Irritants: What to Look for and How to Avoid Them

Irritants: What to Look for and How to Avoid Them
The funny thing about irritants is that they can impact you by surprise. There are certainly some chemicals and compounds that are well known to cause skin irritation to almost everyone, but then there are the individual factors of skin sensitivity and allergies. The truth is that what irritates one person's skin may not irritate yours, and what you cannot tolerate might be completely fine for them to use. For example, a product you have used for years can suddenly cause a reaction. Or something that contains an ingredient that you would assume is perfectly 'natural' to use, can turn out to be a painfully bad mistake.

The Face is Sensitive Skin

Facial skin is usually the most sensitive skin on the body. This is likely because the face has smaller skin cells than on the rest of the body, and they lose water faster. People with sensitive skin completely understand how tricky it can be to apply anything to their skin to cleanse, moisturize, or revitalize. To those with normal skin, irritation might come as more of a surprise.

Facial skin is usually the most sensitive skin on the body. This is likely because the face has smaller skin cells than on the rest of the body, and they lose water faster. (Source). The sensitivity factor is thus explained by a cosmetic scientist in the UK this way:

Anything trying to get across the skin, either water getting out or chemicals going in, has to negotiate its way through the barrier created by the skin cells. This means that on the face the path anything trying to get into the body through the skin has to take is shorter. One way to think of it is that it is a bit like a ball bearing trying to get through a pinball machine. The ball bearing is the molecule and the skin cells block its progress. The skin cells in the face are smaller so present less of a barrier. The face is an easier pinball table with smaller obstacles.

According to WebMD:

Many people say they have sensitive skin because skin care products, or household products that contact their skin, cause stinging, burning, redness, or tightness. Or, they say they have it because, although there are no visible effects after contact with a product, it always makes their skin feel uncomfortable.

But here is what dermatologists look for when diagnosing sensitive skin:

  • Very dry skin which doesn't properly protect nerve endings in the skin
  • A tendency toward blushing and skin flushing
  • Skin reactions such as pustules, skin bumps, or skin erosion
Because the face has the most sensitive skin on our body, it may react to something that doesn't irritate another part of your body, such as your hands. Your face has different needs than the rest of your skin. This means that if you have really sensitive skin all over your body, your face will likely be even more sensitive. And, even if you do not have truly sensitive skin, your face might still have a reaction.

Irritants in Skin Care Products

 The safest bet is to rely on skincare products that are truly scientifically formulated to avoid being harsh on the delicate facial skin, products like those produced by Calysta Labs. For that reason, it would be wise to avoid using any product on your face that has a known irritant, or that many people have allergies to. Also, if you have a reaction to a product, stop using it right away. If there is one particular component of the product that caused the reaction then you can figure this out through patch-testing with the different ingredients. The safest bet is to rely on skincare products that are truly scientifically formulated to avoid being harsh on the delicate facial skin, products like those produced by Calysta Labs.

As noted above, there are some things that are predictable irritants. The most common fall into the category of fragrances, dyes, and preservatives (none of which are included in any of Calysta Labs products). Alcohols, gels and acids can cause stinging or burning sensations and other additives including peroxides can cause redness and swelling. (Source). If you know that something irritates your skin and it is on the label of a product, you should avoid that product.

Contact dermatitis, a skin rash caused by coming into contact with an irritant is certainly more likely to occur with certain chemicals and compounds. There are long lists of 'possible irritants' that can be found in many products, known to be the most likely to impact sensitive skin. These have been cataloged by WebMD and include:

  • Benzophonone-3 - Oxybenzone
  • BHT - Butylated hydroxytoluene
  • Butyl methooxydibenzoylmethane
  • Colophonium - colophony (rosin)
  • Ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate
  • Formaldehyde
  • Formaldehyde releasers - 2-Bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (Bronopol), DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, quaternium-15
  • Methylisothiazolinone (MI or MIT)
  • Methylchloriosothiazolinone and methylisothiazolinone blend (Kathon CG)
  • Octyl dimethyl PABA
  • Parabens - methylparaben (methyl 4-hydroxybenzoate), propylparaben (propyl 4-hydroxybenzoate)
  • Parfum - perfume, fragrance, that include:
    • Alpha-lsomethyl ionone (3-methyl-4-(2,6,6-tri-methyl-2-cyclohexen-1-yl)-3-buten-2-one)
    • Amyl cinnamal
    • Amylcinnamyl alcohol
    • Anise alcohol (Anisyl alcohol)
    • Benzyl alcohol
    • Benzyl benzoate
    • Benzyl cinnamate
    • Benzyl salicylate
    • Butylphenyl methylpropional (2-(4-tert-butybenzyl) propionaldehyde)
    • Cinnamal
    • Cinnamyl alcohol
    • Citral
    • Citronellol
    • Coumarin
    • Eugenol
    • Evernia furfuracea (treemoss extract)
    • Evernia prunastri (oak moss extract)
    • Farnesol
    • Geraniol
    • Hexyl cinnamal (hexyl cinnam-aldehyde)
    • Hydroxycitroneollal
    • Hydroxylisohexyl 3-cyclohexene (hydroxyl-methylpentylcyclohexenecarboxaldehyde)
    • Isoeugenol
    • Limonene (d-limonene)
    • Linalool
    • Methyl 2-Octynoate (methyl heptin carbonate)
  • p-Phenylenediamine - PPD
  • p-Toluenediamine - PTD
  • Resorcinol
  • Tosylamid/formaldehyde resin - Toluene sulphonamide formaldehyde resin

Natural Irritants and Skincare

many compounds of otherwise irritating plants are actually safe and good for your skin. Notice that some of these are derived from natural ingredients and/or are essential oils. What might surprise many people is how frequently natural and organic compounds are skin irritants, until they realize that poison ivy is actually a naturally occurring and organic plant. (Source). That said, many compounds of otherwise irritating plants are actually safe and good for your skin.

Dermatologists and scientists understand how to extract the compounds from many of these plants that are actually good for your skin and use them in products, blended with other ingredients that are safe.

If you see something on a label that might concern you, look into the company and read product reviews. Also, you can patch test your skin to see if you have an allergy to something that is not a known irritant. You can rest assured that Calysta Labs doesn't include anything in their product line that isn't thoroughly tested, which is why we can stand behind those products knowing that they are safe for all skin types.