Rash on a female's face vs her face covered with makeup.

Rashes on Your Skin? Cosmetics and Skincare Products May Be to Blame

The sudden appearance of a rash on your skin may be unsettling, but most rashes have a simple explanation and straightforward cure. Chances are you’re experiencing a common yet frustrating skin issue called contact dermatitis, and it could be a result of the products you’re using.

What Is Contact Dermatitis?

Characterized by a red, itchy rash, contact dermatitis can be the skin’s response to either irritants or allergens. Irritant contact dermatitis is caused by damage to the skin. Allergic contact dermatitis is caused by an allergic reaction to a triggering substance or allergen.

Many cosmetic and skin care products can cause such reactions. These include makeup, fragrances, soaps, and moisturizers. Oftentimes, the rash develops within minutes or hours of exposure to the aggravating substance.

In addition to a red, itchy rash, you may also experience:

  • Dry or scaly skin
  • Blisters and bumps
  • Swelling
  • Burning

What Causes Rashes in Skincare Products?

There are hundreds of potential irritants in skincare products.

Irritant contact dermatitis is the most common type of rash caused by products, accounting for 80% of all contact dermatitis cases. In this case, the rash is simply a response to the skin’s protective layer being damaged by an irritant.

Irritants can include:

  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Bleach and other hair dyes
  • Antiperspirants
  • Retinol and acids in wrinkle creams

In the case of allergic contact dermatitis, the immune system reacts to the allergen by releasing T cells in an attempt to neutralize the foreign invader. This overreaction of the immune system causes a rash. While you may never have been allergic to a skincare ingredient before, it’s possible to develop an allergy at any age.

According to the FDA, common allergens in cosmetic products are divided into five categories:

  • Preservatives
  • Natural rubber (often listed as latex on labels)
  • Fragrances
  • Dyes and color additives
  • Metals, such as aluminum compounds and cobalt, which are often found in antiperspirants

Beyond these common allergens, many people also experience allergies to salicylic acids used to treat acne, topical retinoids to address wrinkles and fine lines, emollients such as lanolin and cocoa butter, and sulfates in soaps and shampoos.

Another increasingly common cause of allergic contact dermatitis are essential oils such as tea tree oil, lavendar, peppermint oil, and ylang-ylang oil.

How to Clear Up a Skin Rash Caused by Products

If you suspect a product is causing skin irritation, the first step is to stop using it immediately. Once you’re able to avoid the irritant or allergen, your rash should clear up within several weeks. Meanwhile, you can find relief from itching and irritation with cool, wet washcloths and anti-itch creams.

Of course, if you find that your rash is worsening instead of clearing up, you’ll want to visit a dermatologist to see if you may need medication. You should also schedule an appointment if the rash is affecting your face, is severe or widespread, or is irritating you to the point where you’re losing sleep or unable to complete daily activities.

Fever, oozing blisters, difficulty breathing, or inflammation in the airways are all signs of potential infection or severe allergic reaction. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should seek immediate medical attention.


Whether you have a rash that isn’t clearing up or want to explore skin care products that won’t cause irritation, turn to Avail Dermatology for help. Schedule an appointment with us online, call (770) 251-5111 or email [email protected]com.