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, Dr. Verallo-Rowell and Laura answer Marcie Mom’s questions on understanding the product label.
MarcieMom: Suitable for Eczema Child/Infant – These are the most important keywords for a parent looking for sensitive skin products for his/her child with eczema – how much surer can it be when the product is labelled (and often prominently so) that it can be used for infant with eczema! Can you explain to us what ‘suitable for use for infant’ and ‘suitable for eczema’ really mean? Also, is there a regulatory body that governs the use of such terms on product packaging?
Laura: Again, great question, and not as confusing as it may seem with some simple guidelines (but yes, still not regulated terms so there is definitely self-education needed).
Suitable for infants: Here is the premise we at VMV operate on. Baby skin is formed and functioning from a very young age (neonatal and even younger — in utero by the end of the 1st trimester). But during the first few months of life, immunological functions are still undeveloped. For example, atopic dermatitis (an allergic disease that needs immune-forming cells to make IgE immunoglobulin) is not often seen until after the 3rd month of life. Because infant skin is newer to the world, building up its defenses, and as the surface area of skin is greater in babies (they absorb anything topically applied more than adults), baby skin care should be very safe yet still protect against micro-organisms. This, at VMV, has meant products with as few or ZERO of all known allergens (plus other things that are NOT allergens but known to have irritant responses and other safety issues, like SLS and phthalates) PLUS the inclusion of a very safe antibacterial-antiviral-antifungal-anti-inflammatory in all formulations. We also use coconut oil and its derivatives a lot because many have been found to actually be present in mother’s milk, studied extensively, peer-reviewed and published multiple times.
Suitable for Eczema has similar requirements. Eczema is actually atopic dermatitis. I left the more detailed definition to my mother, Dr. Verallo-Rowell, as this is her forte and I believe you and your readers would appreciate a doctor’s definition:
Dr. Verallo-Rowell: Eczema is actually a more generalized term for any skin eruption characterized by edema within the epidermis and dermis clinically seen as tiny itchy bubbles that ooze and become little bubbles or vesicles, even blisters. Then, exposed to the air, they dry up and become crusts. With chronicity this wet phase may not be as obvious, and becomes replaced more by dry, thickened, very itchy patches and plaques. Atopic dermatitis is the prototype example of this process but it may be seen in other conditions such as allergic and irritant contact or photocontact dermatitis, eczematous drug eruption and secondary reactions to a primary diagnosis.
Laura: Because “eczema” is actually a very general term, a specific diagnosis can be a powerful tool towards consistent and sustained management. A specific diagnosis usually also comes with an identification of the possible triggers for an individual’s flare-ups. Because babies cannot yet be patch tested, however, the alternative is frequent and controlled observation of what seems to cause eruptions (this is also why it is so important to use few products…so it’s easier to observe what the trigger/s might be) and strict prevention.
For the many conditions that can fall under the mantle “eczema”, they all benefit from the same ultra-über safety that we would do for baby products, i.e. ZERO of all known allergens, etc. plus the inclusion of a very safe antibacterial-antiviral-antifungal in all formulations. Why? With eczema, when the skin develops fissures or cracks, this becomes welcoming to opportunistic microorganisms to enter the skin, which can lead to or exacerbate itching and further dryness…which can lead to more cracks (which can lead to more infection) and more scratching (which can spread infection)…more risk of microorganisms, etc. in a vicious cycle. This is why we put the skin-safe but powerful antibacterial-antiviral-antifungal-anti-inflammatory (monolaurin) in all these products.
Marcie Mom: Thanks Dr. Verallo-Rowell and Laura, I think we’ve covered the more common terms which parents of eczema children look out for in labels and discussed whether they are truly meaningful and beneficial. Look forward to learning more from you in our next blog interview.
2015 update: Skin facts series that cover more on baby skin –
2018 update: The above terms continue to be unregulated; read FDA current regulatory guidelines, and you can do your part! If you have a rash reaction to the products, you can report to FDA here. Complaints made to the product companies need not be reported to the FDA by the product company – in an August 2017 study by Dr Steve Xu (a featured guest on this blog’s series on contact dermatitis in children) Adverse Reported to the US Food and Drug Administration for Cosmetics and Personal Care Products:
It was noted that in 2014, the FDA sent letters to manufacturers Chaz Dean and Guthy Renker LLC in response to 127 consumer complaints of hair and scalp problems related to the WEN by Chaz Dean Cleansing Conditioners. Only then did the FDA discover that the manufacturers had already received 21,000 consumer complaints of scalp irritation and alopecia. (Italic text from northwestern.edu)
As cosmetics products (including shampoo and moisturizers) do not require any regulatory pre-approval, it is super important for consumers to take action to alert FDA on any adverse reaction. Apart from WEN shampoo above, another recent instance whereby consumers’ complaints to FDA and Better Business Bureau have raised awareness of possible adverse reactions is Monat shampoo, read here. Read also EWG article on myths of cosmetics safety