Hypoallergenic is a term seen everywhere these days. From pets to cosmetics and everything in between, there seems to be a new, hypoallergenic alternative available. But what does that mean? Targeted at allergy sufferers, hypoallergenic products make otherwise unusable or unattainable products seem appealing. With promises of fewer health risks and allergy attacks, these products provide the ability to do things one may not be able to do otherwise – such as owning the pet you’ve always wanted or wearing the perfume you love the smell of so much. But is this actually true? Can products, even animals, truly be hypoallergenic and safer for those who suffer from allergies?
What Is The Definition of Hypoallergenic?
Its important to first understand what the term hypoallergenic actually means.
According to the FDA, hypoallergenic products are those that manufacturers claim produce fewer allergic reactions than other products. Consumers with hypersensitive skin, and even those with “normal” skin, may be led to believe that these products will be gentler to their skin than non-hypoallergenic cosmetics. In literal terms, the word hypoallergenic actually means “less allergenic” or in more friendly terms, “allergy friendly”. Products labeled as such are reportedly ‘less likely’ to cause an allergic reaction because they are supposed to contain less allergens (the substances and particles that cause allergy sufferers to have a reaction).
Interestingly enough, there are no Federal standards that govern the use of the term hyper-allergenic or its definition. It basically means whatever the company producing the product wants it to mean. There are also no regulations in place that require manufacturers that use this label to submit substantiation of their products hypoallergenicity claims to FDA. This provides a huge loop hole in promoting hypoallergenic products on the retail level, thus increasing the market value; however, dermatologists say it has very little meaning.
So where did this relatively meaningless term come from? The term was invented in a 1953 cosmetics campaign to promote a new line of make-up and has no medical or scientific meaning. It has since blown up in the cosmetic world. Mascara making your eyes red and irritated? Lotion causing redness and itchy skin? Try this hypoallergenic formula! As it turns out it’s all just a marketing ploy to sell more cosmetics to those consumers manufactures would’ve otherwise lost a sale to. Over time, there have been many agencies and organizations that have tried to get some sort of regulation in place for the term, but so far the attempts have been unsuccessful in the US Court system.
The main reason for the lack of regulation for the hypoallergenic label is the perplexing nature of allergies themselves. What causes allergic reactions when comparing one person to another is not completely understood yet. Two people can have the same allergy, but react to it differently, so no allergies are exactly the same. This is why hypoallergenic products mean “less allergenic” and not “allergy free”. The cosmetics industry, nor federal regulations, can not ever guarantee that a particular product will never cause an allergic reaction in every individual person. Rather, it can only be taken to mean that the product would be less likely to cause a reaction when compared to another similar product with different ingredients known to cause allergic reactions in many individuals.
Another popular place you’ll see the term hypoallergenic is with pets. According to Wikipedia, the definition of “hypoallergenic pets” is: breeds of pet animals (e.g., some breeds of dogs) that are less likely to trigger allergic reactions in people who are sensitized to the pet species (e.g., in people generally allergic to dogs).
This sounds like the best bet for those who have pet allergies – enabling them to have a pet in their home where a fur-baby would otherwise never be possible. The breeds promoted as hypoallergenic are those that do not shed their hair, or shed very little hair, but this is not where the entire allergy stems from. The proteins that cause the allergic reactions are not only in the animal’s fur/hair, but are also in their mucous, urine, saliva and in the dander sloughed from the animal’s skin. A recent study also showed that the amount of allergens found in homes with supposed hypoallergenic breeds were no different than those found in homes with pets considered non-hypoallergenic.
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