Learn more about skin allergies and search for products which might suit you.
Our approach to helping with allergies
This page tells you all about skin allergies and how to identify products which might suit you.
Some ingredients can cause allergic reactions in a small number of people and we work hard to ensure we are using the lowest possible amount of these ingredients. Some ingredients are too important to leave out because of their function and benefit for most consumers.
We decide what goes into our products based on three things: what people prefer, our own safety checks and regulations of countries in which our products are marketed.
We know allergen information is important for the small number of people who may be sensitive to certain ingredients. That’s why we give clear information about what’s on our products.
What products can you use if you have an allergy?
A small number of people can become allergic to certain fragrance ingredients. Therefore, we aim to provide information on the presence of fragrance allergens to our consumers either on-pack or via our carelines. And in Europe we have created a database to help people find products which may be suitable. Find out more about ‘What’s in our products’ in your local country .
If you are not sure if you have an allergy to a fragrance ingredient, you should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional.
What is an allergy?
Our immune system keeps us healthy by fighting against anything harmful that enters our bodies – like bacteria and viruses. An allergen is something generally harmless that your immune system responds to like it’s a threat. You’ll usually get exposed to something a few times before that happens. But once you do, you’ll normally have that allergy for life.
Allergic reactions on your skin can often take a while to show – usually 24-48 hours after you came into contact with the allergen. You might hear this called ‘delayed hypersensitivity’, ‘type IV allergy’ or ‘contact allergy’. Most of the information here is about this kind of allergy, because most of our products can touch your skin in some way
How do I become allergic to something?
There are two stages:
- First, your body recognises an allergen and become sensitive to it. At this point, there aren’t any obvious symptoms, but the change to your immune system is permanent.
- If a high enough amount of the allergen touches your skin again, that’s when you’ll start to see the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
What are the symptoms of an allergic reaction?
Allergic reactions normally appear 24-48 hours after you come into contact with an allergen. You might see redness or a rash, swelling, blistering, weeping, crusting and itching. If you’re allergic to one ingredient, you might also be allergic to similar things. A dermatologist can tell you which other ingredients, if any, you might need to avoid.
Don’t mistake skin irritation for an allergic reaction
Symptoms like redness aren’t always due to an allergy. If your skin’s irritated, it can look very similar to an allergic reaction. Often you’ll need to speak to a dermatologist for a precise diagnosis. With irritated skin, you’ll see similar redness or a rash, swelling and itching. You might also get tightness, soreness, tingling or burning. This all usually appears within a few hours of whatever has caused it. Then your skin might dry out or crack.
But there’s one big difference between skin irritations and allergic reactions – the effects of skin irritation won’t always happen again, even if you use the same product on the same bit of skin. But once you become allergic to an ingredient, a high enough amount of it will always cause your immune system to react the same way again.
What ingredients cause allergic reactions?
A lot of allergens appear naturally in everyday life. Plant allergens like poison ivy and metals like chromium and nickel are good examples – a recent study showed that roughly 14% of people in Europe have a contact allergy to nickel.
The same study showed that less than 2% of people in Europe are allergic to ingredients you find in fragrances. Also, a small number of people are allergic to preservatives and hair dye ingredients.
What do I do if I think I have a skin allergy?
If you recognise the symptoms we’ve listed and you think you could have a skin allergy, speak to your doctor or a dermatologist. It’s a good idea to make a list of all the products you used shortly before your allergic reaction. If you can, take the products and packaging with you so your doctor can see what’s in them.
A dermatologist will do some tests to figure out the cause of the reaction. They’ll examine you and ask questions about your symptoms and when they happened. They might also give you a patch test with the products you’ve used or specific ingredients in them.
Once you know what you’re allergic to, you can look out for it on ingredients lists and avoid it. Be wary of counterfeit products – you can’t always be certain what’s in them.
We can help you and your doctor figure out what you’re allergic to. As well as giving you information about what’s in our products, we’re happy to send samples your doctor can use for patch testing – just get in touch with us (Opens in a new window).
Do fragrances cause allergies?
There are small number of fragrance ingredients that have been identified as having the potential to cause skin allergies.
The International Fragrance Association regulates the way we use these ingredients. At Unilever, we try to use fewer of them and we use them at a lower level than the industry standard. In Europe we comply with the EU Cosmetic Regulation which provides a list of 26 fragrance ingredients that are considered to be allergens, all of which much be listed in the ingredient list on the label or packaging of a product.
We now also offer a searchable database to help anyone with an allergy to one of the ingredients to search for products that might be suitable for them.
What about preservatives?
Preservatives are important – they ensure our products are safe to use to the end of their shelf life by preventing the growth of bacteria and mould. We only use preservatives when they’re absolutely necessary, and always in as small an amount as we can. But again, a few people can be allergic to a few of these ingredients.
How do I make sure I’m not allergic to a hair dye?
A small number of people are allergic to hair dye. In rare cases, people can end up needing serious medical treatment after a reaction. So it’s important to test the dye 48 hours before you colour your hair at home or at a salon – even if you’ve used the same shade plenty of times before. Just dab it on your skin and wait to see if you react.
But some ingredients are too important to leave out because of their function and benefit for most consumers. But we know allergen information is important for the small percentage of people who may be sensitive to certain ingredients. That’s why we give clear information about what’s in our products.
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Search for fragrance allergens
A small number of people can become allergic to certain fragrance ingredients.
If you know which fragrance ingredient you’re allergic to, we can show you products that may be suitable for you to use. Simply select the ingredient and brand using the tool provided.