Allergic to Beauty is a new column dedicated to anyone who struggles to find beauty and skincare products that don’t irritate their skin or cause painful allergic reactions.  Our goal is to be your go-to skincare destination for advice from leading professionals in the field about the underlying causes of sensitive skin and how to treat it. Stay tuned!

Many women feel like kids in a candy store when they step into Sephora or onto the beauty floor of their favorite department store. But for those who suffer allergic reactions to the brands we all know and love, the candy store can turn into a minefield. It’s hard to enjoy shopping when beauty and skincare options are limited to a very small selection of labels and products.

I live with eczema and a plethora of allergies, so finding skincare brands that don’t lead to allergic reactions and irritation can be extremely challenging and deeply exhausting. I’ve undergone in-depth patch testing, exposing myself to over 90 chemicals at a time, to try and find the cause of my allergies. It was unpleasant, to say the least. That’s how I found out I was allergic to propylene glycol, a common ingredient used in everything from toothpaste and laundry detergent to hair products and beauty items. After exhaustively reading labels, I had to abandon almost every toiletry in my house to start fresh, seeking out products that wouldn’t cause my skin painful allergic reactions with each use. I now have just a few go-to products, many of which are from CeraVe—it’s really no exaggeration to say CeraVe has been a revelation for my skin.

While my case may seem extreme, 70% of women report having sensitive skin. Because I’ve had such success with CeraVe, I reached out to them to get some answers about common skin problems and how to remedy them. They put me in touch with Dr. Laurence Dryer, Ph.D., Director of Portfolio Development for Valeant Pharmaceuticals. Check out our very informative Q&A below.

What is dry skin?

Your skin contains a complex cocktail of specific lipids that together constitute the physical skin barrier designed to safeguard its integrity. There are dozens of different ceramides, together with other essential molecules such as cholesterol or phytosphingosine, that form the “mortar” between the skin cells to protect your skin. But not all ceramides are created equal, and only a handful of them actually make a difference. Those are the ceramides that diminish with age, or eczema, or atopic dermatis.

What is sensitive skin?

There is no real clinical consensus on what sensitive skin really is, but it is well known that the result is a damaged skin barrier. As for eczema and a host of other skin pathologies, skin barrier damage is also a prime manifestation. In both cases, the damaged skin barrier results in an inability for the skin to retain water. No matter how much moisture you put on that type of skin, it won’t keep it for long if you don’t also repair that barrier.

What other kinds of problems might complicate skin care?

Over 70% of women report having sensitive skin, and although the “real” percentage is unknown, these women’s concerns remain and need to be addressed. There are also a lot of newly sensitive skins that results from overly aggressive regimens or careless exposure to uncontrolled environments. Sensitivity can manifest in so many different ways that there is no clinical consensus on what sensitive skin is. Probably the most important aspect of sensitive skin is that it is a uncontrolled dynamic response that can betray an unhealthy skin state, but also sometimes is simply a native delicate barrier. That’s why it’s so hard to understand. Until we master it better, we choose to focus on a common clinical thread of all the manifestations of sensitive skin: a weak skin barrier.

It is important to differentiate between allergy and irritation, because they cannot be resolved the same way. Most of what women identify as an allergy is in fact an irritation, which may be due to excipients (Ed. note: “filler ingredients”) in a formula rather than the main technology. However, both can benefit from gentle barrier reinforcement.

What are common ingredients that cause allergies?

The usual suspects like fragrance, harsh detergents, dyes, soap, and some specific preservatives

What’s the value of “natural”?

While the search for natural ingredients is certainly a trend, it is important to understand that 1) Many ingredients that bearing unnatural-sounding names are just purified fractions of natural extracts, and 2) Natural does not necessarily mean safer, because many natural ingredients are actually complex mixtures of unidentified and potentially allergenic or irritating compounds.

In our studies, we found that it is often how untainted the ingredients are, not so much what they are, that will keep a product safe. The more purified and controlled ingredients are usually safer. Also, the quantity of the ingredient can be crucial to its safety profile. That being said, there are things we stay away from, such as Methylisothiazolinone, some silicones, Triclosan, any formaldehyde donors, and as mentioned before, all fragrances, dyes, and harsh detergents. At CeraVe we strive for safe, simple and efficacious. This may or may not always mean natural.

What differentiates CeraVe from other skincare lines for people with sensitive skin or allergies?

Other products contain ceramides, but only the CeraVe skin-identical ceramide cocktail can replenish those essential ceramides that compromised or aging skin lacks. Our ceramides are obtained from a mix of botanical and biotechnology sources, because that is the best way to ensure their purity. They are also GMO, animal product, and contaminants-free.

What skincare issue would you like to see covered in the next edition of Allergic to Beauty? Tell us in the comment section below!

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