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Are “Hypoallergenic” Products Really Better for Your Skin?

Cosmetics users thinking about buying products labeled "hypoallergenic" or "fragrance-free" might want to pause before making those purchases. It turns out that those claims are often only skin-deep, according to a recent study by Northwestern University dermatologists. The researchers found that 83 percent of the supposedly allergen-free skin care products contained at least one potentially troublesome ingredient, and nearly half of those that were supposed to be odorless gave off some scent. At least part of the problem is that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does little to regulate cosmetics, and companies can use the "trade secrets" loophole to get away with questionable labeling.

When oversight is overlooked:

  • Dr. Steve Xu, a Northwestern University dermatologist involved in the study, says that skin care products containing a single ingredient, such as shea butter or petroleum jelly, are often less likely to cause an allergic reaction.

  • Products that claim to be "dermatologist recommended" can still contain allergens, and consumers have no way of knowing how many dermatologists were actually consulted.

  • For medicines, FDA approval is not necessarily an endorsement. It simply means the agency believes that benefits of a drug outweigh its side effects.

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