#1 Allergen in Shampoos
It's possible to be allergic to an ingredient in shampoos. Many patients with shampoo allergies don't develop scalp reactions as their main concern - rather they develop a range of dermatologic issues such as eyelid dermatitis, neck dermatitis and facial dermatitis.
Fragrance is the most common allergen in shampoos. Of 179 shampoos analyzed in a study by Zirwas, 95 % had fragrance. About 99 % of the population comes into contact with fragrance allergens during a given week and about 1-4 % of the population has fragrance allergies. They are added to shampoos (and other cosmetic products) to increase their appeal. Overall, the expert consensus is that the incidence of fragrance allergy is increasing around the world.
The terms 'fragrance-free' and 'unscented' are often used interchangeably but mean very different things. Unscented is a somewhat meaningless term but does indicate that the product does not have a strong odour. An unscented product could actually be full of fragrance but the fragrance dampens down some objectionable smell to create an overall neutral smelling product. A patient with a fragrance allergy could have a serious reaction to an unscented product but not to a fragrance-free product. Legal regulation over use of the term unscented has not yet occurred.
In the US, the terms fragrance are used to denote a product containing any one of many fragrances. In Canada, the term fragrance/parfum is used. North America is behind the times when one compares regulations in Europe. In Europe, it is now mandatory to report and disclose 26 fragrance ingredients in products. Manufacturers can no longer simply label the product with the generic term 'fragrance.' Some North American companies are following suit and disclosing the exact fragrance allergen, but the process has been slow.
In summary, fragrance allergens are the most common allergen in shampoos. Individuals with concerns about fragrance should look for shampoos that are fragrance free.
Dr. Jeff Donovan is a Canadian and US board certified dermatologist specializing exclusively in hair loss. To schedule a consultation, please call the Whistler office at 604.283.1887