Derm DMs: Could I Be Allergic to Red Eyeshadow?

January 07, 2022
Samantha Holender
By: Samantha Holender | by L'Oréal
Derm DMs: Could I Be Allergic to Red Eyeshadow?

Nude, natural eyeshadow has never really been my speed. It’s not that I don’t like it; I do. But I prefer to keep my complexion and lips looking au naturale and then add a pop of color across my eyelid — a wow factor, if you will. So I’ve tried and tested my fair share of funky-colored shadows — blues, greens, oranges… you name it, I’ve worn it. Somewhere along my swatching journey, though, I discovered that I have an allergy to certain red, brown, pink and purple eyeshadows. To get more details on what could be behind my irritated, red, itchy eyelids, I spoke with Dr. Hadley King, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City. Ahead, find out what I learned about allergic reactions to certain pigments and her recommendations to help if you experience one. 

Can I Be Allergic to Certain Eyeshadow Pigments? 

If you’ve noticed inflammation or irritation around the eye after applying eyeshadow, chances are you may have experienced an allergic reaction to the product. “Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when skin comes into contact with a substance to which it has become sensitized,” advises Dr. King. “Any substance can cause a contact allergy, but some substances [nickel, fragrance and some preservatives such as quaternium-15] are more common.” If you do have an allergic reaction, your symptoms, like a red, itchy rash on the eyelids, probably won’t be apparent right off the bat; the reaction can develop anywhere between 12 to 72 hours after exposure. 

When it comes to red, pink or brown shadows, carmine may be the ingredient responsible. According to Dr. King, carmine is a vibrant red dye that has been used for centuries in clothes, cosmetics and other products. Essentially, the dye is from cochineals, a type of insect that, when crushed, reveals a pigmented red dye. “Cases of allergic contact dermatitis to carmine are rare but have been reported and confirmed with patch testing,” she continues. “The use of carmine has increased, largely due to the carcinogenic nature of cheaper, synthetic dyes.” 

The naturally-derived red pigment will always appear on cosmetic labels. If you suspect you have an allergy, make sure to scan the packaging of your products. Synonyms for carmine include cochineal, cochineal extract, crimson lake, carmine lake, natural red 4, B rose liquid and more. If you’re allergic to the ingredient and are looking for a carmine-free eyeshadow, we recommend these single pressed pigments by Nabla Cosmetics.

Nabla Cosmetics Pressed Pigments

How to Treat an Allergic Reaction on the Eyes


Identifying what you’re allergic to and avoiding products that contain the ingredient is the best course of action. To minimize your exposure risk of having contact dermatitis on your eyelid, Dr. King says patch-testing can be helpful. Use a small amount of the product on your skin (think: inner arm), wait 72 hours and see if you experience any irritation. It’s also best to look for hypoallergenic and fragrance-free labeling. 


If you do experience an allergic reaction, however, stop using the product immediately and gently cleanse the affected area to remove any residue. Avoid rubbing or scratching the area, too. It will only cause more irritation and inflammation. If your reaction persists, see a dermatologist. “They may prescribe a topical corticosteroid or an oral one, if necessary,” Dr. King says.  


Design: Juliana Campisi

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