Fragrances, emulsifiers and preservatives are incorporated in cosmetic and pharmaceutical formulations, to improve the smell and shelf life of a product. Yet while fragrances are often identified as allergens of a certain item, this article aims to raise awareness about the importance of patch testing first before using a new brand of cosmetic or topical ointment.

Although fragrances are often easily identified as the allergen, other additives like natural preservatives and emulsifiers can also be toxic to some types of skin.

What Exactly is Patch Testing?

A patch test is a procedure undertaken to investigate or examine a specific substance as a means of confirming if its application results in allergic contact dermatitis or skin allergy.

Patch tests are usually applied on the slide of the neck, on the inner wrist or on the back of the hand to let it stay for up to 48 hours or 96 hours at the most to see if the skin reacts to any allergen included as a component of a substance or product. Reaction will be in the form of dermatitis appearing as red raised,vesicles, which are small fluid-filled sacs. If so, it serves as confirmation that the skin on which the product was tested is sensitive to certain ingredients of the cosmetic or topical ointment in question.

While some manufacturers make claims that their cosmetic, perfume, lotion, sun screen, shampoo or soap is fragrance-free, other additives like emulsifiers or preservatives may also cause allergic reactions.

Consumer Organization Says Fragrance is Not the Leading Cause of Allergic Contact Dermatitis

The Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association (CTFA) furnishes information about product formulation and ingredient properties linked to a broad array of products.
Fragrances are the most common cosmetic allergen mainly because their use can be found in a wide variety of consumer products; in perfumes, various toiletries and household cleaning materials. Yet in a related study, allergic reactions to fragrance mixed in perfumes affected only about 11% of the patch-tested patients.

What the clinical trials discovered is that when compared to results of fragrance patch tests, a preservative called Balsam of Peru negatively affected 50% of those who participated in the patch testing.

Also called Peru balsam, it is an oily sap extracted from the bark of a Myroxylon balsamum tree. It’s commonly added to cosmetic and medical formulations to prevent the growth of bacteria. Indigenous folks apply the oily sap to the skin as protection against mites whose bites lead to a skin disorder called scabies.

The bottom line here is that even for products that claim they are 100% organic or herbal, it’s always best to perform a patch test first before using a new cosmetic or medicinal ointment

The italian perfume brand Xerjoff for one has released a new fragrance called Erba Pura, which translates as Pure Herb in English. It’s a unisex variant as its composition is mostly of citrus scents. Still, it would be wise to take a patch test before making the Erba Pura your new scent