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

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

Cosmetics Ingredients: What — and How Much Of It — Is Really In a Product?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: Is the Ingredients List on cosmetics packaging compulsory and regulated? Does the it cover all ingredients? Or can companies pick and choose what they want to reveal?

A: In many countries, cosmetics are regulated by the local Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or an equivalent governing body. If regulated, the rule is usually that cosmetics must list all ingredients, following a specified format, and must use only the INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) names of ingredients. A few countries do not require that ingredients be listed — in full or in part — and/or do not have requirements regarding the names used or formatting.

Q: Why is there no percentage beside each ingredient?  That way parents can compare and choose the product with the least amount of an allergen. Also, I read that if a product contains an allergen it might not trigger a reaction if its concentration is too low. I also read that some products use an exceptionally high concentration of certain irritants. How can consumers find out the concentration of an allergen or irritant in a product?

A: Concentrations are not included in part because of proprietary concerns — a company would not want its exact formulation copied and some FDAs have rules prohibiting the registration of the same formulation under different brand names. If a product is a drug, however, it usually does have to disclose percentages, but only of the active ingredients.

An easy way to get an idea of how much of an ingredient is in the formulation is to look at where it is on the ingredients list. Many regulatory bodies require that ingredients be listed from most to least.

Finally, the percentage of an irritant or allergen is relevant mostly if someone only has an irritant reaction to it. Irritant reactions do have a relationship with the concentration of the ingredient, frequency of exposure, time on the skin, etc. For example, you could be using an allergen most of your life and not really react to it or just have mild irritant reactions like dryness. But if you are allergic to a substance or develop an allergy to it, any percentage of it for any amount of time on the skin will cause a reaction. Which is another reason why a patch test is so important.

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

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.

Family Blog, Healthy Living, Skin

Do Cosmetics Expire?Featured

by Laura Verallo de Bertotto
One of the most frequent questions I get from friends is: can I still use a product if it’s past its expiration date? Do cosmetics really expire? The short answer is…very often, yes!
In our home, we frequently, and happily, use “expired” stock for a few reasons, some of which you might find surprising.

It’s Not Food

Most cosmetics — including VMV products — don’t “go bad” the way food does. Skincare and makeup actually “lasts” — meaning they don’t exhibit changes under normal conditions — a really long time: two years, five years, or more. Formulations with little to no water or that have preservatives (more on this below) can last even longer.

When Things Do Go Bad

Unlike fresh food that naturally rots over time, if something funky happens to a product, it’s frequently due to contamination…some organism got into it. This can happen if water or another substance makes its way into the product, or if remove product was put back into the container, when sharing products with different people….you get the gist. But left alone, closed and stored well, and hygienically  used? Most products last a really, really long time.
IMPORTANT: if you do notice funky changes, expired or not, trash the product as it may have become contaminated.

Expiration Dates

Why do some cosmetics have expiration dates? This depends in part on different countries’ FDA rules and on a store’s preferred shelf life.
Expiration dates are sometimes required by the FDA if a product is a drug, or if its tested shelf life is less than a specific amount of years.
For drugs, the expiration date refers to efficacy. ALSO IMPORTANT: expired sunscreens might not protect at the tested protection factors so it’s best to use them before the expiration date.
Otherwise, an FDA may not require an expiration date for cosmetics at all.
For other products, “expiration” or “sell-by” or “shelf life” can refer to how long it can sit in storage without changes in “organoleptic properties” (how it looks, smells, etc). Stores use this information to plan how long to keep a product in storage, and how much of it to stock.


Many products use preservatives to be able to stay on shelves longer without manifesting organoleptic changes.
Pro tip: some “preservative-free” products use fragrances or other allergens with preservation properties.
Due to the highly sensitive/allergic skins of our customers, with the exception of very few products, VMV Hypoallergenics does not use preservatives. Instead, we use a proprietary mix that has zero allergens. This is great for skin, but it also means our shelf life is shorter than most. We’re constantly testing to try to push it further (hence the constant “skinnovation!”).

Prevent Contamination

Some best practices to prevent contamination are:

  1. Never pour water or anything else into the container. Sneeze and cough away from the container to prevent droplets entering the container.
  2. If some of the product spills or you take out too much by mistake, do not put it back in (even if it was just on your hand).
  3. Store your products in a cool, dry place away from light. Many ingredients are photosensitive and can change color with light exposure. For the most part, storing products in the refrigerator is fine (check with the company, though).
  4. Try not to share your products. If you need or want to:
  • Don’t “double dip”: your fingertip or applicator should touch the product once at a time;
  • Do not share mascara, lip gloss wants, or other products used near the mucosa (membranous or “wet” parts of eyes, mouth, nostrils);
  • Apply makeup (especially lipstick) with your own applicator, and disinfect makeup brushes before using a product (and wash makeup brushes regularly).
  • If someone has an infection or may have an infection (sore, blister, cut, wound, fever, cough, or cold, etc.) put the sharing on pause until it’s cleared.

The “Skinny”

  • As a rule, cosmetics are not food and do not tend to naturally “rot” or “go bad” when properly stored and used.
  • Most cosmetics, especially if they use preservatives or have little water in the formulation, last a really long time: two years or more.
  • If a product shows an expiration date, it might be because your country’s FDA considers it a drug, or it has shown organoleptic changes after a certain number of years in stability tests, or because retailers require an expiration date to tell them long they can store a product. Expiration rarely refers to “rot.”
  • If a product shows an expiration date, do you trash it?
    • NOT NECESSARILY if it is a cosmetic product and shows no changes in smell, texture, consistency, color, etc.
    • YES if you notice “funky” changes (it smells rancid, there’s a notable change in color or texture). If you notice any of these, whether or not the expiration date has passed, trash it as it may have picked up a bug.
    • YES if it is a drug or sunscreen! Do not use a drug after the expiration date — not for “rot,” but to make sure you’re getting the tested potency of the active ingredients.
  • As usual and especially for sensitive skin, skin that’s prone to infection, or if you are immune-compromised, when in doubt, ask the manufacturer and your doctor.


Laura is the CEO of VMV Hypoallergenics and eldest daughter of our founding dermatologist-dermatopathologist. She has two children, Madison and Gavin, and works at VMV with her sister and husband (Madison and Gavin frequently volunteer their “usage testing” services). In addition to saving the world’s skin, Laura is passionate about learning, literature, art, health, science, inclusion, cultural theory, human rights, happiness and goodness.


Could Your Skin's Patterns Be The Map To Its Cure?

Patterns aren’t just for understanding behavior. Your skin problem’s pattern can be the very roadmap to its solution!

Look at your skin. Really look at it. If you observe your acne, rashes, dry patches, and dark splotches as carefully as you would an inkblot test, you might be surprised at how much your skin is telling you about the causes of its problems…and how to fix them.


You indulged in a new moisturizer and all you got was an angry, red rash? Curse you, moisturizer! Before you take a pitchfork to that tube, study the pattern of the redness carefully. For the moisturizer to be a good suspect, the redness should appear over most of the entire face, which is how you normally apply a moisturizer. If you notice that the reaction is concentrated in specific areas, you’re better off looking at another product that you tend to use on those areas, even if you’ve never had a problem with that product before (irritations and allergies can develop over time).
If you notice that the skin reaction is worse on one side of the face, think about where you normally sit in the car, on the bus, at home, and in the office. Does that side tend to face a window or be closer to a lamp? You might be looking at a photosensitive reaction — redness or darkening due to exposure to sun or light, or from allergens in your skincare or makeup reacting to sun or light.
Your bedsheets could also be a problem: if you tend to sleep on one side more than another, allergy- or acne-causing materials in your pillowcase or ingredients in your laundry detergent could be causing your skin reaction.

Forehead, Cheeks, Upper Back

Is your acne concentrated on the forehead, cheeks, or upper back? It might be caused by your shampoo, conditioner, and hair styling products. Comedogens (ingredients that clog pores) and allergens (which can irritate pores and lead to infection, then acne) in some of these products could trickle down onto the skin (particularly with sweat) to cause acne and other skin problems.
If you use helmets for biking or sports, or headscarves or hats, consider them, too. Many contain rubber, dyes, bleaches, and preservatives, which can all cause skin problems.

Around the Eyes

Do you wear glasses with metal parts? Nickel is regularly at the top of published lists of common allergens, and reactions on the nose, ears, and around the eyes could point to a nickel sensitivity. Eyewear without metal parts may not be entirely safe for you either if they contain allergens like benzophenones in the plastic or thiuram in rubberized parts.
A case study was presented where a woman was erroneously diagnosed with vitiligo (loss of pigment in the skin) due to whitened patches around her eyes. A dermatologist suspicious of the symmetry of the whitening ordered a patch test. The results showed that the patient was sensitive to rubber. As the patient worked in a laboratory, the doctor asked if she used protective eyewear. It turns out that the patient had developed hypo-pigmentation (loss of pigmentation) as a reaction to the rubber on her lab goggles.
Eye makeup and eye serums can also be an issue, of course, and a reaction to this would normally be concentrated on the areas of application.

Mouth, Lips, Chin, Jaw

If you have chronic dryness and blisters on the lips, check out this case study showing how simple avoidance — in this case, of mint and nickel (the patient’s allergens) — can be powerful at clearing up a problem entirely! If you share this patient’s allergies, avoiding mint may seem simple but allergens often cross-react or are related to other allergens…so we’d suggest avoiding flavors altogether.
Nickel can be present in braces. If you’ve tested positive for a nickel allergy, make sure to tell your dentist and orthodontist about it.
Some colors used in lipsticks can contain nickel. Ask the manufacturer about the concentration of nickel in their dyes or pigments to be sure (note that a nickel sensitivity often comes with a cobalt sensitivity, too).
Nickel can also be present in mordants, or metals in fabrics. If you tend to use scarves, opt for natural, uncolored fabrics because mordants are used to help dyes adhere to cloth.
There are other allergens present in fabrics. If your problems seem to be where your skin tends to come into contact with clothing, ask your doctor about a patch test with clothing allergens included. Safer scarf options include pale, natural colors and non-scratchy, non-stretchy fabrics.
We also regularly see acne, dryness, darkening, rashes and other problems around the mouth and on the chin, lips, and/or jawline as a result to a sensitivity to fluoride and flavors in toothpastes and oral care products (peri-oral dermatitis) which also responds dramatically to simple avoidance. A halogen sensitivity also benefits from avoiding iodides, bromides, chlorine, and similar substances (check out this halogen-Free Diet for a great guide).

Hands & Feet

Notice some random, and stubborn, dryness on your fingers? If it’s on the the thumb and the index finger, it could be from holding coffee mugs with metals or rubbers on the handles. Or, as in the case of one psoriasis patient, from touching paper! This patient’s psoriasis was finally well controlled. Part of her successful management was her disciplined avoidance of her allergens: dyes and preservatives. Still, she had dry, scaly patches on one hand that just wouldn’t go away.
Her dermatologist grilled her about what she was using that could be causing the patches. The patient was adamant: nothing! Because she was so happy about her therapy’s success, she was exacting about avoiding dyes and preservatives, and was (rightfully, in our opinion…it’s not easy) proud of it. The doctor persisted, asking if the patient had begun working again (she was retired) or had any other changes in her life that could be sources of accidental exposure. They finally got to new hobbies. The patient said that she had recently started playing weekly bingo. Delving deeper, the dermatologist asked the patient to show him what she used when playing the game. The patient returned with an ink-stained marker and paper. Sure enough, where her skin came into contact with the ink and where she rested her hand on the paper (thiourea, one of her allergens, is related to dyes and preservatives and is common in paper) matched the pattern of her dry, scaly patches. After just a few weeks of minimizing contact with the pen and paper, the patient was scale-free from head to toe.
Problems on the feet can be due to elastics in socks, as well as rubbers, colorants, metals, or glues in shoes. Laundry detergent could also be a factor.
An interesting case we are monitoring is of a patient whose irritations are on the soles of the feet, and who is mostly allergic to propolis. His doctor is narrowing in on the possibility of the wooden floors of the patient’s home possibly containing propolis from floor wax…or even as a transfer from bees!
For either hands or feet, if the nails or webbing between the toes are involved, make sure to consult a dermatologist to rule out other skin conditions.
IMPORTANT: If you notice a dark spot that looks almost like a bruise on the fingers or toes, don’t dismiss it so easily. Show it to your dermatologist at your next skin cancer screening as it could be an early sign of some skin cancers (even in non-white skin).

Underarm & Body

A doctor shared a fascinating case of a patient whose underarm darkening would not go away. The patient had already switched over to our allergen-free Essence Skin-Saving Antiperspirant, Essence Skin-Saving Body Washes and Fawn & Launder Hypoallergenic Laundry, and was conscientious about not using any other products on the area.

The doctor reviewed her case in detail. The patient’s patch test showed an allergic reaction to metals and nothing else. She asked the patient to come in again so that she could take another look at the darkened area. The doctor noticed that the darkened skin was in a pattern: the darkening was limited to a circle at the perimeter of the underarm, and there was no darkening in the center. This perimeter area is where the skin would most come into contact with shirt sleeve openings and the sides of a bra. Thinking back to the patch test results, the doctor asked the patient to use only white or otherwise un-dyed materials in bras and shirts. It took a few months but the darkening subsided significantly.

Why did this darkening happen if the patient was primarily allergic to metals? In addition to causing redness, dryness, scaling, itching and other abnormal symptoms, an allergy to metal can also cause darkening…and there are often hidden metals in clothing. As mentioned above, mordants are chemicals that are added to clothing to help dyes adhere to fabric. This is why, when the patient stopped using fabrics with color, the darkening subsided.

Due to their function, mordants are common in colored clothing, including denim. The photo below shows a man’s metal allergy on the upper thigh due to the mordants in his jeans (for other people, a common problem the blue colorant, indigo). This patient was highly allergic to nickel, and his pattern revealed that he was also reacting to the nickel in his cell phone, which he tended to keep in his pocket:

If the itching, redness or darkening is on your knees or around the groin area where clothing tends to gather or crease, you could be reacting to your clothing or underwear. Use allergen-free body cleansers, wash your clothing in hypoallergenic laundry soap, and choose clothing that is less stretchy and as un-colored as possible.

Patterns Matter

If you have stubborn darkening, redness, dryness, itching, acne or other skin problems, pay close attention to where they occur. Patterns can be helpful in determining the causes of skin problems, as can a patch test and an investigative dermatologist.

In addition to our allergen-free products, if you have clothing contact dermatitis we suggest browsing through dye, latex and rubber-free clothing like those offered by Cottonique. Fun fact: one of Cottonique’s founders was a patient of our founding dermatologist-dermatopathologist — he started the company after her diagnosis of his clothing contact dermatitis.

Disclosure: VMV has no commercial or other relationship with Cottonique except having done a clinical study for how their allergen-free clothing can help those with clothing contact dermatitis.

“Dew” More:

To shop our selection of validated hypoallergenic products, visit vmvhypoallergenics.com. Need help? Leave a comment below, contact us by email, or drop us a private message on Facebook.

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.

Learn 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.

Allergen, Not An Allergen, Featured, Skin

SILICONE: Allergen or Not An Allergen?Featured

SILICONE: Allergen or Not An Allergen?

Not An Allergen.


There are concerns about silicone’s possible impact on the environment, and, in the case of nanoparticles, the possibility of such small molecules penetrating beyond the skin to potentially cause harm inside the body (VMV Hypoallergenics does not use ingredients in nanoparticles in its formulations). But silicones are not on published allergen lists and are normally well tolerated in multiple uses, from creams and makeup, to contact lenses.

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

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.

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.

Featured, Skin

More "Ow" Than Glow? Skin Allergies Are More Common Than EverFeatured

Sensitive Subject:

Make that subjects. Lots of them.

1 in 4 people is allergic to common skin care and cosmetic ingredients. And, like eczema and other allergies, this number is on the rise.
Below, we go through skin allergies by the numbers and what you can do to prevent reactions.
Want even more details, data and sources? Check out One In Four Is Allergic to Common Skin Care And Cosmetic Ingredients on Skintelligencenter.com.