Are You Allergic To Soap? 4 Common Ingredients That May Be Irritating Your Skin

Ques­tion: What do peanuts, shell­fish, and wheat all have in common?

Answer: They are some of the most com­mon food allergies.

While this might seem like an easy ques­tion — and you could prob­a­bly list off a dozen oth­er com­mon food aller­gens — you may be less famil­iar with the aller­gens that can cause your skin to have a reac­tion, also called con­tact der­mati­tis.

What Is Con­tact Dermatitis?

  • Con­tact der­mati­tis is when your skin devel­ops a rash after becom­ing sen­si­tive to a cer­tain aller­gen that is mak­ing direct con­tact with your skin.

  • Some com­mon aller­gens that cause a skin reac­tion include soaps, per­fumes, cos­met­ics, and oth­er per­son­al hygiene products.

  • In the US, con­tact der­mati­tis occurs in up to 20% of peo­ple, mak­ing it more com­mon than food aller­gies (which only affect around 10% of people).

Aller­gies can devel­op at any point in your life, which can leave you feel­ing sur­prised when your skin is more sen­si­tive than usu­al. In addi­tion to devel­op­ing aller­gies, some ingre­di­ents in soaps can sim­ply cause a skin reac­tion like dry­ness or itchiness.

Every­one wants to feel com­fort­able in their own skin — and pay­ing atten­tion to dif­fer­ent aller­gens and sen­si­tiv­i­ties can help you do just that.

Here are 4 com­mon ingre­di­ents that can irri­tate your skin.

1. Sul­fates and Parabens

There are many ingre­di­ents that go into your soap or sham­poo that allow it to do its job of keep­ing you clean. Two of these ingre­di­ents are sul­fates and parabens. 

Sul­fates are often found in sham­poos and cre­ate the lath­er­ing effect that helps clean your hair. Parabens are often used in cos­met­ics to pre­vent bac­te­ria and mold from growing. 

Many sham­poos and hair care prod­ucts now list them­selves as Sul­fate- and Paraben-Free,” as these ingre­di­ents can dry out your skin. Switch­ing to a body wash or sham­poo that is made with­out sul­fates and parabens can be a good place to start if you have sen­si­tive skin.

2. Fra­grance

You might be won­der­ing, Fra­grance? What’s fra­grance?” If so, you’re not alone in this confusion. 

When it comes to mak­ing soaps and oth­er cos­met­ic prod­ucts, com­pa­nies can get a lit­tle hush-hush about how their prod­ucts are made and what ingre­di­ents they’re made with. Just like your grandma’s per­fect home­made meal has a secret ingre­di­ent, com­pa­nies also treat what’s in their prod­ucts with the same secrecy. 

Except — instead of a dash of rose­mary added to the pota­toes — with cos­met­ic com­pa­nies, their secret ingre­di­ent” could actu­al­ly be a whole list of ingredients.

This com­bi­na­tion often falls under the cat­e­go­ry of fra­grance” and could include mul­ti­ple aller­gens. While this mys­tery is good for busi­ness (you don’t want any­one copy­ing your prod­uct), it is dif­fi­cult for con­sumers who are just try­ing to fig­ure out why their skin is irritated. 

3. Met­als

While less com­mon in soap, there may be met­al in oth­er cos­met­ic prod­ucts or house­hold clean­ing prod­ucts you’re using. Because of how com­mon met­als are in our every­day lives, you may not real­ize how often you’re com­ing into con­tact with them or how they may be affect­ing you if you have sen­si­tive skin.

Some com­mon met­al aller­gies include nick­el and alu­minum — the Amer­i­can Acad­e­my of Der­ma­tol­ogy even named alu­minum the 2022 Aller­gen of the Year.” Alu­minum is still an ingre­di­ent in some deodor­ants and might be irri­tat­ing your skin as you per­spire through­out the day. 

4. Oth­er Ingredients 

This might seem like a catch-all cat­e­go­ry, but unfor­tu­nate­ly, it’s true. Dif­fer­ent soaps, body wash­es, and sham­poos have dif­fer­ent ingre­di­ents. There are many parts that go into each prod­uct — and some might not be list­ed on the back of the bottle. 

There might be some­thing spe­cif­ic that’s caus­ing skin irri­ta­tion, like an essen­tial oil. This can make it dif­fi­cult to pin down exact­ly what is caus­ing a reac­tion or irri­ta­tion, but your Duly der­ma­tol­o­gist can help you nar­row the list.

What Can I Do About a Soap Sensitivity? 

If your skin is react­ing to some­thing — and you can’t fig­ure out what — you may get frus­trat­ed. But while it can be annoy­ing to fig­ure out a skin sen­si­tiv­i­ty, that doesn’t mean it’s impos­si­ble or that you’re out of options. 

Start by chang­ing up the prod­ucts you’re using, and notice if you see a change in how your skin is react­ing — or not react­ing. There are many nat­ur­al soap options avail­able that are made with few­er, more clear­ly labeled ingre­di­ents. This can make it eas­i­er to know if some­thing is both­er­ing your skin, or may help clear up your reaction.

Some­times a sim­ple change in prod­ucts might help you han­dle your skin irri­ta­tion or aller­gic reac­tion — but you may need more guidance. 

Your Duly care provider or der­ma­tol­o­gist can help you iden­ti­fy dif­fer­ent aller­gies through a patch test to see what’s caus­ing a reac­tion. A der­ma­tol­o­gist can also make rec­om­men­da­tions about dif­fer­ent prod­ucts and help you fig­ure out how to treat your skin.

Whether you have a sen­si­tiv­i­ty to a food, plant, met­al, or some­thing in your soap, Duly can help you cre­ate a treat­ment plan to man­age even your most scratchy symptoms.

If your skin is giv­ing you a hard time, learn more about our Der­ma­tol­ogy ser­vices or con­tact a der­ma­tol­o­gist today.

Health Topics:

  • Growing up in a small town in Missouri, I was able to watch my mother, a family medicine physician, form meaningful long-lasting connections with her patients. The sense of community that she fostered inspired me to become a doctor myself. Now as a board-certified dermatologist, I have the opportunity to make a true difference in the lives of my patients. It may entail removing skin cancer found during an annual skin exam, softening the signs of aging with cosmetic treatments, or using the most up-to-date treatments available; such as biologic therapy for psoriasis. It could be developing a skincare regimen to treat acne or exploring options for hair restoration. Whatever the skin condition or concern may be, I strive to foster that same small-town sense of community, providing compassion, knowledge and experience to help each patient achieve healthy, glowing skin.