What Product Ingredients Should You Avoid in Eczema

Fragrances and dyes in cosmetics and skin care products are common eczema triggers

Edited By:
Raja Sivamani , MD, MS, AP

If you have eczema, then you may know that certain ingrdients in soaps, lotions, and cosmetics can irritate your skin and cause flares in eczema. Eczema prone skin has an impaired skin barrier, which means it is more sensitive to ingredients that can be irritating or drying. Carefully read the ingredient labels on products to help identify and avoid irritating ingredients. Here are a few of the most common ingredients that those with eczema should limit or eliminate:

perfume bottles next to white and purple flowers


Both synthetic and naturally derived fragrances can irritate sensitive skin.[1] Be weary of products labeled as “fragrance-free,” since they may contain fragrances such as benzyl alcohol that also function as preservatives.[2]


cream in plastic container on wooden table next to green leaves


Methylparaben and butylparaben are common examples of preservatives found in many skin care products and cosmetics to prevent them from going bad or growing bacteria. However, they can cause inflammation in some people with eczema prone skin.[3] Other examples of preservatives that can irritate the skin include phenoxyethanol, chlorphenesin, benzoic acid, and formaldehyde-containing ingredients such as imadozolidinyl urea.[4] 

gel dripping out of product dispenser

Drying Ingredients

Alcohol, retinoids, and alpha hydroxyl acids (AHAs) such as glycolic acid can all promote drying of the skin and can worsen eczema.[5]

colored water in glasses side by side

Synthetic Dyes

Artificial dyes add appealing color to many personal care products, but they can trigger a reaction in many people with sensitive or eczema prone skin. When reading ingredient labels, look for “D&C” along with a color and a number. Red 17 and Blue 106 are two examples of this.[6]  Artificial dyes can worsen eczema and even cause hives.

soapy hands with many suds while washing


Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is the classic sulfate added to shampoos and soaps to form a sudsy lather. However, sulfates can impair skin barrier function and allow water to escape from the skin leading to loss of hydration. Dish soap is another hiding place for sulfates to aggravate hand eczema. Those with eczema should consider using “sulfate-free” alternatives.[7]


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  2. Correa da Rosa J, Malajian D, Shemer A, et al. Patients with atopic dermatitis have attenuated and distinct contact hypersensitivity responses to common allergens in skin. J Allergy Clin Immunol.2015;135(3):712-720; PMID: 25583101.
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