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Common Skincare Ingredients That Can Irritate Your Skin

By: Dr. Wang Skincare Education Team

Sep 30, 2019

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Common Skincare Ingredients That Can Irritate Your Skin

If you have sensitive skin, shopping for skincare products to add to your routine can feel like a challenge. What can you use that won’t cause your skin to become itchy, irritated, and inflamed?

These are three ingredients that are the most common culprits of irritation! 


Added fragrance is almost always the number one source of irritated skin (as a result of beauty products.) Synthetic fragrance ingredients can trigger irritation in over 20 percent of the American population, according to environmental health researchers at the University of Washington. But “fragrance” doesn't always mean perfume and, as is the case with skincare products, it typically refers to a concoction of chemicals that make items smell better. Added fragrance is in such a significant number of products these days, and even those that are advertised as 'unscented' still include them as they are incorporated in the formula to veil the smell of the ingredients.

Fragrance is the first thing a dermatologist will tell you to eliminate if you have touchy skin. Presently, there's no real way to determine what ingredients are included when you see "fragrance" on a product's label. Many synthetic fragrances contain at least 200 distinctive compounds or natural parts, and your skin could respond to any of them. To make matters worse, companies aren't required to share what goes into their fragrance 'formula,' so pinpointing the precise reason for a response can be practically impossible.

If you are someone who is allergic to fragrance, stay away from any items that have it included on their ingredients label, particularly those who list it higher up. Stick to products labeled “fragrance-free.” There is a large market for products that are made for those with delicate skin. And keep in mind when shopping for products that there's a slight contrast between "fragrance-free" and "unscented"— and going with "fragrance-free" is always the better choice.

“Fragrance-free’ usually means that no extra fragrances were added to the product. This does not necessarily mean that the product does not have a scent, but that the scent occurs naturally due to the ingredients,” Dr. Whitney Bowe explains to Self. “’ Unscented’ usually means that an ingredient was added to mask the scent of the ingredients in the product that contain a strong odor. Unfortunately, those with sensitive skin may be sensitive to that ingredient.”

Those individuals who are unfavorably susceptible to fragrance allergies may experience skin swelling, itching, and in severe cases, your eyes can even swell shut. If you are experiencing any skin irritation as a result of fragrance, use mild topical steroids such as cortisone, or oral antihistamines like Allegra or Zyrtec, to reduce swelling, redness, and itching. But if the reaction is severe, you may be required to take oral steroids in order to reduce the allergic reaction. If you are experiencing any swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat, difficulty breathing, or hives, seek medical attention immediately.

Essential Oils

Essential oils are created when you heat plants, plant extracts, fruits, and the like in water. In a chemical process known as distillation, the heated compound produces a mix of water-based compounds and essential oils, which travel along a long tube and are further condensed into the oil.

But just because an item is stamped "organic" or "natural" and made from plants, doesn't mean it won't cause a response for those with sensitive skin. “Products that are considered 'natural' often contain ingredients that may be unusual or untested,” dermatologist and RealSelf contributor Joel Schlessinger, M.D., tells SELF. “I also see quite a few reactions to organic products. After all, poison ivy is organic.” 

This is due, in part, to essential oils' ability to enhance the penetration of ingredients. Essential oils have actually been found to increase the absorption of other ingredients up to 30-fold (International Journal of Pharmaceutics.) So your typical routine may not seem irritating to your skin now, but introducing essential oils could make the active ingredients penetrate the skin more resulting in irritation. 

Essential oils can also be photosensitizing, especially when used in concentrations of 100 percent. Some of the most Irritating essential oils include citrus oils, such as lemon extract (Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 2002) and lavender oil (Contact Dermatitis, 2006). 

Thankfully, and unlike the synthetic fragrances we mentioned earlier, many companies who utilize essential oils in their formula, list them out separately. This makes it easier to pinpoint and avoid if needed. 


Preservatives are used in order to keep a product that contains water fresh. And although many preservatives, such as parabens, for example, are not considered harmful to your health (despite what you may have heard), they can cause an allergic reaction in those who already have skin issues like eczema, psoriasis, and contact dermatitis. 

Luckily, many products in the beauty market don’t include preservatives! Just be sure you’re using them quickly so they don’t go bad.



If you are someone who suffers from sensitive skin, be on the lookout for these three ingredients and avoid them! 

Steven Wang, MD and Gui Wang, LAc have been working together for over 20 years to provide potent, herbal remedies for spas and individuals around the world. The father-son duo mixes Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) with cutting edge scientific advances with the aim of bringing relief, comfort, and happiness to our customers. Our products are the result of decades of dedicated research.

We believe that utilizing both modern Western medicine and time-honored Eastern medicine allows us to provide unique skincare solutions. To learn more, read what experts from The New York Times, Allure, Reader’s Digest, and more have to say about our revolutionary products.



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