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Year : 1994  |  Volume : 60  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 72-75

Contact dermatitis due to cosmetics and their ingredients

Correspondence Address:
A Dogra

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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

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Patches of common cosmetics like lipstick, sindhoor, cold cream, eyebrow pencil, rouge, bindi and their ingredients including methyl paraben, colophony, para phenylene diamine, balsam peru, cetostearyl alcohol, formaldehyde, lanolin, beeswax and liquid paraffin were applied in 200 females. Ingredients of cosmetics showed more frequent sensitivity as compared to the cosmetics applied as such. Para phenylene diamine (35%) being the most common allergen followed by balsam peru (22.5%) and parabens (19.25%). The least common allergen was liquid paraffin (0.5%). Among cosmetics, the most common agent was sindhoor (5.5%) followed by lipstick (5.1%) cold cream (3.75%) rouge (2%), bindi (1.75%) and eyebrow pencil (1.5%)

Keywords: Cosmetics, Ingredients, Contact Dermatitis

How to cite this article:
Dogra A, Minocha Y C, Sood V K, Dewan S P. Contact dermatitis due to cosmetics and their ingredients. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol 1994;60:72-5

How to cite this URL:
Dogra A, Minocha Y C, Sood V K, Dewan S P. Contact dermatitis due to cosmetics and their ingredients. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol [serial online] 1994 [cited 2020 Jul 5];60:72-5. Available from:

  Introduction Top

Most cosmetics are complex mixtures containing perfumes, preservatives, emulsifiers, stabilizers, various lipids, higher alcohols and other substances. These chemicals in cosmetics may produce primary irritant reactions, allergic dermatitis, photosensitivity and breakage of hair and nails. [1] Since most of the obvious irritating compounds are eliminated from the products by the manufacturers, the most common type of reaction from such cosmetics occurs due to allergic sensitization. Usually the perfume, preservative or emulsifying agents contained in cosmetics are responsible for allergic dermatitis . [2]

These constituents are formed of methyl paraben or ethyl paraben as preservatives, colophony as solidening agent, balsam peru as perfume fixative, beeswax as adhesive and emollient, liquid paraffin and yellow petrolatum as emollients and bases where as paraphenylene diamine is a major constituent of hair dyes.

Although, a large number of cosmetics used in India are common to those used in western countries like lipstick, rouge, eyebrow pencil, but there are several others like bindi and sindhoor (Kumkum) which are used exclusively in India. These cosmetics are used by almost all females and because of the over exposure to commercially available cosmetics products, cosmetic allergy in females has surfaced as a dermatological and social problem. This study was therefore undertaken to evaluate the contact sensitivity pattern of various cosmetics and their ingredients.

  Materials and Methods Top

Covered patch testing was done in 200 female patients selected randomly from skin out patient department. These patients were not suffering from an acute stage of allergic disorder or any active skin disease requiring medication with systemic administration of antihistaminics and/or corticosteroids. In each case, a detailed history was recorded with special reference to type of cosmetics used and allergic reaction to them in the past.

Test meterial comprised of "Cosmetic Tray" containing following ingredients and commercially available cosmetics as such. (Cronin, 1980). [3]sub

In addition, patch tests were also done in 10 patients suspected to have suffered from allergic reaction to cosmetics. Patch testing was done according to standard technique given by Pasricha & Sethi (198 1). [4]

  Results Top

Out of 4410 patches tested, positive results were obtained in 382 (11.54%) in 105 out of 200 patients. The incidence of positivity and degree of sensitivity against various ingredients and cosmetics is shown in [Table - 2].

Cosmetic sensitivity was influenced by various factors intrinsic to the patients like occupation, age, urban/rural status, menstrual status etc. It was more in working women specially beauticians, nurses and para-medical workers followed by housewives/girls, students etc. It was maximum among the age group 21-30 years. Cases residing in urban area showed more positivity (83.80%) as compared to rural area (16.19%). Secretory phase of menstrual cycle showed more positivity (40%) followed by proliferative phase (31%) and menstrual phase (19%).-Amenorrhoeic cases (10%) due to various reasons showed less positivity.

Out of 105 patients showing positive patch tests, ingredients alone were responsible in 55, both ingredients and cosmetics in 47 and cosmetics alone in 3 patients only.

Multiple sensitivities were a common feature in most of the cases. Methyl paraben sensitivity was commonly associated vis-a-vis with ethyl paraben, cold creams with balsam peru, eyebrow pencil with para phenylene diamine, rouge with colophony. Lipstick sensitivity was associated with colophony in 6 cases, cetostearyl alcohol and balsam peru in 5 cases and lanolin in 1 case.

  Comments Top

The finding of higher sensitivity (52.38%) against various ingredients than the cosmetics used as such, agrees with the results reported by Romaguera et al (1.983). [5] This discrepancy can be explained on the basis of exposure to similar ingredients present in other products e.g. medicaments etc. and presence of ingredients in much lower concentration in finished products of cosmetics. Among the ingredients, PPD was dectected to be the commonest allergen (35%) as reported earlier by various workers, [5],[6] which can again be explained on the basis of cross sensitivity against various other compounds e.g. azo and aniline dyes, local anaesthetics, sunscreens like para amino benzoic acid, sulphonamides, hydroquinones, parahydroxy benzoic acid esters, phenyl hydrazine ect. [7] Besides it is a strong sensitizer and even irritant under the covered patch test.

Positivity of patch to balsam of peru, which is commonly used as a perfume fixative in the cosmetics is considered to be diagnostic of perfume dermatitis. Positivity of 22.5% in this study may be related to its exposure to sources other than the cosmetics e.g. topical medicaments etc." Incidence of paraben sensitivity was also found in consistence with earlier reports showing cross sensitivity with various esters. [9] Colophony (Rosin) an constituent of rouge was found to be allergenic in 17% cases, agreeing with the observations of Harry (1963). [10] Cetostearyl alcohol being a combination of cetyl and stearyl alcohols and forming a possible allergic component of lanolin was -detected to be associated with lanolin sensitivity in 16.7% cases as reported earliar. [11]

Sensitivity to formaldehyde is reported in the range of 3.2% to 8.7%. [7],[12] Where as in this study we detected 6.5% cases, particularly being common in medical personnel as seen by Monica Agathos 1979. [12] Beeswax (Propolis) a constituent of lipstick was associated with 1 case in which lipstick patch test was also positive. Its cross sensitivity to balsam of peru was found in 3 out of 7 cases.

The minimum sensitivity was reported for liquid paraffin (0.5%). As it is bland and occlusive, so it can be taken as a suitable base in comparison to yellow petrolatum. The foregoing account is sufficient to suggest that cosmetics should not be taken lightly

  References Top

1.March C H, Fisher A A. Cutaneous cosmetic reactions. General Practitioner 1965; 31 : 89.  Back to cited text no. 1    
2.Fisher A A. Cutaneous reactions to cosmetics. In : Contact Dermatitis (Fisher A A, ed), 2nd edn. Philadelphia. Leas and Febiger 1973; 217-41.  Back to cited text no. 2    
3.Cronin E. Cosmetics. In : Contact Dermatitis (Cronin E, ed) 1st edn. Edinburgh, London and New York. Churchill Livingstone 1980; 93-170.  Back to cited text no. 3    
4.Pasricha J S, Sethi N C. Contact Dermatitis in India. (Pasridha J S, Sethi N C, eds) Bombay. Lyka Labs 1981 41-4.  Back to cited text no. 4    
5.Romaguera C, Camardsa J M G, Alomar A, Grimalt F. Patch tests with allergens related to cosmetics. Contact Dermatitis 1983; 6; 167-8.  Back to cited text no. 5    
6.Pasricha J S. Contact Dermatitis in India (Pasricha J S, ed). New Delhi : The off setters 1988; 1-20 & 67-85.  Back to cited text no. 6    
7.Baer R L, Ramsay D L. The most common contact allergens. Arch Dermatol 1970; 108 : 74.  Back to cited text no. 7    
8.Tusing T W, Vernon M L, Morrish E P. Biologic evaluation of Perfumes. Med Annals Dist Columb 1963; 32 : 90-5.  Back to cited text no. 8    
9.Cramer H J, Unrein H D. Contact eczema caused by preservatives in cosmetic skin creams. Excerpta Medica Derm Venereol 1964; 18 : 200.  Back to cited text no. 9    
10.Harry R G. Cosmetic Materials. In : Harry's cosmeticology (Harry R G, ed), 6th edn. London : Leonard Hill books ltd 1963; 64-5 & 249-400.  Back to cited text no. 10    
11.Vanketel W G. Allergy to cetyl alcohol. Contact Dermatitis 1984; 1 : 125-8.  Back to cited text no. 11    
12.Agathos M. Formaldehyde contact allergy. Contact Dermatitis 1982; 1 : 79-80.  Back to cited text no. 12    


[Table - 1], [Table - 2]

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