When Your Skin Erupts—Allergic Reactions and Rashes

Skin Allergies

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), in 2010, skin allergies affected 13 percent of children aged 17 years and under. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says these allergies are on the rise, increasing from 7.4 percent in 1997 to 12.5 percent in 2011.

Child or adult, allergic skin reactions can be really frustrating. Just when you think you’ve figured it out, you apply a moisturizer and end up with redness and inflammation.

Try these tips for soothing reactive skin—with product recommendations to help you deal with flare-ups.

What Causes Allergic Reactions?

The problem with skin reactions is that so many things can trigger them. Medications, plants, foods, clothing materials, detergents, ingredients in personal care products, and household cleaners can all cause the immune system to overreact, sending chemical messengers to the skin that cause symptoms like hives and swelling.

Skin can react this way when you touch something you’re allergic to, eat or inhale an allergen, or take a medication that triggers an allergic response in your body.

Since many skin conditions are difficult to diagnose, it’s important to remember that your body may be reacting to an allergen. If you suspect allergies may be involved, be sure to make an appointment with your allergist/immunologist, as he/she can help you discover your “triggers,” or those things that you may be allergic to.

Some common allergens include nickel, latex, dust, dyes, formaldehyde and formaldehyde releasers (like urea and DMDM hydantoin), fragrances, pet dander, preservatives, and more. Whatever causes the reaction, symptoms are similar, and include:

  • Hives
  • Rash
  • Itching
  • Swelling
  • Scales
  • Blisters

To Prevent It

The first way to prevent allergic skin reactions is to avoid your triggers. That’s why it helps to make an appointment with your allergy doctor to determine what’s causing your immune system to overreact.

Even if you know your triggers, though, you may be at risk from a reaction, as there are more chemicals in our world today than at any other time in history. You may come into contact with a trigger and not know it. This may happen when you’re traveling or eating unfamiliar foods, but one of the main reasons is because you’re using new skin care products.

Here are some tips to help you reduce your chances of suffering an uncomfortable skin reaction:

  • Simplify: For this type of sensitive skin, less is more. The fewer products and ingredients you expose your skin to, the lower your risk for a reaction. Look for fewer ingredients in your products, and choose natural or organic based formulas over synthetic. Use fewer overall products, as well.
  • Go fragrance-free: Fragrances are one of the most common triggers of skin reactions. Avoid all synthetic fragrances, and be cautious even with natural ones from essential oils and other plant sources. Fragrance-free is best.
  • Avoid harsh chemicals: Other ingredients like dyes, formaldehyde, dioxins, propylene glycol, ureas, alcohols, and silicones have all been linked to allergic reactions. Try to avoid these ingredients as much as possible. If you shop with my Ingredients to Avoid list, you’ll be less likely to run across harsh ingredients that cause allergic reactions. You can also check your products on the Skin Deep Database for potentially hazardous ingredients.
  • Spot test: Whenever you’re using a new product, spot test it first on a small area of skin on your inner arm. You’ll be glad you did if you experience a reaction.
  • Go slow. In other words, don’t try out five new products at once. Test one, and if you see no reaction, give it about a week more. If you’re still sailing smoothly, you can try the next product.
  • Keep your skin healthy. If your skin is dry, cracked, flaking, or otherwise compromised, it’s more likely to react, because it allows ingredients to penetrate more thoroughly. Keep your skin smooth and healthy by using nurturing products that help repair and rebuild over time.

To Treat a Flare-Up

Once you get a flare up, the results can be disastrous. Start by taking an antihistamine to curb your body’s reaction. Then try these products for soothing relief:

You can also try some of these natural solutions:

  • Chamomile tea: It’s naturally soothing to skin. Brew a cup, let it cool, soak a cloth and apply directly to the affected area. You can do the same with green tea.
  • Banana mask: Bananas have natural compounds that help reduce swelling and inflammation. Simply mash and apply to the affected area for at least 15 minutes.
  • Coconut oil: This is a good one for itching. Apply directly and rub it in. It’s moisturizing, too.
  • Baking soda: Another good one for soothing itchy skin. Add one part water to three parts baking soda, stir into a paste, and apply.

Makeup Tips 

  • Flatten: Reduce the swelling first with a little ice. Apply the ice cube to the swollen area for 3-5 minutes.
  • Conceal: Choose a color that matches your skin tone (or a little lighter—don’t go darker), and then apply with a small concealer brush over red and raised areas or over broken capillaries. For areas that are really red, you may want to try a green concealer, as it will help neutralize the redness. Test the color by applying some to the red areas and see if it helps them disappear. Use concealer only on the areas you want to cover—using too much can make your skin look cakey, which will make the rash more obvious.
  • Camouflage: If you have just a mild rash, a light foundation may be enough, but if yours is more severe, feel free to experiment with cream foundations that provide more coverage. Match your natural skin tone as closely as possible, and use a brush or sponge rather than your fingers to avoid adding oil or bacteria to your already sensitive skin.
  • Tame: Skip the blush. Your skin is already red, so you don’t need blush. If you do want a little color on your cheeks, use a sheer color.
  • Set: Using a mineral powder lightly over the red areas can help to further camouflage them, and will make your makeup last longer. Mineral powder is best as it usually sets lighter than regular powder.
  • Coordinate: Keep your eye makeup light so you don’t look overdone. A neutral or soft lip color is better than bright red, as that could bring more attention to your red skin.

Do you have other remedies for allergic reactions? Please share your tips.

Source: Steven Reinberg, “Food, Skin Allergies on the Rise Among Children: CDC”, Health Day, May 2, 2013

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  • Guest

    Good info. Would like to see article re: Rosacea & break-outs. Too many dermatologists are still prescribing long term anti-biotics which cause havoc on microbiome.