- Caroline Praderio/INSIDER
- “Hypoallergenic” products are popular for their perceived skin benefits.
- But the definition of “hypoallergenic” is not standardized or regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration.
- The term can mean whatever manufacturers want it to mean.
- And research shows some “hypoallergenic” products actually contain allergens.
People with skin allergies probably trust that “hypoallergenic” products will be free of ingredients that cause itchy, painful reactions. So they might be surprised to learn that the term “hypoallergenic” is essentially meaningless.
You don’t have to take our word for it – take the US Food and Drug Administration’s.
“There are no federal standards or definitions that govern the use of the term ‘hypoallergenic,'” the FDA writes on its website. “The term means whatever a particular company wants it to mean.”
And it might not mean much.
In a 2015 study, for example, scientists tested 135 children’s skin-care products labeled “hypoallergenic” and found that almost 90% contained at least one known skin allergen.
In an April 1978 issue of its “FDA Consumer” magazine, the agency explained that it did try to regulate the term during the 1970s. The agency wanted to allow the use of “hypoallergenic” only if human studies showed a product caused a significantly lower rate of allergic reactions compared to other products. But cosmetic companies fought the FDA in court and won. To this day, “hypoallergenic” is still unregulated, and manufacturers don’t have to offer the FDA any proof to back up the claim.
- Oleg. / Flickr
This doesn’t mean that all companies who use the term are trying to deceive you. Some might voluntarily put their products through a barrage of high-quality allergy testing, but it’s hard to know that when you’re browsing store shelves in search of a new product. In the drugstore, when you see the term on two different products, it could mean two totally different things.
The bottom line: Don’t assume that “hypoallergenic” products will never cause an allergic reaction. If you see a company using the marketing term, you might want to check their website or contact customer service and see if they have additional information on their interpretation of its meaning.
If you know you’re allergic to a certain ingredient or ingredients, it’s best to skip straight a product’s ingredients list. And if you’re getting allergic skin reactions and you’re not sure why, ask a doctor about getting patch testing, dermatologist Dr. Allison Arthur previously explained to INSIDER. The test exposes your skin to common allergens found in cosmetics so you’ll know which ones to avoid in the future.
Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.