Understanding the Nature of a Sensitizer

Many people want to have the informed choice whether to use products with natural oakmoss and other potential sensitizers, but to make an informed choice they need to understand the way a sensitizer works. You can use a product that contains oakmoss for years and then all of a sudden start reacting to it with itchy, red rashes. It takes cumulative exposure before your body becomes sensitized enough to start reacting, and you never know when that might start, if at all. I have not been sensitized to anything so I can’t offer personal experience (I’m very lucky not to have any skin, sinus, or headache issues with fragrance at all, at least so far).

I hear a lot of people say just to avoid products with oakmoss “if you are allergic to it” but this really isn’t accurate. By exposing yourself to moss over and over you can become sensitized to it and start having allergic reactions on your skin. One of the big questions is how many people will be sensitized and whether the numbers merit regulating the material. That question has to be answered by research and statistics, and the regulating bodies decided it is enough of a problem to set rules on oakmoss levels. Then the next big question is what level of the sensitizer is acceptable in the product, and I suspect researchers don’t really know how low to set it in many cases. However, now that we have a good treated natural oakmoss with low levels of the two main identified sensitizers, atranol and chloroatranol, it makes sense to switch to the new moss to prevent new people from becoming sensitized.

For people to make informed choices, they need the information. A significant portion of fragrance collectors don’t understand how a sensitizer works, and the general public is probably more in the dark. All this talk about the issue should at least help people understand more about what sensitization involves.

Edited to add: I think consumers can make their own choices as long as the information gets to them. I hate to see fragrance labels looking like drug labels, but we may need to use more extensive and informative product labeling in order to leave as many choices up to the consumer as is possible. In the case of oakmoss though, the new natural moss product with low allergen levels really seems to make sense.

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  1. I personally like the idea of more extensive labeling — I’ve recently experienced reactions to some perfume ingredients, but because there’s no real or clear labeling, I don’t have a specific idea of what ingredient(s) I might be reacting to.

    A list of “notes” isn’t much help in that regard.

  2. You’re right, a list of notes is no help to you. The ingredients list might help a little bit if it is an EU compliant list that gives the allergens and if you see any patterns, though that’s tough since you don’t know the amounts used and it might be impossible to sort out. I wonder if dermatologists will ever look at various ingredents lists on boxes for people and say which ingredients are more likely to be causing problems, or if they’d just want to do allergy skin testing, which doesn’t sound like much fun. Only the larger brands that are sold in EU as well as here must comply with those EU labels, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the US requires similar labeling before long. Hope you can figure out what’s causing it and not have too much trouble with it. I’ve heard a fair number of people say they have trouble with oakmoss and some spicy notes.

  3. Some spicy notes, eh? Now that you mention it, I had a terrible skin reaction when I was wearing Satellite Padparadscha — it’s a scent that’s full of spice and pop. The rash I developed on my arms (where I sprayed Padparadscha for several days in a row) was so bad I had to go to my doctor and get a topical prescription cream to get rid of it.

    Yikes. So uncomfortable, and I’d love to know exactly what it was so that I could avoid it forevermore!

  4. Ouch, that sounds like a bad reaction. The spices I hear people most concerned about are clove notes, cinnamon, and pepper. I don’t use natural clove or cinnamon because they can be quite irritating and I doubt many larger brands use them either; the synthetic ingredients for these notes have safety limits to follow, but some people could be extra sensitive. Padparadscha has a strong pepper note; I wonder if that was it? I may have tried Padparadscha once years ago but I don’t remember it. Sounds like it has black pepper rather than the trendy pink pepper, and the black is supposedly more irritating than pink. You might do tiny skin patch tests whenever you try something with a strong black pepper note just until you see if that might be it (or maybe pre-test anything that’s very spicy in general). Could be that it was pepper in combination with something else spicy in there that was just too much for your skin, so hopefully you won’t have that experience too often! Here’s a case where even the EU labeling wouldn’t help you if that was it because black pepper, Piper nigrum, isn’t required to be listed…

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