Product gives me a rash although says hypoallergenic

The Myth of “Hypoallergenic”

The word “hypoallergenic,” like the word “natural,” is not regulated.

And while we’re at it, no actual dermatologists are required to test products labeled “dermatologist-tested.”

That’s right, for marketing purposes, companies can claim anything is “hypoallergenic.” According to the FDA website, “There are no Federal standards or definitions that govern the use of the term ‘hypoallergenic.’ The term means whatever a particular company wants it to mean.”

And it goes without saying that the word “hypoallergenic” does not take into account specific allergies.

Now, when people with allergies and sensitivities see a product that has hypoallergenic, fragrance-free, paraben-free, etc., stamped all over its bottle and/or website and the manufacturer does not disclose the FULL list of ingredients (including inactive ingredients), it normally sets off a very important but little-known part of the brain:

The bullshit detector in the brain

My bullshit detector was clearly broken the other day when I was at hand therapy (I have repetitive-strain injury). I was getting treatment with a TENS machine, which sends an electrical current into your muscles in order to ease tension and soothe pain. (It sounds scary and Frankenstein-esque but feels amazing.)

But this time, the electrodes stopped working. They didn’t have new ones, so the therapist offered to put conduction gel on my back to make the old electrodes work better.

I never allowed her to do that before because of my allergic skin. Who knows what’s in that gel? “No, it only contains water and salt,” the therapist said.

People who don’t have allergies or sensitivities can really, truly believe that a sticky, chemical-looking gel that increases electrical conduction could only contain water and salt.

Anyway, she convinced me to try JUST A LITTLE TINY BIT THIS ONE TIME. Non-allergic people can act as though I’m worrying too much, being neurotic, or being “negative.” Usually, I don’t fall for it, and I try to raise awareness of allergies. This time, I was weak. I wanted to use the TENS unit, my neck muscles felt like cement, and she convinced me that no one had ever reacted to the product.

I got a rash. Surprise. Not. I’m always that one person in 100 who reacts. I hate being constantly vigliant, but my immune system has its own agenda.

I Googled all over the place and I couldn’t find the ingredients for this product. Not on the company’s site and not on any other site.

Aquasonic gel: What's in there?
Aquasonic gel: What’s in there?

What I did find was one report to the FDA, from a physical therapist who was allergic to methylparaben and had reacted to this product. Now, I try to avoid parabens as much as possible because of their endocrine-disrupting properties and persistence in tissue, but I’m not actually allergic to them, at least not on my last test. False negatives do happen on patch tests, and once you start developing allergies, you often develop new ones. Still, I have one prescription cream that has methylparaben, and I don’t react to it.

I wondered if the company was using a formaldehyde releaser. I am very allergic to one of these. Formaldehyde releasers preserve products by slowly releasing formaldehyde into the products; the formaldehyde ends up on your skin. Yes, it is the same formaldehyde used to embalm dead people. Also, formaldehyde is a carcinogen, although the cosmetics industry insists that the trace amounts in cosmetics are fine. The formaldehyde releaser I’m allergic to is called “diazolidinyl urea” and is often found in shampoos, cleansers, conditioners, creams, hair stylers, and other personal care products.

But the product website had “no formaldehyde” on it too. Fact is, I’ll never know what was in that product, because the company didn’t practice full disclosure. Instead, it wrote on the website: “Unique ‘can’t be copied’ formula is bacteriostatic, non-sensitizing and non-irritating.”

I’m quite happy this formula can’t be copied, since it was definitely not “non-irritating.” I could have called or emailed the company, but in this case it was less work just to not use the product again.

So, the moral of the story? If a company makes all sorts of claims and doesn’t disclose its ingredients, it’s usually hiding some unsavory chemical.

To find a dermatologist who does patch testing, click here.

And as for the word “natural,” for an excellent and hilarious explanation of just how meaningless that word is, check out this post (with videos) from Seriously “Sensitive” to Pollution.

Here’s one video:

Published by


Hi! I'm Vicki. My blog is called "Miss Diagnoses" because I have too many diagnoses and because my Lyme disease was misdiagnosed for many years. In addition to being a professional patient, I'm a compulsive reader and doodler. Sadly, my writing and drawing are limited by repetitive strain injury and neuropathy. I use assistive technology, but I can't post as often as I'd like. You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and I have two short cartoon videos on YouTube. Twitter and Instagram: @miss_diagnoses Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube: @MissDiagnoses

15 thoughts on “The Myth of “Hypoallergenic”

  1. Your illustrations had me laughting, thank you (but really sorry about the rash :/ )
    I know how it is to have those weak moments, when we just want to be “normal” (or have too many other symptoms going on to remember to be vigilant, or even feel so good that we forget we ever needed to be vigilant! (that happened to me, just once, last summer, a brief trip down another rabbit hole)

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It can get tiring, dealing with it, especially when there are so many obstacles to getting the information and safe for us things we need…
        I have also felt so “high maintenance” recently, but it hasn’t had anything to do with approval seeking, just getting my basic needs met, and in ways that don’t disable me to the point I can’t look after myself… If things weren’t all so toxic I could do it all myself! I wouldn’t have to ask for help, or for people to do things differently that they are used to doing…
        Hope you can get all the safe pain relief and healing aids that you need!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. “Water” and “salt.” That would be laughable if it hadn’t resulted in you getting a rash. As a former therapist, I can say with certainty that is NOT all that is in those bottles of gel! So sorry that happened to you. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The rash wasn’t as bad as the one in my drawing, which was, uh, slightly exaggerated. 🙂 But yeah, there was something bad in there. I told her and she said she wouldn’t use it again, but she didn’t seem to really get it. I ended up switching therapists by chance, as she was out one day and I saw one of the assistant therapists, who does a serious arm massage!


    1. Thank you so much! Yeah, the FDA has not defined “dermatologist-tested,” so you would have to call a company up and see if there was any testing done. The company should be able to back up any claims about testing with actual research documents, ideally ones they can send to you. If they act sketchy about it, they likely ARE sketchy. The FDA doesn’t regulate cosmetics … the industry self-regulates through an industry board. Yuck, right?


  4. I’m guilty of falling for the dermatologist-tested label on moisturizers. Lends them legitimacy, right. Haha. They’re making fools of all of us.
    Oh, yeah, if there was a moisturizer made from salt and water, and it was dermatologist-tested, I’d have leaped for it.
    Until now. That won’t ever happen again.


  5. Ha, thanks! I just added the photo of the stuff I had forgotten to put in. Brain fog. The problem with these unregulated terms is that there is no pressure on these companies to change anything. Our regulations are very lax compared to say, the EU, which has banned many more chemicals for use in personal care products.


  6. New research reveals that in pediatric cosmetics marketed as hypoallergenic “the most prevalent sensitizers were preservatives 108 (58%) and fragrances 55 (29%).”

    “This study evaluated the allergen content of 187 unique pediatric cosmetics marketed in the United States as hypoallergenic.

    The authors found that 167 (89%) of the 187 products contained at least 1 contact allergen, 117 (63%) 2 or more, and 21 (11%) 5 or more. The average number of allergens in each product was 2.4.

    The most prevalent single allergen was cocamidopropyl betaine, found in 45 (24%) followed by propolis/beeswax in 35 (19%), phenoxyethanol in 33 (18%), tocopherol in 25 (13%), and DMDM hydantoin in 24 (13%).

    Of note, 11.2% of the products contained methylisothiazolinone. By allergen category, the most prevalent sensitizers were preservatives 108 (58%) and fragrances 55 (29%).”

    Hamann CR, Bernard S, Hamann D, Hansen R, Thyssen JP.

    Is there a risk using hypoallergenic cosmetic pediatric products in the United States?

    J Allergy Clin Immunol 2014 Nov 7;

    via Allergy Advisor Digest email

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pediatric cosmetics? The whole concept sounds so strange. Are they for hiding birthmarks or something?

      I am allergic to one of those substances, by the way. One of the others releases formaldehyde into the product to halt the growth of bacteria. Formaldehyde… just what you want to put on your child! I believe the tocopherol is vitamin E but that can cause rashes too.

      Thanks for this further proof that the hypoallergenic label is bullshit.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t have access to the whole study so I am not sure what kinds of products they tested… I think that a lotion with lavender scent that “helps a baby sleep” (according to the ads) is considered a cosmetic and not a drug (despite the obvious claims)… hence virtually no regulations…

        Liked by 1 person

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