Sensitive Skin Product Series – Understanding Ingredients & Patch Test

Patch Test (picture from

This is a 13-part series focused on understanding and using products for sensitive skin, an important topic given the generous amount of moisturizers that go onto the skin of a child with eczema. Marcie Mom met Laura Verallo Rowell Bertotto, the CEO of VMVGroup, on twitter and learnt that her company is the only hypoallergenic brand that validates its hypoallergenicity. VMV Hypoallergenics is founded in 1979 by Dr. Vermén Verallo-Rowell who is a world renowned dermatologist. Dr. Vermén created the VH Rating System which is the only validated hypoallergenic rating system in the world and is used across all the products at VMV. In this interview, Laura answers Marcie Mom’s questions on understanding ingredients and on patch test.

Product Label – Deciphering the Ingredients

I’ve written in this post on how difficult it has been comparing the ingredients across products and make some sense of what they mean. For one, not all products list all their ingredients and even when they do, different companies seem to be giving the same ingredient different names (because they all sound so similar yet not identical!)

Marcie Mom: Laura, thanks again for continuing to help us understand the product label. This interview will focus on getting a broad understanding of labeling ingredients.

i. Is the ‘Ingredient’ list on product packaging Compulsory and Regulated? Does the Ingredient List cover all ingredients? Or can companies pick and choose what they like to reveal?

Laura: In many countries, yes, it is compulsory to list all ingredients, following a specified format, and using only the INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) names of ingredients. A few countries do not require that ingredients be listed, in full or in part, and/or do not have requirements regarding the names used or formatting.

ii. Why is there no percentage (%) beside each ingredient? That way parents can compare and choose the product with the least % of allergen. Also, I read that certain allergen will not trigger a reaction because its concentration is too low in moisturizers but I also read that some products use an exceptionally high concentration of certain irritants. How can consumer find out the concentration of allergen/irritant in a product?

Laura: This is quite a complex question…love it! 🙂

First, % are not included mostly because of proprietary concerns. A company does not want its exact formulation copied by anyone else.

Second, if a product is a DRUG (prescription or over-the-counter), it does, actually, have to disclose the % of the active ingredient.

Third, an easy way to get an idea of how much of an ingredient is in the formulation is to look at WHERE it is on the ingredients list. Most regulatory bodies require that ingredients be listed from MOST to LEAST.

Fourth: the % of an irritant or allergen is relevant mostly if someone only has irritant reactions to it. Irritant reactions do have a relationship to concentration of ingredient, frequency of exposure, time on skin, etc. For example, you could be using an allergen most of your life and not really react to it or just have mild irritant reactions like dryness. But if you are ALLERGIC to a substance or develop an allergy to it, any % of it for any amount of time on the skin will cause a reaction. Again, this is why a patch test is so important.

iii. Can you explain a little more on patch test?

Patch-Testing before Use

A patch test is a painless procedure where ingredients/substances are put on your back in small dollops and kept on for a few days, with readings by your doctor at intervals like 48 and 72 hours. It can be a little costly upfront, but the amount of time, money and discomfort/skin trauma it can save you (versus random trial and error) over time makes up for that hundredfold. It tells you EXACTLY which ingredients you, in particular, need to avoid. So, for example, you may need to avoid certain dyes in clothing, certain laundry soaps, and certain metals in your cell phone, etc. but may actually be ok using such natural ingredients as tea tree oil…this helps guide you far more specifically. And if you happen to be in the USA and your dermatologist is a member of the American Contact Dermatitis Society, your patch test results can be entered into the CAMP (Contact Allergen Management Program) database…so that instead of just a list of ingredients to avoid, you get a list of brands and product names that you can use.

Not to over-emphasize a point but this is also why the VH-Rating System is so handy. If you have not yet had a patch test, choosing the highest VH-Rating (showing that zero allergens are included in the formulation) can already significantly improve your chances of non-reaction. If you HAVE had a patch test, if an allergen is included in a product, the VH-Rating will alert you to the presence of which allergen in particular is included (for example Vitamin E). If your patch test shows you’re allergic to parabens and not vitamin E, then you probably can still use the product.

Marcie Mom: Thanks so much Laura for your help in helping us understand the big picture on ingredient labeling. In our next interview, we will learn in greater detail about reading ingredients on the label.

2018 update: Check out SkinSAFE app (developed by Mayo Clinic and licensed to Her Inc.) where you can either have your Personal Allergen Code (for US patients) or you select allergens that you want to exclude from products or use their 11 allergens to exclude from products, namely preservatives, fragrance, parabens, lanolin, coconut, topical antibiotic, MCI/MI, nickel, gluten, soy and propylene glycol.

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Last update was on: 12 November, 2018 1:54 pm
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