You may expect allergic reactions from pollen, pet dander, and foods you’ve learned to avoid, but it’s probably less likely that you’ve anticipated sensitivities to your hair and skincare products.
These reactions can range from mild irritation to anaphylaxis (a severe, life-threatening reaction), so it’s important to learn how to spot common symptoms. It’s possible that you’ve experienced discomfort without knowing that your product is at fault.
Medical advisor Dr. Jan Hansen explains that an allergic reaction “is an inappropriate response to an otherwise harmless substance. When the body becomes sensitized to a substance, that substance becomes an allergen.” As everybody responds differently to substances, some people are more allergic (or not at all allergic) than others.
Common allergic reaction symptoms:
- Hives (Itchy red spots on the skin)
- Watery or Itchy Eyes
Even mild symptoms, like signs of redness, should not be ignored. The first time a person is exposed to an allergen they may not have a strong reaction. However, once an allergic reaction has occurred, even limited exposure to a small amount of the same allergen may trigger a stronger response.
Treat any mild reaction, especially to a product that you’ve used before, as an indicator that you may have developed an allergy.
So, I’m Having a Reaction. What’s Next?
If you’ve noticed that you are experiencing some symptoms of an allergy and you know the cause, the best thing to do is to eliminate it immediately from your routine.
Take a look at the ingredients on the label so you have a sense of what to avoid when purchasing products in the future. For example, if your conditioner has 75% of the same ingredients as the lotion but does not give you a reaction, the possible allergen ingredient is likely one or more of the other ingredients in your lotion.
Start by choosing products that make an effort to remove allergens. If you are still having an allergic response, check the the labels. If you see a litany of ingredients—with chemical names that you don’t understand—it may be confusing. If you don’t know what product is giving you an allergic reaction, you can try to figure it out at home before seeing an allergist.
Start by grouping the likely suspects. If you think it’s your shampoo and conditioner, take them out of your routine. If you are still experiencing allergy symptoms after two days without use, move on to the next most likely culprit.
If after a few rounds of trial and error and eliminating products, you’re still experiencing allergy symptoms, your best course of action is to see an allergist. Bring your products, or snapshot the labels on your phone, to help your doctor figure out if there is an ingredient in several of your regular products that is giving you an allergic reaction.
Patch Test for New Products
Before introducing a new product into your routine—especially permanent hair color—it’s important to check to see if you are allergic to the product. Taking this step can help prevent discomfort when you use the product. Here are some easy, step-by-step instructions for conducting a sensitivity skin patch test for hair color:
- Mix a small amount of permanent color and a small amount of activator in a non-metal bowl. You will be testing a very small patch of skin, so you don’t need much
- Use a cotton swab to apply the color mixture to your skin
- Allow color mixture to dry
- Leave on skin for 48 hours to test for sensitivities to the ingredients. If you sense any discomfort or sensitivity, remove and clean immediately.
Make sure you give yourself a full 48 hours to complete the patch test. During this time, the skin should not get wet, so choose a spot where this is easiest.
If you don’t feel physical discomfort but notice a visible change in the skin like redness or bumps, you likely have sensitivity to the product and should not use it. Allergic reactions tend to get worse each time you are exposed, so be sure to discontinue use of any products that cause irritation.
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