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Science Notebook

Personal care products advertised as ‘natural’ may contain allergens: study

Print edition : Nov 25, 2022

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Personal care products advertised as ‘natural’ may contain allergens: study

Contact dermatitis on eyelids and hands.

Contact dermatitis on eyelids and hands. | Photo Credit: Journal of the American Medical Association Network

Of the 1,651 products studied, 94 per cent had at least one contact allergen.

According to a Research Letter in a recent issue of JAMA Dermatology, soaps, lotions, and fragrances that are advertised as “clean” and “natural” may cause skin issues, such as contact allergic dermatitis. Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine compiled ingredients from natural personal care products (NPCPs) sold online at three major retailers: Target, Walgreens, and Whole Foods Market. These were cross-referenced with the 191 contact allergens in the Contact Allergen Management Program database of the American Contact Dermatitis Society.

According to the study, of the 1,651 NPCPs the researchers looked at, only about 6 per cent had no contact allergens. The remaining 94 per cent had at least one contact allergen, and about 90 per cent contained one or more contact allergens from among the 100 allergens that most frequently cause positive reactions. The average number of contact allergens in each product was 4.5. The study identified 73 unique allergens, appearing 7,487 times on ingredient lists. The authors suggest that clinicians should educate patients about the effect of chemicals on skin, such as irritation and allergic reactions, and tell them that even personal products advertised as containing “natural” ingredients, including plant extracts, can contain contact allergens.

The authors also noted that the US Food and Drug Administration had not defined clean or natural, which allowed sellers to freely advertise using these terms in a bid to convey the impression of safety and health benefits to consumers.

This is true of India, too, where there is no regulation on such advertisements and, with the increase in the use of cosmetics, such products are sold widely.

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