What Is Hypoallergenic Makeup—and Do You Need It?

Plus, dermatologists offer up hypoallergenic makeup product recommendations that will help minimize irritation.

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Photo: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images

If you have sensitive skin—including redness, flaking, dryness, and bumps—then you know that finding skin-care products that work and don't cause an unwelcome reaction can be a struggle. What's more, makeup can be just as irritating—if not more so—since you're wearing it for hours at a time.

Makeup used to be formulated to sit on top of the skin, but with the long-wear revolution came formulas that are meant to stay all day and sink into the skin, which could lead to sensitivity, explains Rhea Souhleris Grous, aesthetics director at Union Square Laser Dermatology and Founder of La Suite Skincare. The good news is that advancements in long-wear formulas have also led to some of the best hypoallergenic makeup available. But what exactly is hypoallergenic makeup, and how can you ensure that you're choosing products that won't aggravate your allergy-prone or sensitive skin?

Hypoallergenic basically means the product contains ingredients that are unlikely to cause an allergic reaction and are also devoid of common allergens found in cosmetics, says Melanie Palm, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon at Art of Skin in Solana Beach, California. While there's a laundry list of ingredients that could cause a reaction, the most common are fragrance, formaldehyde, and certain preservatives.

And if you're wondering how hypoallergenic makeup stands up to natural or clean beauty, there is a difference. While many clean or natural beauty brands also use hypoallergenic labels and ingredients, the two concepts are not interchangeable. Hypoallergenic makeup describes a reaction of a particular product to the skin, while clean, organic, and natural describe manufacturing processes or the source in which an ingredient is obtained, shares Dr. Palm.

One downside of hypoallergenic makeup is that it's not regulated by the FDA, so it is up to brands to develop their own standards for ingredients. While not regulated, it's still helpful to look for a hypoallergenic label to start the process of finding products that work for your skin. You can also skim labels for the term fragrance-free, rather than unscented. "Unscented is a deceiving term as it actually means the product contains masking fragrances to eliminate a particular smell," points out Dr. Palm. These masking scents could still cause an allergic reaction, whereas fragrance-free is—as it sounds—devoid of any added fragrance.

Despite not being regulated, the need for hypoallergenic products is still more important than you may think. In the UK, for example, nearly one-quarter of women and about 14 percent of men experience a skin reaction to personal care products, according to a 2004 published survey. Of dermatology patients that underwent patch testing (a skin test in which allergens are applied to the skin for a period of time to test for contact reaction), nearly 10 percent were allergic to ingredients commonly found in cosmetics.

It's important to realize that the definition of hypoallergenic is a moving target, since you could be allergic to anything, says Grous. That being said, anyone with a history of multiple allergies, sensitive skin, or history of reacting to skin-care products should consider a spot test with a new product for several days before using it more widely on the face or body, advises Dr. Palm. If possible, it may also be worth undergoing allergy testing to determine which ingredients you are allergic to in order to avoid those.

Have problematic skin, but don't want to completely give up on your makeup routine? Check out these top-rated hypoallergenic makeup products for sensitive skin.

Almay Instant Glow Highlighting Duo

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Dr. Palm recommends Almay products since the brand is built around being hypoallergenic. Layer this dual-sided cream and liquid highlighter to go from a radiant natural glow to strobe light for a night out in a few swipes. It's available in two shades—Talk Pinky to Me, a pale pink for light to medium skin, or Pop It On, a gold for medium to deep skin.

Buy It: Almay Instant Glow Highlighting Duo, $6, $13, amazon.com

Australian Gold Botanical SPF 50 Tinted Face Mineral Sunscreen

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Nano-particles of zinc and titanium (the active ingredients in sunscreen) are your best bets for hypoallergenic sunscreen since they sit on top of the skin rather than sinking in, says Grous. Australian Gold's tinted formula is also fragrance-free and approved by the National Eczema Foundation. Also great? The three different tints suit a range of skin tones and can be easily blended into the skin, leaving you streak-free.

Buy It: Australian Gold Botanical SPF 50 Tinted Face Mineral Sunscreen, $10, $14, amazon.com

Glossier Cloud Paint

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Glossier has taken the beauty world by storm—not only are the products beautifully packaged, but the formulas are also developed with a sensitive skin consumer in mind. This cream blush is hypoallergenic, dermatologist-tested, and paraben-, fragrance-, and cruelty-free. One of the six pops of colors of this gel-cream hybrid blush is sure to entice you to try it.

Buy It: Glossier Cloud Paint, $18, glossier.com

Oxygenetix Oxygenating Foundation

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This hypoallergenic makeup foundation is recommended by dermatologists, and is especially great after a skin treatment, like a facial or chemical peel, when the skin is more exposed and extra sensitive, says Grous.

Buy It: Oxygenetix Oxygenating Foundation, $66, amazon.com

RMS Beauty Eye Polish

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Looking for hypoallergenic eye makeup with a decadent texture and lightweight yet pigmented look? This eye polish from RMS Beauty is a cream formula best applied with your fingers for a slightly reflective finish. There are nine gorgeous, metallic colors to choose from making it some of the best hypoallergenic makeup for sensitive eyes.

Buy It: RMS Beauty Eye Polish, $25, $28, amazon.com

CoverGirl Lash Blast Volume Mascara

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You can't pass through any drugstore without noticing the iconic orange packaging of this mascara. The spiky brush sweeps through even the tiniest lash to deposit lengthening pigments for bold lashes, and the formula won't cause you to get teary-eyed since it was developed for sensitive skin and eyes.

Buy It: CoverGirl Lash Blast Volume Mascara, $7, walmart.com

Tarte Creaseless Undereye Concealer

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Powered by maracuja, vitamins C and E, and mineral pigments, this full-coverage, hypoallergenic makeup hides dark circles, while also brightening and hydrating the undereye area. With 30 shades to match every skin tone—and a waterproof, vegan formula—this product was made to last and won't irritate your skin.

Buy It: Tarte Creaseless Undereye Concealer, $26, dermstore.com

Bare Minerals Original Foundation Broad Spectrum SPF 15

hypoallergenic makeup bare minerals powder foundation

A classic for a reason, this loose powder foundation is made with just five ingredients and no fragrance. The mineral pigments won't clog pores or cause breakouts and sit on top of the skin for lightweight, sheer coverage. Pick from a wide range of shades and undertones to compliment your skin tone. (

Buy It: Bare Minerals Original Foundation Broad Spectrum SPF 15, $29, amazon.com

Physicians Formula The Healthy Eyeshadow

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Sometimes you want a rose gold smokey eye, but not the red, irritated eyes that could come with it if you're allergic to the formula. Now, you can create a stunning, eye-catching look, thanks to this shimmery hypoallergenic eye makeup set.

Buy It: Physicians Formula The Healthy Eyeshadow, from $4, amazon.com

La Roche Posay Respectissime Makeup Remover

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PSA: your makeup can't help you if your skincare routine is the problem. Even if it's hypoallergenic makeup, there's no formula safe enough to sleep in, says Grous. So at the end of every day, take a few minutes to remove it all. This water and oil-based hypoallergenic makeup remover gently erases even the most stubborn makeup, yet is ophthalmologist-tested and fragrance-free.

Buy It: La Roche Posay Respectissime Makeup Remover, $17, amazon.com

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