with your doctor and insurance to see if financial assistance is available for patch testing because it is just that valuable.
Safer, more specialized, high-quality products might be more expensive up front but save you lots over time. Using cheaper products with allergens could eventually trigger a reaction that requires more expensive recuperative care.
Topical steroids are inexpensive and deliver dramatic results…at first. But with continued use, they can thin the skin and become less effective. This can increase the dependence on topical steroids, increase the amount needed for relief, and cause additional health problems that can be more difficult and expensive to correct (including hospitalization during the rebound effect).
Our non-steroidal anti-inflammatories Boo-Boo Balm and Red Better Calm-The-Heck-Down Balm are more expensive than steroid ointments but they don’t cause serious health problems and you only need a little at a time. Unlike steroids, they do not have increasing tolerances so you don’t need more and more of them to get the same results. Especially when combined with proper prevention, they prevent flare-ups so effectively that you need them even less often. Importantly, in case an emergency occurs and a steroid is needed, it would be limited to once or twice in a year, which is much better for your health.

In summary: If you are highly selective about the few, multitasking products that you choose, you might be able to afford better-quality, safer products for your sensitive skin and still end up spending the same or less than buying a shopping cart full of cheaper formulations that could cause harm (and increased costs) in the long run.

We have an allergen-free collection of multitasking Mom & Baby care that can help. This post on a regimen for kids with eczema is a great read, as is Top Recommendations For Patients With Eczema. And don’t forget to follow your doctor’s advice!

This article was originally published in eczemablues.com as one of a multi-part series focused on understanding and using products for sensitive skinInspired by her daughter Marcie who had eczema from two weeks old, Mei (aka MarcieMom) started EczemaBlues.com with the mission to turn eczema blues to bliss. In this series of interviews, MarcieMom interviews Laura, CEO of VMV Hypoallergenics, to learn more about product claims when choosing products to care for skin with eczema.

Allergen, Not An Allergen, Featured, Skin

ALCOHOL: Allergen or Not An Allergen?Featured

ALCOHOL: Allergen or Not An Allergen?

Not An Allergen.

This is a little tricky but let’s break it down: the most common alcohol (isopropyl, ethyl) used for disinfection is an irritant — and it is certainly drying —but it is not a common contact allergen. For more on the difference between irritant and allergic reactions, see It’s Complicated: Allergic Versus Irritant Reaction.

Complicating things somewhat: not all alcohols in skincare are liquids that dry out the skin. “Alcohol” is a categorization of a substance based on its atoms. There are many alcohols that aren’t drying, and many aren’t even liquid. Some alcohols that we don’t think of as alcohols are sperm oil, jojoba, rapeseed, mustard, and tallow. Some alcohols are beneficial (moisturizing!) to skin, like those from coconut and palm oils. Most alcohols are waxes (and waxes aren’t drying) from plants and beeswax. Lanolin, a fatty substance from sheep’s wool, is an allergen — far from being drying, lanolin is a common base in ointments. Allergen alcohols include benzyl alcohol and cinnamic alcohol.

For isopropyl and ethyl alcohol, its percentage in a product makes a difference. The higher the concentration, the more drying on the skin. Most astringents that are drying contain 85-90% alcohol (VMV Hypoallergenics Toners and Id Monolaurin Gel contain between 25% and 56%). In many countries, hand sanitizers must contain at least 70% alcohol. Because the antimicrobial action of our Kid Gloves Hand Sanitizer is primarily provided by monolaurin — which, along with virgin coconut oil, studies since the 1970s have shown to be as effective an antiviral and antimicrobial as 85% alcohol — we can limit its alcohol content to 38% (which is why it’s less drying than most hand sanitizers).

One more thing to consider: many alcohols used for disinfecting add moisturizers (to try to reduce the drying action on skin) and/or fragrances (to try to mask the inherent odor of alcohol). Some of these ingredients may be allergens and could actually cause more dryness or other skin reactions.

If you have a history of sensitive skin, don’t guess: random trial and error can cause more damage. Ask your dermatologist about a patch test.

To shop our selection of hypoallergenic products, visit vmvhypoallergenics.com. Need help? Ask us in the comments section below, or for more privacy (such as when asking us to customize recommendations for you based on your patch test results) contact us by email, or drop us a private message on Facebook.

For more:

On the prevalence of skin allergies, see Skin Allergies Are More Common Than Ever and One In Four Is Allergic to Common Skin Care And Cosmetic Ingredients.

To learn more about the VH-Rating System and hypoallergenicity, click here.

Main References: 

Regularly published reports on the most common allergens by the North American Contact Dermatitis Group and European Surveillance System on Contact Allergies (based on over 28,000 patch test results, combined), plus other studies. Remember, we are all individuals — just because an ingredient is not on the most common allergen lists does not mean you cannot be sensitive to it, or that it will not become an allergen. These references, being based on so many patch test results, are a good basis but it is always best to get a patch test yourself.

1. Warshaw, E.M., Maibach, H.I., Taylor, J.S., et al. North American contact dermatitis group patch test results: 2011-2012. Dermatitis. 2015; 26: 49-59
2. W Uter et al. The European Baseline Series in 10 European Countries, 2005/2006–Results of the European Surveillance System on Contact Allergies (ESSCA). Contact Dermatitis 61 (1), 31-38.7 2009
3. Wetter, DA et al. Results of patch testing to personal care product allergens in a standard series and a supplemental cosmetic series: An analysis of 945 patients from the Mayo Clinic Contact Dermatitis Group, 2000-2007. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2010 Nov;63(5):789-98.
4. Verallo-Rowell VM. The validated hypoallergenic cosmetics rating system: its 30-year evolution and effect on the prevalence of cosmetic reactions. Dermatitis 2011 Apr; 22(2):80-97
5. Ruby Pawankar et al. World Health Organization. White Book on Allergy 2011-2012 Executive Summary.
6. Misery L et al. Sensitive skin in the American population: prevalence, clinical data, and role of the dermatologist. Int J Dermatol. 2011 Aug;50(8):961-7.
7. Warshaw EM1, Maibach HI, Taylor JS, Sasseville D, DeKoven JG, Zirwas MJ, Fransway AF, Mathias CG, Zug KA, DeLeo VA, Fowler JF Jr, Marks JG, Pratt MD, Storrs FJ, Belsito DV. North American contact dermatitis group patch test results: 2011-2012.Dermatitis. 2015 Jan-Feb;26(1):49-59.
8. Warshaw, E et al. Allergic patch test reactions associated with cosmetics: Retrospective analysis of cross-sectional data from the North American Contact Dermatitis Group, 2001-2004. J AmAcadDermatol 2009;60:23-38. 
9. Foliaki S et al. Antibiotic use in infancy and symptoms of asthma, rhinoconjunctivitis, and eczema in children 6 and 7 years old: International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood Phase III. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2009 Nov;124(5):982-9.
10. Kei EF et al. Role of the gut microbiota in defining human health. Expert Rev Anti Infect Ther. 2010 Apr; 8(4): 435–454.
11. Thavagnanam S et al. A meta-analysis of the association between Caesarean section and childhood asthma. Clin Exp Allergy. 2008;38(4):629–633.

12. Marks JG, Belsito DV, DeLeo VA, et al. North American Contact Dermatitis Group patch-test results, 1998 to 2000. Am J Contact Dermat. 2003;14(2):59-62.
13. Warshaw EM, Belsito DV, Taylor JS, et al. North American Contact Dermatitis Group patch test results: 2009 to 2010. Dermatitis. 2013;24(2):50-99.
14. Wetter DA, Yiannias JA, Prakash AV, Davis MD, Farmer SA, el-Azhary RA, et al. Results of patch testing to personal care product allergens in a standard series and a supplemental cosmetic series: an analysis of 945 patients from the Mayo Clinic Contact Dermatitis Group, 2000-2007. J Am Acad Dermatologist 2010;63:789-798
15. Swinnen I, Goossens A. Allergic contact dermatitis caused by ascorbic tetraisopalmitate. Contact Dermatitis 2011;64:241-242
16. Belhadjali H, Giordano-Labadie F, Bazex J. Contact dermatitis from vitamin C in a cosmetic anti-aging cream. Contact Dermatitis 2001;45:317
17. de Groot, A. Monographs in Contact Allergy: Non-Fragrance Allergens in Cosmetics (Parts 1 and 2). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2018. 
Want more great information on contact dermatitis? Check out the American Contact Dermatitis SocietyDermnet New Zealand, and your country’s contact dermatitis association.

Laura is our “dew”-good CEO at VMV Hypoallergenics and eldest daughter of VMV’s founding dermatologist-dermatopathologist. She has two children, Madison and Gavin, and works at VMV with her sister CC and husband Juan Pablo (Madison and Gavin frequently volunteer their “usage testing” services). In addition to saving the world’s skin, Laura is passionate about health, inclusion, cultural theory, human rights, happiness, and spreading goodness (like a great cream!)

Featured, Skin

You Might Seriously Be Misunderstanding Cosmetics Ingredients — and Allergens!Featured

Marcie Mom from EczemaBlues.com interviews Laura, CEO of VMV Hypoallergenics, to find out more about product claims and why they’re important when choosing your skin care…particularly if you or your child has eczema.

Q:  Many ingredients in cosmetics look similar. Is there a way to identify what type of ingredient a certain name suggests? For instance, are ‘glycerin’, ‘capric triglyceride’, ‘palm glycerides’, ‘caprylyl glycol’, ‘glycerylstearate SE’, ‘glyceryl laurate’, ‘glycol distearate’, ‘butylene glycol’, ‘glycerylcocoate’ related?

A: Unfortunately, unless you’re a chemist or decide to devote yourself to the pharmacological sciences, this is almost impossible to master for most consumers. There are some word roots that imply certain things. “Gly”, for example, implies a fat; “ose” implies a sugar. But the other roots in each word also mean different things and can signify important differences.

Cocamidoproplyl Betaine

For example: cocamidoproplyl betaine is a surfactant and a top contact allergen. Coconut oil (cocas nucifera) is an oil and is not an allergen. Both have “coca” in the name. In the former, it is not the coconut element that is the allergen but the substances used to process the coconut extracts (the “amines”) that make the ingredient allergenic. It’s the same case for cocamide dea.

Butylene Glycol

Another example: butylene glycol and propylene glycol both say “glycol.” But butylene glycol is a humectant and antioxidant and not an allergen…while propylene glycol is a formaldehyde-releasing preservative and an allergen.


Sodium LauRYL Sulfate and Sodium LaurETH Sulfate share lots of elements in their nomenclature. But SLS (lauRYL) is far more irritating than the SLES (laurETH), which is actually quite safe. Neither is an allergen but SLS is an irritant, with more irritant reactions reported with higher concentrations.


Some ingredients can be even more confusing, like alcohol. The word alcohol doesn’t appear in many ingredients that are alcohols, such as sperm oil, jojoba, rapeseed, mustard, tallow, beeswax, and many other plant ingredients. “Alcohol” is a categorization of a substance based on its atoms. There are many alcohols that aren’t drying, and many aren’t even liquid. Most alcohols are waxes (and waxes aren’t drying). Stearyl alcohol and cetyl stearyl (also called cetearyl alcohol) are both emulsifying waxes that creams need in order for oil- and water-based ingredients to mix. Still other alcohols are beneficial (like, moisturizing!) to skin, like those from coconut and palm oils.


In addition to understanding (and memorizing!) all the possible combinations of different chemical roots, one would need to memorize which are on the current contact allergen lists. The current lists now specify 109 common contact allergens (and the lists change every so often). Mastering the complexity of cosmetic ingredients isn’t something for the faint of heart. Dermatologists may not recognize an ingredient as a cross reactant of an allergen, and chemists may not realize that an otherwise fantastic ingredient (like vitamin E) is a top contact allergen.

This complexity is one of the main reasons why our founding dermatologist-dermatopathologist (my mom) created the VH-Number Rating System. If a patient gets a patch test, great: at least they’d know what to avoid. But even then, it’s not so clear. A common inclusion in patch tests is “fragrance mix,” which isn’t an ingredient. One would have to know what is in that mix and look for those specific ingredients in a label. Or one would have to know that benzyl alcohol, while a common ingredient in unscented products, is actually related to fragrance. With a VH-Number, consumers can immediately see if any common contact allergens are included in the formulation and — because the allergen is highlighted in the ingredients list for easy identification — if it’s one of your allergens or not.

This article was originally published in eczemablues.com as one of a multi-part series focused on understanding and using products for sensitive skin. Inspired by her daughter Marcie who had eczema from two weeks old, Mei (aka MarcieMom) started EczemaBlues.com with the mission to turn eczema blues to bliss. In this series of interviews, MarcieMom interviews Laura, CEO of VMV Hypoallergenics, to learn more about product claims when choosing products to care for skin with eczema.

Healthy Living, Skin

Less Is More In Skincare, Too!Featured

Less Is More In Skincare, Too!


“Less is more” is a healthy philosophy for pretty much everything in life.
In food, less processed means more nutrients and less junk. Studies show that mindfulness — clearing the mind of clutter and focusing on the now — has significant health benefits for the brain and aging. In skincare, simple formulations with as few ingredients as possible minimize the risk of cross reactions — it’s a golden rule of hypoallergenicity. Plus, sticking to fewer products from fewer brands means there’s less guesswork involved when identifying what could be causing a reaction or acne.
“Less is more” helps doctors more easily identify what could be the cause of a problem. Frequently, the first step of allergy or contact dermatitis management (often, along with a patch test) is an “elimination diet” (our popular, ultra-reliable 7-Day Skin Fast). In the Skin Fast, you’re asked to stop using all products — except a very, very controlled few — for 7 days. This helps skin return to its most non-irritated state, so that when new products are slowly introduced (one every three days or so), problem products can be more accurately isolated.
The same applies to acne: acne can have several causes and certain types of acne can take days to develop…making it almost impossible to accurately identify which product is causing the acne when using many different ones.
Having fewer ingredients in a formulation is a best practice in hypoallergenicity…so much so that one of the quickest ways to spot a high-risk product is to look at how many ingredients it has: the longer the list, the higher the likelihood of reactions.
In addition, using multiple products can lead to over-treatment and drying of the skin…getting it to a borderline-irritated state so that anything new applied (whether or not you are actually allergic to it) could trigger a reaction.
This is why doctors tend to recommend sticking to few products and, ideally, from the same brand. It is impossible to ensure how products are made from one brand to another, ingredients can have different raw materials (some pure, some with additives such as trace amounts of preservatives or allergens), and many formulations are outsourced to third-party manufacturing facilities where vats can be used for mixing many different formulations, including those with allergens. Check out Why Sticking to One Brand Is Safer (an interview with EczemaBlues.com) for more on why using products from different brands can make the management of complex skin conditions difficult.

For more on hypoallergenicity and how less is more, check out:

HYPOALLERGENIC: What is it Really?
Why Sticking to One Brand Is Safer

For more on reactions:

Reactions: About, Allergic, Irritant, Sudden, Prevention, Using VMV & Other Products, etc.
Mythfoliation: If I Get a Reaction, The Last Product I Applied Is The Problem


On Contact Dermatitis, Sensitive Skin, and Patch Testing: Interview with an ExpertFeatured

Is a rash a skin allergy or an irritation? What is a patch test and why would I need one? How can I prevent rashes? To get clarity, we spoke to Jenny Murase, Chair of the CAMP Optimization Task Force of the American Contact Dermatitis Society, Associate Clinical Professor at UCSF, and Director of the Patch Test Clinic at the Palo Alto Foundation Medical Group.

1) We understand that the American Contact Dermatitis Society is an organization for dermatologists who are interested in or specialize in contact dermatitis. Why is the ACDS necessary?

The ACDS provides a critical role in the dermatology and allergy community. Our society is a group of subspecialists who provide diagnostic testing for dermatitis (rash). When someone gets a rash that is chronic (lasts a long time) and recalcitrant (does not respond to therapy), it is possible that there is an external component to consider. Irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis are both possible. Through our patch testing, we help to uncover what could be triggers for rash. The ACDS provides dermatologists and allergists with tools to educate their patients during this testing, such as handouts describing the patient’s allergens and the Contact Allergen Management Program (CAMP) which creates a safe list of products for patients that do not contain their allergens.

2) What are some common allergens?

These include some substances in skin care products like some preservatives, fragrances, surfactants, and emulsifiers as well as hair dyes, textile dyes, metals, topical medications like antibiotic ointments or topical steroid ointments, plastics, rubbers, adhesives, among many other allergens.

3) What is a patch test and why is it useful?

Patch testing is a diagnostic test that looks for delayed hypersensitivity reactions, which means rashes on the skin that develop in response to an allergen coming in contact with the skin that the patient has developed memory immune cells to recognize and respond to. A classic example would be poison oak, where a patient is exposed and then develops a red rash within days because they have immune cells that respond to the poison oak allergen. This is different from an immediate hypersensitivity reaction mediated by histamine which results in an immediate reaction on the skin, like contact hives (urticaria) or an anaphylaxis reaction (like latex allergy, for example). Because this is a delayed reaction, it takes a few days to read the test. Patches with certain substances are placed on the back and are removed after 48 hours, with an interpretation at 3-7 days after placement to see how the patient is responding to the allergens.

4) What are some of the causes of skin allergies and what are some best practices to manage them?

I listed the causes of skin allergies in my answer for question two, and the best practice is avoidance of the allergen, if at all possible. We provide patients with a safe product list through CAMP for skin care products ranging from shampoos, soaps, moisturizers, and even laundry soap and detergents. We also provide ways to avoid non-skin care product allergens like rubber in certain rubber gloves or textile dye allergy through dye-free clothing. In addition, we provide dietary tips on how to avoid consuming some allergens that can cause a “systemic contact dermatitis,” including allergens like tocopherol, propylene glycol, balsam of peru, cobalt and nickel.

5) Is sensitive skin common or is it all hype/a trendy excuse?

Sensitive skin can mean a variety of things to patients. Someone who has had hives (urticaria) or eczema (atopic dermatitis) can feel that they have sensitive skin since their skin breaks out in rashes easily. It can also mean that they have become more and more sensitive to skin care products throughout their life by developing allergic contact dermatitis slowly over time. Diagnostic testing like patch testing can help to clarify what is driving the rash and/or the itch.

6) What is CAMP, why was it created, and how does it help patients who’ve had a patch test?

CAMP is the Contact Allergen Management Program. It was created for ACDS members in order to be able to provide a safe list of products that do not contain the allergens that the patient is allergic to or any of the cross reactants. It can be difficult to read labels if you do not know all the different chemical names and cross reactors. For example, if you tested positive to formaldehyde, you needs to avoid ingredients like Quaternium 15 and DMDM Hydantoin. CAMP takes the guess work out of finding safe products for the patient because it is easier for them to look for items on their safe list and buy those than to try to process all the possible reactions.

7) We heard there’s a new app for CAMP! Is it for me (does my dermatologist have to be a member of the ACDS), and how can I check?

In order to get access to the CAMP app, your dermatologist needs to be a member of the ACDS. CAMP will generate codes that you place into the app when it is downloaded to the phone, and using these codes, a list of products that do not contain your allergens can be generated.
Find an ACDS-member provider in your area that does patch test on the ACDS website.
We publish articles by doctors who wish to provide helpful information to their patients and the public, or who respond to our requests to use them as professional resources. Doctors may or may not prefer to remain anonymous and we respect this preference. These resource articles do not in any way imply an endorsement by the physician of VMVinSKIN.com or VMV HYPOALLERGENICS® — they are intended for informational purposes only. While written by or with resource professionals, these articles should not be relied on for diagnostic accuracy or applicability to your particular skin, which requires an in-person ocular consultation with a qualified physician and possibly additional diagnostic tests.