Medically reviewed by Neka Miller, PhD on June 6, 2021. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
Allergies are a surprisingly common condition. It's estimated, for example, that in 2020 about 19.2 million Americans were affected by hay fever.
In response to allergies, many people, cosmetics, and products use the word “hypoallergenic” as a means of providing some peace of mind. Unfortunately, some people have misconceptions about hypoallergenicity, assuming that if something is hypoallergenic it won't trigger any allergic reactions at all. If you’ve confirmed that you're an allergy sufferer, whether with your doctor or by an at-home allergy test, it’s important to understand what the term hypoallergenic really means. Learn more below.
Your immune system is designed to identify potentially harmful microbes, like bacteria and viruses. When your immune system notices these harmful microbes in your system, it leaps into action, protecting your healthy tissues while working to neutralize the threat.
A healthy immune system normally has no problem differentiating between potential threats and harmless things. However, an overactive immune system has more trouble with that and will identify something harmful, like a component of food, saliva, or pollen, as dangerous. As an allergic response, the immune system will begin its usual process, but without an actual threat, it will mistakenly harm healthy tissue. The result is inflammation and the usual symptoms of an allergic reaction.
Everything from dogs to cosmetics gets labeled as “hypoallergenic.” It can be a way to convince people that these things are safer, but too many people assume that hypoallergenic products are completely safe.
In reality, something that is labeled hypoallergenic simply means that it is relatively unlikely to cause an allergic reaction. However, this gets tricky when it comes to something like cosmetics. Hypoallergenic is not a legal term, and there are actually no Federal standards that govern what hypoallergenic means. Hypoallergenic is used purely for marketing. This may mean that the product contains fewer allergens, but that does not make it allergy-proof. While most products do undergo patch tests to determine the potential for allergic reactions, those tests are inherently flawed, using volunteers who have little to no existing allergies.
That doesn’t necessarily mean you should avoid using hypoallergenic products. Fewer allergens can mean a lower chance of an allergic reaction, but you are better suited reading the actual label for ingredients that may cause a reaction.
Hypoallergenic becomes even more of a misnomer when it comes to pets. Pet allergies are typically caused by proteins found in an animal’s skin, saliva, and urine. Considering every cat and dog has skin, saliva, and urine, there is no such thing as a hypoallergenic animal.
There are, of course, certain pet breeds that may cause fewer allergic reactions. For example, hypoallergenic dog breeds and hypoallergenic cats shed less fur and dander (dead skin cells), which naturally means fewer allergens on your furniture and in the air. However, this won’t completely stop an allergic reaction, especially if you are especially sensitive or maintaining prolonged contact with the dog or cat.
Hypoallergenic can be a misleading word and, for some products, ill-defined. Use your best judgment, and if you aren’t sure about your allergies, consider taking an allergy test to determine for sure. The Everlywell at-home allergy test provides comprehensive results for 40 different indoor and outdoor allergens. You can then take the results to your doctor and determine how you can maintain your health and comfort.
1. Allergies and Hay Fever. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed June 6, 2021.
2. Allergies - Symptoms and Causes. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed June 6, 2021.
3. "Hypoallergenic" Cosmetics. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. URL. Accessed June 6, 2021.
4. Pet allergy: Are there hypoallergenic dog breeds? Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed June 6, 2021.
5. Pet Allergens. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. URL. Accessed June 6, 2021.