Back in 2020, after months of hunkering down to ride out the first wave of COVID-19, I visited a hair salon for a masked and socially distanced cut and color to give my strands some much-needed TLC. I’d been highlighting my hair blonde for 15 years without issue, but after this particular visit, I experienced a non-COVID health crisis, breaking out into full-body itching that no antihistamines could quell.
I panic-texted my stylist to ask if she’d used anything new on my notoriously sensitive scalp, but I knew I needed to make a doctor’s appointment, stat. I found a lovely allergist who did extensive patch testing, testing my skin for 80 of the most common contact allergens found in personal care products.
My allergist — who is in his eighties (yes, really!) — told me the “worst case” he’d ever seen was someone with over a dozen allergens. My test triggered more than two dozen, astounding the doctor and making me his new “worst case.” Suffice it to say it was an honor I wasn’t all that thrilled to receive.
Suddenly facing a beast I was in no way prepared for, I had to eliminate every single product in my arsenal, down to the hand soap in my bathroom and the laundry detergent in my cabinets. I then had to become my own personal skincare scientist, scouring the internet for products with such limited ingredients that they wouldn’t irritate my touchy skin. I’m not exaggerating when this trial-and-error process took years… and I still have to be extremely careful when introducing something new, even if it seems “safe.”
So, how do you know if your kiddo might be dealing with a skin situation? “Kids, tweens, and teens will exhibit allergy or sensitivity to a personal care product if they start exhibiting red [and] flaky skin, itching, hives, or swelling,” explains Kathleen Dass, MD, an immunologist at the Michigan Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Center. “Sometimes the skin will blister, ooze, or be tender.”
“It can be harder to tell if an infant is experiencing skin irritation or an allergy than it is with tweens and teens, simply because they don’t yet have the ability to express themselves with words,” adds Dr. Geeta Yadav, board-certified dermatologist and founder of FACET Dermatology. “Beyond more obvious signs of irritation like rashes or dry patches, a baby may be more fussy than usual or have trouble sleeping due to any itchy sensations. This will also make it important to keep their nails short or ideally covered, so they can’t hurt themselves scratching.”
For sensitive skin types of all ages, both pros recommend sticking to products that are free of fragrance, dyes, sulfates, and harsh preservatives, but that doesn’t mean products billed “natural,” “organic,” “clean,” “plant-based,” or “for sensitive skin” won’t cause a reaction. “Natural ingredients can sensitize the skin, too,” says Yadav. “For example, chamomile extract, which is known for its soothing properties, is related to ragweed, a common allergen.” I’m allergic to coconut and all its derivatives, which means most mass-market products are not safe for me to use.
Even one of the main ingredients in Neosporin (neomycin) is one of the most common allergen triggers in kids, says Dass. Nickel (found in costume jewelry, FitBits, and Apple watches) is another common skin sensitizer, she notes. Of course, fragrance in makeup and other products marketed to teens is a biggie, but Dass says “frequent use increases their sensitization, which can increase their risk for contact dermatitis.”
Kid-Friendly Products to Try
Now that I’ve got a routine down pat, I thought it might be helpful to share the kid-friendly products that I genuinely cannot live without.
Clean Kids Naturally Shampoo, Conditioner, & Bubble Bath
This brand is formulated to be as allergen-free as possible, so I even have a supply stashed away at my hair salon for use at every appointment. Every single product smells so yummy, and your kids of any age are sure to love bath and shower time with these on your shelves.
Gabriel Balancing Face Cleanser & Moisturizer
Gabriel’s highly-rated Balancing Cleanser gently cleanses and lightly exfoliates the skin, while the coordinating all-purpose moisturizer helps protect skin from premature signs of aging. Both contain soothing kelp, vitamin E, and antioxidants.
Gabriel Purifying Mud Mask
On the rare occasion that I treat myself to an at-home spa session, I use Gabriel’s Purifying Mud Mask.
Gabriel Hand & Body Lotion
To combat irritated, dry skin, I love Gabriel Cosmetics’ Hand and Body Lotion in the summer months.
Balmonds Skin Salvation
Another go-to? Balmonds Skin Salvation. All-natural, this “intense emollient” was developed to nourish highly sensitive skin.
Ora’s Amazing Herbal Newborn Salve
In the winter, I reach for Ora’s Amazing Herbal Newborn Salve (see, I told you this list was truly kid-friendly). This coconut-free natural ointment contains well-known and trusted ingredients for sensitive skin, such as organic calendula and licorice root.
Coola Classic Body Organic Sunscreen Spray
I’m also devoted to keeping my skin safe from the sun, and I buy multiple bottles at a time of COOLA’s fragrance-free Classic Body Organic Sunscreen Spray SPF 50. It contains 70%+ certified organic ingredients and features naturally effective antioxidant-rich nutrients, including red raspberry seed oil, prickly pear extract, and more to fight free radicals.
Clean Kids Naturally Kiwi Germ Busting Soap
For hand soap, I use Clean Kids Naturally Kiwi Germ Busting Soap at home. Made with sensitive-skinned kids in mind, all of Clean Kids Naturally products are all-natural, pH balanced, gluten-free, coconut-free, and cruelty-free.
Bela Naturals Triple Milled Pure Natural Soap
I bring a bar of Bela Naturals Triple Milled Pure Natural Soap with me in my purse everywhere I go since the soap in public restrooms frequently causes me to itch. I also use this bar soap in the shower, and each bar lasts so long that it makes the cost well worth it.
I’m a big fan of WaterWipes, stashing a package in my car, my purse, and by my door to wipe up dog’s paws after walks. These wipes contain only two ingredients — 99.9% water and a drop of fruit extract — and zero artificial fragrance, sulfates, or colors.
Charlie’s Soap Laundry Liquid
Since even laundry products marketed as “for sensitive skin” or “hypoallergenic” don’t work with my specific allergens, I rely on Charlie’s Soap Laundry Liquid, which lasts me up to two years before I need to repurchase again.
An Important Final Note
If your little one is struggling, a visit to an allergist is always your best bet, as they can pinpoint the exact triggers and help soothe their sensitive skin. Your pediatrician or dermatologist can help you find one. No one should have to suffer through skin issues, and in many cases, eliminating the culprit is the simplest way to feel better ASAP.