[By Rachel Roberts]

Alicia, 37, is a believer in organic skincare ever since her second child. Plagued with skin sensitivity after two pregnancies in five years, she abandoned her costly cosmetics and skincare and opted for simple organic soap and water each day. To her bewilderment, her skin condition worsened daily, to a point that she could no longer step out of her house without some heavy duty concealer coverage to camouflage her ugly, red patches of dermatitis rearing its ugly head on her cheeks.

You may be surprised to know that even organic skincare can be laden with skin sensitizing ingredients. Many adults nowadays suffer from a condition called dermatitis. Dermatitis is a symptom, not a disease, and the word can apply to a wide range of skin conditions. Essentially, dermatitis is any inflammation of the skin that leads to redness, scaling, itching or tiny fluid-filled blisters. Dermatitis can have any number of causes, from fungal infection to fleas. Like food allergies, most of these substances are harmless when ingested by people who aren’t allergic, but there are also plants (like poison ivy) that produce contact dermatitis in a majority of the population.

The quickest way to develop allergic contact dermatitis is by rubbing something you’re allergic to on your bare skin. Something we rub on our skin on a regular basis is soap. Ironically, a product that’s supposed to cleanse your skin can end up causing you a lot of pain and aggravation. We’ll take a look at five of the most common allergens in soaps that cause dermatitis.

1. Balsam of Peru

Balsam of Peru, also known as myroxylon, is a sticky sap that smells like vanilla and cinnamon. But beneath it benign exterior, it can be a potential skin allergen as it contains Cinnamein, a well-documented culprit of skin dermatitis. Unfortunately, it is a commonly used ingredient in soaps, perfumes and shampoos both for its smell and for its quality as a fixative, which helps slow down evaporation.

It’s one of the most common causes of contact dermatitis, and about half of people who have a fragrance allergy have a reaction to balsam of Peru. Most common complaints are hand eczema and rashes around the mouth.

2. Paraben

Many of you may have heard of parabens as it has been receiving its fair share of bad press over the years. Paraben is both an industrially produced and naturally occurring ester. Used as a preservative, it’s found in shampoos, soaps, toothpaste and deodorant. While allergic reactions to it are relatively rare when you consider how common it is, but different types of parabens also often appear in the same product, increasing the chance of a reaction.

A 2004 study in the United Kingdom linked them to breast cancer after trace amounts of methylparaben were found in breast cancer tumor biopsies. Although further research has produced no conclusive evidence that parabens cause cancer, many consumers are still worried, preferring to take a better-safe-than-sorry approach to skin care. Whether or not the claims about the dangers of parabens are true, cosmetics companies have compensated for the backlash and now offer a wide variety of paraben-free products.

Our favourite pick is Caudalie Cleansing Water. A soap-free, three-in-one cleanser, makeup remover, and toner for face and eyes that’s perfect for all skin types – even the most sensitive. Best of all, it is formulated without parabens, sulfates, synthetic dyes, petro-Chemicals and phthalates.

3. Coconut Diethanolamide

You may not be allergic to eating coconuts but it’s not uncommon to have an allergic reaction to touching them. You’d think that it would be harder for your body to deal with things you put in your mouth than stuff that just touches your skin, but coconuts are an exception. What’s more, they show up in all kinds of skin care products, both for their delicious scent and their ability to moisturize and soften skin.

Coconuts can also be made into coconut diethanolamide, a detergent that helps create a stable lather when you’re washing with soap. Like sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), coconut diethanolamide can break down skin’s oily barrier layer and dry it out, but certain people develop more intense allergic reactions to it. Since coconut diethanolamide is a common ingredient in skin care products such as barrier creams and hand protection foams, sensitizing can happen rapidly. You may begin to develop reactions after using a product for two or three months.

4. Fragrance

While we all love scented soaps, the truth is that fragrance can sometimes be the culprit for our skin allergies. When you see fragrance listed as an ingredient on a skin care product, you’re looking at a top-secret mix of esters, ketones, aldehydes, amines and more. This makes it difficult to construct allergy tests for fragrance because, in North America in particular, we don’t even know what the ingredients in most fragrances are.

Even though fragrance doesn’t actually contribute to skin cleansing, it’s one of the most common contact allergens in soap. Furthermore, fragrance allergens are found in just about any cosmetic product that doesn’t carry a “fragrance-free” label.

If you are looking for a fragrance free cleanser, try Fresh Soy Face Cleanser. It is formulated without synthetic fragrances, sulfates, synthetic Dyes, phthalates, GMOs, Triclosan.

5. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a common ingredient found in soaps and shampoos. It does a good job of breaking up oil and grease; it’s also the substance that makes soap foam.

While SLS is useful for breaking up greasy foreign substances, it also breaks up the layer of oil that keeps our skin from drying out. And while it’s not technically an allergen because it doesn’t provoke a reaction from the immune system, SLS can cause contact dermatitis and aggravate eczema by weakening that oily barrier on our skin. This means that SLS can usher other allergic elements into your body. After repeated exposure to these elements, you may develop reactions to things you weren’t allergic to before.

If you’re having a problem with dry, itchy skin, check your soap for sodium lauryl sulfate. It also appears in toothpaste and bubble bath — pretty much anything that foams up to get you clean.


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3 thoughts on “Is your facial soap causing your skin woes?”

  1. I have super sensitive skin. I have resorted to using baby products to help my skin woes but till no, it still flares up in bumps once in a while. I am at my wits end.

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