Over one third of Brits would describe their skin as sensitive, according to a recent skincare Mintel report. But sensitive skin can mean something different to each of us. Perhaps you suffer from unexplained breakouts or dryness, or you might get a more extreme reaction like rashes, eczema, stinging and inflammation? With so many people in the same sensitive skin boat it’s nice to know you’re not alone, but nobody should have to put up with skin that hurts or doesn’t make you feel your best.
There can be so many reasons why your skin feels sensitive. Hormones, the environment we live in, low immunity and even the effects of a pandemic, combined with using harsh products - like scrubs, peeling masks, cleansers and serums - can all contribute to breaking down our natural skin barrier and causing or magnifying sensitive skin issues.
When it comes to shopping for skincare, you may have felt like you needed a degree in chemistry to understand product labels. As well as ingredients being confusing to decipher, the results of buying and using a wrong product can spell disaster for your skin.
If you haven’t found the products that make your skin truly happy yet, beware that ingredients in products that are labelled for sensitive skin could, in fact, be the very thing irritating your skin. Food and fragrance allergens and other irritants in these products can cause dryness, breakouts or painful redness.
There are over 2 million people in the UK with a diagnosed food allergy, but many more will have food allergies and intolerances that are undiagnosed, simply because it is often difficult to identify without a strict process of elimination. This uncertainty goes some way to explaining why food and fragrance allergens are often overlooked as a trigger for sensitive skin. Skincare product users just haven’t made the connection yet, and that’s something we’d like to help change.
Our independently conducted Skin Sensitivity Survey highlighted the need for greater transparency in skincare. Of 1,564 respondents, 97% felt that skincare products should label all allergens on their packaging in the same way as food products do, and 86% of respondents stated that they were more likely to buy a skincare brand that is allergen neutral.
"Food and fragrance allergens are not always being considered when brands label themselves as 'clean', 'organic', 'natural' or 'hypoallergenic'. If you are particular about excluding allergens from your skincare formulations, then you should look for 'allergen neutral' products. Everyone is different, everyone has different skin triggers. The safest way to ensure that your skincare is good for you is to look for 'allergen neutral' skincare that has excluded as many triggers as possible and has undergone testing on individuals with sensitive skin."
Stewart Long FRSC, President, Society of Cosmetic Scientists 2020-2021
Oodee was born from the frustrations of our co-founder, Karen, who even when working for global beauty brands, could never enjoy the products due to sensitivities on her skin. She was in exactly the same position as many of our customers are, trying and failing to find out exactly what was causing the reactions. In some instances, the easiest option for Karen would be to abandon skincare altogether.
Here at Oodee we’ve been working hard on a solution to put all the information you need on choosing which skincare products could be right for you, in one place. We’ve also included a guide on all the different terms used for these allergens and irritants, whether they be acronyms or Latin phrases, you deserve to know what to look out for. Here’s how we did it.
We looked at five beauty retailers that cover all price points, and gathered a list of the ten (where possible) best selling sensitive skin products under cleansers, moisturisers and serum categories. This list of 145 products was then analysed to discover how many contained allergens and irritants. The comprehensive list of what we looked for can be found here, which includes fragrance allergens, food allergens and other known irritants such as parabens, sulphates and silicones.
Our investigation uncovered some shocking results. We found 96% (139/145) of the best selling sensitive skin products on main skincare retailers include food and fragrance allergens, or other known irritants.
Of the 50 cleansers we looked at, 92% of these contained allergens and irritants in their ingredients and serums came in even higher with 96%. But it turns out the type of product containing the most allergens and irritants is moisturisers, with a whopping 100% of the 50 products we investigated.
We found the most common allergens contained in the top selling sensitive skin products to be gluten (72%), nuts (35%), fragrance (35%) and soy (23%). 75% of all of the products had food related allergens, with 35% containing fragrance allergens.
For non allergy sufferers, 67% of products contained a known irritant, despite being classed as suitable for sensitive skin.
If you have an intolerance of any kind it can be difficult to decipher exactly which products have that ingredient in them. Take gluten as an example. There are over 200 terms for gluten related ingredients and with names such as ‘Dimetgicone PEG-20 Acetate Copolymer’ it makes it difficult for consumers to know what to avoid.
We’ve put all the results of our investigation into a sensitive skincare index, to help you determine which products you might need to be careful with if you have known allergies. Equally, if you are one of the many skincare users that suffers regular breakouts and reactions but haven’t ever known why, this index could help you look at the products currently in your bathroom cupboard and identify ingredients that could be causing your problems.
“Everyone’s skin is different and allergens aren’t necessarily bad, but if you still can’t get to the bottom of what may be causing your breakouts, it could be a reaction to an allergen or irritant. The Oodee Sensitive Skincare Index is the bible I wished I had all those years ago when I was struggling. We hope it helps people make a more informed decision when it comes to skincare, as we help you identify those ingredients that could be causing you problems.”
Karen Harwood, co-founder of Oodee
Oodee Sensitive Skincare Index
* While some of the products listed claim to be free of gluten/soy/dairy etc, our research found that, in some cases, trace amounts of these allergens were found listed in the ingredients.
**In other cases, (such as with products containing the traditionally fish-derived ingredient squalene/squalane) it was unclear whether the ingredient was derived from an allergen or not. In those cases, we have assumed the ingredient was in fact derived from an allergen.
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