Shopping for personal-care staples over the last several weeks has, like much else, become fairly complicated. You notice you’re running low on body wash, for example. But when you hop online to search for your go-to, it’s out of stock everywhere. Not wanting to run to the store just to buy soap, you order something you’ve never tried before. When you use it for the first time, it feels the same. But, later on, you start feeling dry and itchy all over.
It’s not uncommon for skin to become irritated by certain products, particularly a body wash. Here’s how to tell if your new body wash is inflaming your skin and what you can do about it if it is.
What to look for
An allergic reaction to a body wash is different from one you may experience in reaction to another beauty product. A reaction to a beauty product will usually be limited to a red, itchy rash at the site of the exposure. But since a body wash is used all over and then rinsed off, it’s more likely to present as a patchy and diffused rash.
Allergies are a funny thing. They can develop over time, which means that you could have an allergic reaction to your body wash even if you’ve been using the same one for years. If your skin suddenly becomes inflamed, pink, scaly, and itchy all over and you’ve never been diagnosed with an inflammation-based skin condition like eczema, you might be allergic to your body wash. Or, more specifically, an ingredient in your soap.
The best way to confirm that is to visit a dermatologist and get patch-tested. The dermatologist may be able to narrow it down to your body wash based on the distribution and timing of your rash and the inclusion of any common allergens on the ingredients list. If trial and error doesn’t work, they may proceed to patch testing, which would entail placing a bunch of allergens on your back and seeing how the skin reacts to each spot after a couple of days.
Keep in mind, just because your skin becomes irritated after using a certain product doesn’t necessarily mean you’re allergic to it. Irritation and an allergic reaction can appear the same, but they’re caused by different things. Irritation stems from the surfactants in soap, the ingredients that make the lather. They have a higher pH than skin and can, as a result, strip the skin of its essential oils and proteins. In that case, just switching to a non-foaming body wash might help.
What to do about it
Unfortunately, correcting the matter isn’t as simple as singling out a couple troublesome ingredients because the list of ones that could potentially cause an allergic reaction is pretty long. There are, however, a few other important things on the label you can home in on. The first is fragrance. Fragrances are the most common source of contact dermatitis, according to clinical studies.
But the words fragrance and parfum are blanket terms cosmetics companies for thousands of undisclosed chemicals that can cause a range of skin reactions. Still, avoiding fragrances in skin-care products never hurts. Even natural fragrances, such as essential oils and plant extracts, can cause an allergic reaction.
Also try to avoid body washes that contain high levels of alcohol, which can damage your skin’s barrier protection and make oily skin worse because your skin overcompensates from being stripped of oil. It also promotes redness and irritation.
If, even after replacing your body wash, you’re still experiencing skin irritation, consult a dermatologist.