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The BBC's Karen Bowerman
"More than 10,000 ingredients are used in cosmetics"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 12 December, 2000, 00:35 GMT
Allergy warning on cosmetics
Some ingredients can cause allergic reactions
Ingredients in cosmetics known to cause allergic reactions in some people are not currently listed on labels, according to a report.

The study, by the magazine Health Which?, also found that the way in which some other ingredients are listed can lead to confusion.

More than 10,000 ingredients used in cosmetics are required, by law, to appear on labels.

Perfumes are the commonest cause of contact allergy from cosmetics

Dr Mike Beck, Hope Hospital, Salford
The key exceptions are any of the 2,600 fragrance chemicals which are currently listed under the catch-all term "parfum".

This is despite 24 of these being common triggers of allergic reactions.

In addition, Health Which? found most ingredients are listed by their chemical name - an internationally-agreed system - or in Latin which can cause confusion.

There may be problems recognising well known ingredients - for instance, peanut oil goes by the name of Arachis hypogaea on cosmetic labels.

Nikki Ratcliff, Senior Researcher for Health Which? said: "At the moment if you think you are allergic to fragrance chemicals your only option is to avoid anything which has 'parfum' on the label which means ruling out a huge number of products.

"We welcome the proposed change in the law from the European Commission which would require cosmetics manufacturers to list any of the 24 fragrance ingredients that can cause allergic reactions.

"But you may still have trouble recognising certain well known ingredients. If in doubt, seek advice from a dermatologist who should be able to tell you exactly what's in a product."


Dr Mike Beck, director of the Contact Dermatology Investigation Unit at Hope Hospital, Salford, told BBC News Online that failure to specify the fragrance chemicals in cosmetics had prevented dermatologists from carrying out work into allergies.

He said: "Perfumes are the commonest cause of contact allergy from cosmetics.

"They contain quite a complicated array of materials, and therefore just putting the word parfum on the label has not helped us to understand why precisely people are becoming allergic.

"We cannot tell which components are causing the problem, or in what concentrations they become active."

Dr Beck said allergic reactions to perfume usually caused a red, scaly rash on the skin.

However, in rare cases extremely sensitive patients might also develop problems with sneezing and breathing.


Health Which? makes recommendations on how to ensure that make up is safe and hygienic to use.

These include:

  • not sharing make-up
  • washing hands before using cosmetics
  • regularly washing brushes and applicators in warm soapy water
  • not using cosmetics on broken or infected skin
  • storing cosmetics in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight
  • not using make-up if it smells strange or a solution has become separated or discoloured
  • testing the product on a small patch of skin to check for sensitivity
  • following instructions, especially on products such as face masks
Health Which? advised that people who do suffer irritation should seek advice from a doctor, or a skin test from a dermatologist.

The magazine also advises people who suffer a reaction to inform the manufacturer.

The batch code will enable the manufacturer to trace when the product was made.

Trading standards may be able to advise on disputes.

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See also:

04 Oct 00 | Health
Sunscreens 'may be toxic'
17 Aug 00 | Health
Allergies 'helped by homeopathy'
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