Jessica Alba and Hypoallergenic and Non-Toxic Personal Care Products

Cynthia Bailey, MD|September 15, 2016

Jessica Alba, the beautiful, young entrepreneurial actress and mother also admits to being a highly allergic person. She has had multiple serious allergic reactions. I have followed her stories because dermatologic news is always interesting to me, especially when it is related to skin products.

Some of Jessica Alba's reactions have included a prompt reaction of sneezing and hand “welts” on immediate contact with a common baby laundry detergent (this one sounds like an immediate type 1 histamine reaction along the hive spectrum). She also had an allergic reaction to a common hair care product that sent her to the emergency room on Father’s Day, and apparently affected her cornea as well as skin.  It’s hard for me to attempt a diagnosis for this reaction, but it may have been a delayed type of allergic contact dermatitis, or another immediate type 1 histamine mediated contact urticaria hives reaction. 

These types of serious reactions do happen. They happen due to contact with chemicals and also with natural things (like tomato plants). When they happen they are frightening and uncomfortable, to say the least. Which is why it matters for us to pay attention to what we use on our skin.

Why did Jessica Alba have these allergic reactions to skin care products? 

What does it mean to be a 'highly allergic person'?  

Highly allergic people, like Jessica Alba, are the ‘canaries in the mine’ when it comes to allergic reactions. She was plagued by asthma as a child, and visited the emergency room numerous times due to allergic and asthmatic misadventures in her youth. Folks with asthma are hyper-immune and highly allergic. They get hives (which is a type 1 allergy), and are also more at risk for allergic type 4 reactions, which are delayed contact hypersensitivity dermatitis reactions (like itchy scaly rashes to perfume, metal and poison oak).

This type of hypersensitive skin and asthmatic condition is genetic! It's called an atopic diathesis. People who are "atopic" are prone to eczema (the atopic dermatitis type of eczema), asthma, allergies, hives, and anaphylaxis. My family is "atopic". A lot of my patients are too. I know hypersensitive skin well from the inside out, and from the outside too as a doctor. People with atopic skin have the classic version of 'sensitive skin,' which is why they/we can have bad reactions to products - this is also why I'm so opinionated about what constitutes a truly hypoallergenic product.

Let's be honest - if you have highly allergic skin what type of products should you look for? "Non toxic", "natural", "hypoallergenic", or...? 

Jessica Alba's allergic reactions also appear to be what motivated her to started her company, The Honest Company. She wanted to create home-use products that have fewer of the allergens and ingredients that sent her to the emergency room.

It is true that most popular and mass-produced products available in the U.S. today are full of troublesome ingredients. As a young mom, she wanted to start a company that sells the types of products she needed ranging from diapering to house cleaning, personal care and vitamins. Her company is financially successful and part of a movement to get chemical allergens out of our homes. Yahoo!

The important point I want you to know is that the claims of "toxic" versus "natural" are tricky. Further, creating skin care products that are effective and reliable is also tricky. Part of what makes this topic tricky is that allergens are not just synthetic chemicals. Really! Let me repeat - allergens are not just synthetic chemicals. Allergens can also be natural substances like potatoes, tomatoes, natural latex, cinnamon, nettles, botanical compounds, and more. The bottom line is that this topic is complicated. So much so that Jessica Alba and her company have become embroiled in a number of controversies and law suits.

As a dermatologist, my career has revolved around caring for those with highly sensitive immune systems, ready to get a rash from the range of ingredients that fill our modern personal and home care products. From allergic contact dermatitis due to chemical fragrances, to contact hives due to touching natural latex. For these reasons, at Dr.BaileySkinCare.com I carefully curate products that are not stuffed with allergens, or ‘extra’ ingredients that appeal to consumers and keep products cheap. I've also seen other company's sunscreens fail to work and my patients get burned, like some of the consumer complaints The Honest Company received. This is why I do the homework for my patients and customers to find or create worthwhile products that are truly effectively. I also try really hard to explain the pros and cons of different products in non-doctor terms.  

As part of my expertise, I know what we can and can't accomplish with modern skin care. I've also learned a lot about the production process for skin care products. As consumers, we want products that don't spoil quickly, that we don't have to make fresh at home, and that are well priced. We want products that help us improve skin problems like wrinkles, rosacea, seborrheic dermatitis (aka dandruff), acne, barnacles, etc.

To reach the double goals of effective products that are safe for sensitive skin and can address a myriad of skin problems, I depend on manufacturers I trust and hypoallergenic products. I use my education and experience to balance effectiveness against allergens and unnecessary troublesome ingredients. I use manufacturers with integrity and commitment to quality. My goal is to give all of us options. I have learned that to address some skin problems this means using meaningful amounts of certain active ingredients - including potentially irritating ones like glycolic acid (derived from sugar cane).  By using formulations that are hypoallergenic and fragrance free I remove the unnecessary troublesome ingredients, but leave the useful actives. And by providing you with information my aim is to empower you to make your own thoughtful decisions about what your skin needs and can tolerate. 

What are the biggest allergens in personal skin care products today?

Fragrance, in particular, is the taunting temptress. I want you to be especially mindful of it. It’s packed in many modern personal and home care products. Fragrance can even be found in natural products (think about natural home care products with citrus essence). Fragrance is always an allergen and synthetic ones can even be a toxin! Some fragrances are more allergy-inducing than others. 

My preference is that if you want to include fragrance in your personal grooming products, find one you tolerate and use it on top of your hypoallergenic skin care routine. First apply it to clothing or hair to be sure you really tolerate it. Don’t mix and match a panoply of fragrances in your life by using fragrance-laced laundry products, deodorant, shampoo, body wash, talcum powder, face cream, sunscreen, and then top it all with a spray perfume. Think of the poor body trying to deal with it all – lungs, skin, liver, and the entire immune system all trying to sort it out without mishap! Just say no. Depend on that last spritz of perfume for fragrance, and try to avoid it in most of your other products. 

Let me help you steer clear of unnecessary modern allergens while at the same time effectively addressing your skin problems and goals. The products I rely on for my patients and family are carefully chosen to balance what works and what people need, with what is completely unnecessary and potentially troublesome. Yes, with my products you will find some ingredients that you individually might be allergic to. You will also find options that work well for your specific allergen or concern, and plenty of information to make sense of it all.

Now, having said all of this, patients and customers have been asking for hypoallergenic versions of scented products. So even though I just ranted against frangrace, I am going to surprise you with low allergen scented product options soon. Yes! I am going to acquiesce with 2 low allergen scents because you have asked for it. Stay tuned. The great news is that this will give you a few 'safe' options based on my education - and you'll get to read my disclaimers when I launch them.

Yes, I’ve learned from my years of working with the Jessica Alba’s in my dermatology practice to build options for the most sensitive among us. I've got a range of ultra-hypoallergenic products, modern products with pharmaceutical grade actives, and lots of information to help you be a savvy consumer who knows your own skin's needs and boundaries. Stay tuned to see some of my new and fun additions to your choices. 

To Jessica Alba, I say "Thank you!" for keeping the discussion on allergens in skin care products front and center! I’m glad you are raising this topic. May we all be mindful of what’s in our personal and home care products.

   

 

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