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Your Moisturizers May Not Be Hypoallergenic or Fragrance Free—Even If It's on the Label

A new study looks at the labels of top-selling moisturizers and how they might not be totally truthful.

cream for eczema Kaspars Grinvalds/Shutterstock
When you buy a moisturizer that claims to be hypoallergenic and/or fragrance free, you believe the label, right? Okay, I certainly do, and as a mom who cares about what I put on my children's little bodies, these qualities are important when I'm shopping for products for my family.

That's why I was more than miffed to come across a study by a Northwestern dermatologist named Dr. Steve Xu, who, along with his team, looked at the ingredients of the top 100 best-selling moisturizers sold by popular retailers like Amazon, Target and Walmart, and found that nearly half that claim to be fragrance-free, actually contain fragrance. And get this; 83 percent of the moisturizers that were labeled hypoallergenic, in reality, contained an allergen!

For instance, Aveeno Active Naturals Daily Moisturizing Lotion contains benzyl alcohol. Say what? And Aquaphor contains lanolin! How frustrating for parents of kids with skin conditions like eczema, which can become exacerbated from the use of products with fragrances and allergens, never mind those of us who just want to buy natural products.

RELATED: Report: The Best Way to Treat Eczema in Kids Is...

Burt's Bees products made the hit list, as did those made by Cetaphil, a personal favorite of mine... before I saw this study. Consider that their Daily Advance Lotion contains chemicals like Phenoxyethanol, Tocopherol, and Benzyl alcohol, according to Xu and his colleagues. And unfortunately, the list of products with deceptive labels goes on and on.

In fact, Xu told NPR that most bestselling moisturizers "have some form of potential skin allergen." So the natural question is: How do companies get away with labeling their products as fragrance-free and/or hypoallergenic, if they aren't?

RELATED: What is contact dermatitis?

In an accompanying editorial, published in the medical journal, JAMA, Dr. Robert Califf, vice chancellor for Health Data Science at Duke University School of Medicine and a former FDA commissioner points to the lack of regulation for cosmetic products by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). He writes, "The debate about regulation of the cosmetics industry to protect the public health has gone unresolved for more than a century. Unlike drugs and devices used for diagnosis and treatment, Congress has never required cosmetic manufacturers to obtain premarket approval before selling a new product." Califf adds, "Nor does any regulatory body evaluate claims about the safety or effectiveness of these products."

Califf also notes in his piece that "research shows that only a small fraction of all adverse events are reported to regulatory authorities." In other words, even if a person buys a product that causes irritation, they are unlikely to report it. I know I probably wouldn't. I'd just buy something else!

In the end, until legislation changes, it's up to consumers to practice smart purchasing. Xu recommends buying single-ingredient products such as petroleum jelly, shea butter, sunflower oil or cocoa butter to increase your chances of knowing what you are putting on your skin, or that of your child, and reduce the risk of an allergic reaction.

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Melissa Willets is a writer, mom and coffee devotee. Find her on Facebook and Instagram where she chronicles her life momming under the influence. Of yoga.