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Does your baby have a perfume allergy?

November 8, 2018

Does your baby’s skin become red, dry and itchy after using toiletries? Or perhaps you notice that they get watery eyes, become short of breath or seem dizzy? If so, your baby might be allergic to the fragrance added to these products.

Whilst it is lovely in theory to have nice smelling baby toiletries, if your child is sensitive to any of the perfume ingredients in them, they can end up with eczema, contact dermatitis, or redness and swelling from contact urticaria (hives). What’s more, inhalation of fragrances can trigger or aggravate asthma and other respiratory problems.

 

Are these problems common in babies?

According to studies, it is estimated that the frequency of contact allergy to fragrance ingredients in the general population in Europe is 1-3%. So whilst this issue is not going to affect the majority of babies, it will affect some.

What’s more, it might not be the toiletries that you are using that are causing the problem. That is because fragrance chemicals are added to a wide range of household and consumer products that could be used in your home environment.

These can include detergents, hairspray, soap and scented candles. Even air fresheners can cause a problem, with one piece of research finding that 19% of Americans experience adverse reactions to air fresheners.

Why is perfume so problematic?

Perfumes or fragrances are volatile organic compounds that usually smell nice and can spread easily in the air.

However, the fragrance additives used in products can contain around 3,000 different chemicals, any of which might be the culprit when it comes to causing an allergic reaction.

Fortunately, due to legislation, all cosmetics that contain any fragrances will have the word ‘parfum’ in the ingredients list.

What’s more, 26 fragrance ingredients which are considered likely to cause allergic reactions must also be mentioned in the ingredients list if their concentration exceeds 0.001% in leave-on products such as moisturiser and 0.01% in rinse-off products such as shower gel. Just click here to see what they are.

Avoiding perfume allergy issues

From the above, you would think that you can avoid the risk of perfume allergies simply by refusing to use any baby toiletries which list any of the 26 fragrance ingredients identified as higher-risk chemicals. Unfortunately, it is not that simple.

That is because the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS), which originally identified the 26 fragrance allergens as potentially problematic, have now carried out new research which has identified an additional 30 chemicals and 26 natural extracts as contact allergens in humans.

Whilst these may be in your baby toiletries, they do not yet have to be individually named on the label, meaning that if your child is allergic to any of these chemicals you won’t have a clue which ones are causing the problem.

That said, a product that contains these other allergens still has to have the word ‘parfum’ in the ingredients list. So maybe the answer is to opt for products labelled ‘fragrance-free’ or ‘unscented’?

Well, yes and no. That is because you will still need to check the ingredients for ‘parfum,’ as the product may not be scented as such, but may still use fragrance chemicals to mask other smells.

You also need to be wary of products labelled ‘hypoallergenic’, as whilst they are unlikely to contain any of the 26 current accepted fragrance allergens, they may contain the other allergens identified more recently by the SCCS.

In short, if you are unsure whether your baby is reacting to a specific product, one of the best ways to test this is to try alternate products that are designed to be kind to baby skin.

If despite these efforts the problem seems to be persisting, you could always go to your GP and ask for a patch test, as this can identify reactions to many common allergens.