Are hypoallergenic products hypo-bullshit?

Anyone can find their hypoallergenic product if only they know what they are allergic to. The problem is, are they really allergic?


It’s funny. Lots of people think they ‘care’ for their skin, but in reality, they only care so much to mindlessly spend a few thousand bucks on ‘hypoallergenic’ products without figuring out what exactly happened. Working in marketing and having a little bit of common sense has led me into thinking that this buzzword which has been around for 60 years is no more than a marketing gimmick.


'sensitive skin' can be a result, not a cause.

Do you have 'sensitive skin'? We ‘self-diagnose’ our skin type without considering the humidity, our skin retention capability, hormones, skin cycle, diet, etc. Then we automatically assume that we belong to 1 skin type permanently. Then, we look for products that specifically target sensitive skin, aannnnddddd voila, there you have your ‘hypoallergenic’ products right in front of you, developed by major beauty companies. We think that sensitive skin is a cause, so we need to buy products to 'solve' it.

What we might have forgotten is, most of us weren't born with 'sensitive skin'. So when we set out to buy new products, what we really should be thinking is: what have we done that made our skin sensitive? So when people associate hypoallergenic products as a 'solution' to curing 'sensitive skin', I began thinking, what is going on??????

Let’s not get into the fact that sensitive skin isn’t necessarily a result of skin allergy. Let’s assume it is. And still, if you take a step back, you begin to wonder how ridiculous “hypoallergenic” products are. For instance, I am allergic to aloe, whereas my friend is allergic to lavender. Friend C is allergic to acids, Friend D is allergic to oils. So… this magical hypoallergenic product can cater for ALL OF US?



So what are 'hypoallergenic products'?

So here we need to know the definition of ‘hypoallergenic’ products. This term is first used in a cosmetic campaign in 1953, meaning “below normal” or “slightly” allergenic. [1]

Hiiiiiiii!  In case you didn’t get the memo, it means you can still be allergic to this product, but just lower likelihood than other products.



Now, the trick question is…

who gets to decide what ‘lesser likelihood’ means? 

Nope. There are no industry standard for the use of this term. Any company can claim that their product is ‘hypoallergenic’ if they believe that their products are less likely (compare to what? Who knows?) to cause allergies. The United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA) clearly mentioned on their website that “there are no Federal standards or definitions that govern the use of the term… the term means whatever a particular company wants it to mean.” [2]

Ouch. In 1978, the FDA published in their consumer magazine that they had been trying for the past 4 years to come up with a testing standard that can determine whether products are really ‘hypoallergenic’. They mentioned a point - that this word ‘hypoallergenic’ should be banned because most consumers don’t have allergies to begin with. Ultimately, the attempt was futile because it was challenged by cosmetic companies Clinique and Almay [1].


Taking a step back

Well, now that we know hypoallergenic means basically nothing, what do we do? Ultimately, the only reason why this term has been sticking around for more than 60 years is because it is answering to a consumer need of treating ‘sensitive skin’. As long as companies convince us that we have sensitive skin, hypoallergenic products sell.

Some key points here:

  • Sensitive skin and allergies are different. Having sensitive skin doesn't mean you are allergic to certain ingredients - your skin is just hyperreacting to everything.

  • Yes, you can be allergic to organic & natural ingredients.

  • You can be 'sensitive' to one thing and then not sensitive to it after.

  • Because your skin condition is never constant. It changes with the environment. Unless you have some skin disorder to begin with, your skin type can change.

Like I’ve said in my previous blog post, our skin is our biggest organ and our frontier barrier. A damaged skin barrier = dry and sensitive skin. For instance, if you use cleansing products that are too alkaline, or you wash your face too frequently, your skin never have the chance to recover to its natural pH state. Result is dry & sensitive skin. Or if you exfoliate too much, you also risk damaging your skin barrier.

There are known allergens/irritants/sensitizer, but it is up to you to find out:

  • First of all, sodium laureth / lauryl sulfate are known skin irritants. #fullstop
  • Don’t over-cleanse.
  • Don’t over-exfoliate.
  • Always go for products with simple ingredient list. So it’s easier for you to track which ingredient causes allergy.
  • Avoid fragrance/parfum/perfume because due to trade secret law they are not required to list what the chemicals in there are. So these chemicals aren't necessarily harmful, but if you want to track what ingredient(s) you're sensitive / allergic to, you won't be able to find out.

Buying hypoallergenic products are more than just reading the term from the label. If you want a true hypoallergenic product for yourself, you must monitor your skin condition in relation to the environment, understand your skincare routine, and decipher what causes your skin to have allergic reaction.

Plus, most of the time you might only be having 'sensitive skin' due to weakened skin barrier. It's worth googling for more info ;)

Xoxo, ♥️



  • [1]
  • [2]

Bonus points:

  • And in fact, what does 'sensitive skin' mean? A casual search online returned definitions like 'stinging, burning and itching sensations', 'hyperreactivity' (sorry I don't bother to cite them because I haven't read through the paper, I was just looking for some quick definitions). But it doesn't really say it is a result of allergies.