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ACAAI > Patients & Public > Resources > Ask the Allergist

Ask the Allergist - Contact Dermatitis to Cosmetics

Q. I need some more information – have had one year of terrible itching and rashes from allergies to propolis and phenolexenol, so just tossed all makeup and cleaners and got vegan goods.  What else can I do?

A:  Propolis is commonly used in cosmetic and medicinal preparations because of its antiseptic, antiinflammatory, and anesthetic properties.  Propolis is found in a number of "natural" products, including lip balms, cosmetics, lotions and ointments, shampoos, conditioners, and toothpastes.  If you tested positive to propolis (by patch test, for contact dermatitis) and your allergist/dermatologist feel that this is the cause of your itching, a list on products that are free of propolis can be obtained from the Allergic Contact Dermatitis Society (ACDS) website, by your physician.  Just throwing out your old cosmetics and getting new ones (even vegan goods) does not guarantee you that the new cosmetics do not have the things you are allergic to!   Chemicals may have many names and natural does not always mean it cannot cause an allergy.  Remember, poison ivy is natural as well.

2-Phenoxyethanol (you probably mean this instead of phenolexenol) is an antibacterial chemical and is most commonly found as a preservative in cosmetics and skin care products. Again, a list of products without this allergen (from the ACDS website) can help you avoid exposure.

Here are products that may contain the chemical 2-Phenoxyethanol:

  • Antiseptic
  • Bactericide
  • Insect repellant
  • Perfume fixative
  • Toilet tissue
  • Vaccines