Clinical utility of marketing terms used for over-the-counter dermatologic products

J Dermatolog Treat. 2018 Dec;29(8):841-845. doi: 10.1080/09546634.2018.1467540. Epub 2018 May 8.


Background: Cosmetic products are commonly marketed using dermatologic terms such as 'hypoallergenic', 'non-comedogenic', 'fragrance-free', etc. The clinical relevance of these claims can be confusing to both patients and clinicians.

Methods: A systematic review was performed via a PubMed search of published articles from January 1985 to October 2017 to further describe and elucidate the clinical utility of a predefined list of common dermatologic terms used by pharmaceutical companies to market over-the-counter products.

Results: The terms 'fragrance-free', 'hypoallergenic', 'non-comedogenic', and 'oil-free' on cosmetic product labels are not regulated by any governing body and provide varied clinical utility. Products labeled as having 'natural ingredients' are not necessarily safer or less irritating to patients with atopy or a history of allergic contact dermatitis. Despite the increasing popularity of 'paraben-free' cosmetics, parabens are safe for patients in the quantities used in cosmetic products and can be safely used in patients who do not exhibit contact dermatitis to this preservative.

Conclusion: A working knowledge of common cosmetic ingredients may help dermatologists to counsel patients on which products to avoid for their specific dermatologic conditions.

Keywords: Cosmetics; FDA; advertising; comedogenic; cosmetic products; fragrance; household products; hypoallergenic; natural; paraben; preservative; regulation; sulfate-free; terms.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Consumer Product Safety*
  • Cosmetics* / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Marketing / methods*


  • Cosmetics