How to Patch Test Makeup for Accuracy, Allergens & Avoid Breakouts

How to Patch Test Makeup to for Accuracy, Allergens & Avoid Breakouts

If you have sensitive skin or certain allergies you might be more than familiar with the concept of patch testing products. Skincare products, including makeup, can contain ingredients that react negatively with your skin. Everyone's complexion is different and as you probably know, some products that work wonders for one could have horrible side effects in another. When you patch test makeup, it is important to remember that your face is more sensitive than the rest of your skin.

How to Patch Test Makeup

Begin by applying a small patch of whatever product you are testing evenly onto an invisible portion of your leg or arm. Behind the knee or inside the elbow are great options to start. Leave the product to sit for 24 hours and if there is no irritation continue to your face. Next, pick a small area of your face that is easy to hide like the underside of your jaw or a corner of your forehead (if you have bangs), if after an hour there is no reaction, the product is probably fine to use in larger amounts. 

Why should you do it?

Failure to patch test makeup and other new products could result in: burning, itching, redness, peeling and breakouts. A combination of products could also have negative side effects. Test one product at a time and add other products individually to see if your skin reacts. Patch testing makeup also serves an aesthetic purpose, by testing out smaller patches of color you can be sure that you are getting the shade you want. When you patch test makeup, there are 3 main things to look for:

  1. Allergic reactions - hives might appear along with itchy/water eyes
  2. Irritation - skin shows signs like redness, burning, and itching on a surface level
  3. Comedogenicity (how pore-clogging a substance is) - product causes breakouts, whiteheads, blackheads

Over 3,700 substances have been found to be contact allergens, meaning that they can cause a skin rash or other reaction. It is important to be able to recognize skincare ingredients that are known to have adverse effects, if possible using natural products or safe brands is best.

How to Patch Test Makeup to for Accuracy, Allergens & Avoid Breakouts | Mirra Skincare

Common Irritant Ingredients

Some of the most common irritants are:

  • Fragrance: Fragrance is actually one of the top 5 skin allergens in the world. The problem with “fragrance” is that it is usually made up of a few different components that are not listed. 
  • Parabens: These are preservative chemicals found in products that are meant to increase shelf life. They mimic estrogen so they can really disrupt your hormones.  
  • Acids: Acids are used in products to treat acne and oily skin. The most common one is salicylic acid. This ingredient is found in many cleansers and toners. Over-use results in dryness, redness, irritation, and burning. Vitamin C could work as a natural and soothing replacement, still giving you the glowing skin you are looking for. 
  • Emollients: These are used to make your skin feel hydrated and smooth. Things like cocoa butter, isopropyl palmitate, isostearyl isostearate, and myristyl lactate might feel good but can clog your pores and cause breakouts. Water-based moisturizers may work as a substitute for products that contain these types of ingredients. 
  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate: This is an ingredient found in many cream-based cosmetics such as foundation and concealer. Its function is to help the skin and hair absorb other ingredients. However, it has been linked to cancer and can also cause skin irritation, canker sores, eye damage, and acne. 
  • Retinol: Retinol is known for its anti-aging properties but it can become carcinogenic when exposed to sunlight. It is important to only use found in mascara these products at night, or if possible not at all. 


  • Petroleum distillates: These are usually combined with cancer-causing chemicals and are made in the same oil refineries used for auto fuel and heating oil. As if that isn’t bad enough, petroleum distillates may cause contact dermatitis and an itchy rash. 
  • Phthalates: Phthalates are found in color cosmetics that are linked to a myriad of health issues. These issues include endocrine disruption, developmental toxicity, cancer, and more. They are banned in the EU but are still frequently used in the United States, often hiding under the ingredient “fragrance.” 
  • Triclosan: This ingredient is commonly found in antibacterial soaps, but it is also found in cosmetics as well. It is an antimicrobial chemical, however, it has been linked to thyroid issues and has contributed to the development and spread of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. 
  • Lead: Despite the tons of research that clearly links lead to a series of negative health side effects it is still found in 61% of lipsticks. Lead is a neurotoxin that affects learning, language, and behavior. It also causes reproductive and hormonal issues in both men and women. 
  • Formaldehyde-Releasing Preservatives: Formaldehyde is a known allergen, carcinogen, and skin sensitizer. Formaldehyde is a tricky ingredient because while companies don’t directly use it in their products, they add other chemicals that release formaldehyde when they decompose. To avoid this guy look out for:
    • Diazolidinyl urea
    • DMDM hydantoin
    • Imidazolidinyl urea
    • Quaternium-15
    • Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate
    • Bronopol (2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1, 3-diol)
    • Methenamine
    • 5-Bromo-5nitro-1,3-dioxane

Final Thoughts

For anything that you are putting on, or in your body, it is important to know the ingredients to prevent severe allergic reactions. This rule extends even to your makeup. It is important to patch test makeup to make sure that you do not experience a painful or embarrassing reaction. If you do have preexisting skin irritation such as acne, there are a few other things to keep in mind when using makeup.

By taking a few preventative steps and taking your time to dive a little deeper in your understanding of products and how they react to you, you can improve the look, health, and feel of your skin. The ingredients list is the best place to start, keep an eye out for known skin irritants, and note ingredients you have never heard about. Even if you are super excited about a new product you might have purchased or been gifted, make sure to be patient for the best results. 

Written by Kiana St Onge


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