Making Sense of Sensitive Skin

Making Sense of Sensitive Skin

My soap making began with a desire for less in my skincare products. Less chemical preservatives, less synthetic fragrances, and less substances that I couldn’t readily identify in the ingredient list. So, the best way to be sure that I knew exactly what was in my skincare products, was to make it.   

So, my sister and I took a local soap making class, and the adventure began.   

We continued to make and experiment with soap making, which eventually led to the founding of Lathering Lotus. While I was focused on soap making, I decided to “green” up my facial skincare regimen, since making facial lotions wasn't on my radar yet. I researched organic ("green") skincare companies that used plant-based oils (preferably organic), rather than mysterious synthetic ingredients. Many of these companies use lovely essential oil blends for targeted treatments (think anti-aging and acne) and to replace fragrances. 

I was happy with the products and companies that I was using and felt good that I found a way to avoid synthetics. I continued making soaps, with the plan to eventually make my own lotions, but nearly 6 months into my soap making and green beauty facial regimen, I developed severe contact dermatitis. It began with eye eczema then developed into swollen, sore, scaly eyes that I woke up to every morning—contact dermatitis with eczema.   

After a visit with my dermatologist, I had patch testing to help find the culprit. The first patch testing was basic (38 or so chemicals). The results showed that I had allergies to  fragrances and bronopol. My dermatologist recommended that I get extensive patch testing that could conclude the specific types or chemical components of fragrance that I was reacting to.   

Four months and nearly 200 chemicals later, I learned I was allergic to the basic components in essential oils and fragrances along with bronopol, cinnamon, and eugenol. (See bottom of post for photos of patch testing.) I never reacted to essential oils before, so I was surprised and disappointed that I now had to avoid limonene, linalool, and isoeugenol—components in most all essential oils and fragrances. And, yes, fragrances are not a solitary substance; they contain thousands of chemicals including essential oils (Tisserand & Young, 2014). I was also told of the similarity of fragrances and essential oils by a chemist at a soap maker’s gathering and learned firsthand through my dermatologist as well as reading research texts from aromatherapy. 

I left the dermatologist with an 80+ page “safe list” that included all the skincare products that I could safely use. Most of these “safe” products, in my opinion, were not as safe as I would have liked. The products were safe in the sense that they didn’t contain allergenic ingredients, but they were not green, which was my ultimate goal.  Reluctantly, I used the dermatologist recommended products until I could get my skin to calm down, and it worked. No more eczema flare ups or swollen, sore, scaly eyes. But, I still struggled with the knowledge that the products that I was using contained ingredients that were not green.    

With a new understanding of my allergenic and sensitive skin and the desire to have minimal to no synthetics, we made soap to replace the dermatologist recommended soap. Soap with natural ingredients: free of fragrances, essential oils, and synthetics. Soap with skin-loving plant oils that I feel good using and won't irritate my sensitive and allergenic skin.    

While the actual pathophysiologic mechanism that causes eczema is uncertain, modern medicine generally agrees that there is a disruption in skin barrier function (Kim, 2017). Consequently, once the protective skin barrier is broken, that leaves the skin vulnerable to irritations and flare ups. This leads the way for essential oils and other substances to become irritants. 

The National Eczema Association has a list of common irritants on their website at 

If you have reactive skin, you should check in with your healthcare provider and also identify what causes the flare ups and avoid those irritants like the plague. 

If you’re currently struggling with contact dermatitis or eczema, the road to getting clear won’t happen overnight. When I was at the peak of my reactions, everything, even products I wasn’t allergic to and that were formulated for sensitive skin, burned. My skin barrier was broken and skin so irritated that even my own sweat burned. It was through consistently avoiding allergenic products or ones that contained fragrances and even essential oils that I was eventually able to wake up without swollen eyelids and eczema patches.    

The revelation that fragrances and essential oils were causing my skin to become inflamed led to our creation of a few products that are free of those chemical components. We call our sensitive product line Clear. Who is the Clear line for? Really, anyone can use the Clear line. This line is attractive to those who have been clear of skin reactions, but looking for more natural, holistic products. And, if you’re struggling to get clear, then Clear could be another step in eliminating the use of fragrances, while enjoying the nourishing benefits of handcrafted soap and body products. Currently, our Clear line consists of Simply Soap, Clear Body Mousse, and Natural Lip Balm. (Any scent that you may experience is from natural oils.) And, we are working on a face soap for the Clear line. The Clear line is not hypoallergenic as people can be allergic to nearly anything. So be sure to check the ingredient list for any known allergens.    

Live at ease like the lotus in the muddy waters,

Andra & Jamie 


Kim, B.S. (2017, April 6). Atopic dermatitis. Retrieved August 28, 2017 from

National Eczema Association (2017). Eczema causes and  triggers. Retrieved 

     August 28, 2017 from

Tisserand, R & Young, R. (2014). Essential oil safety: A guide for health care 

     professionals. (2nd ed.). Edinburgh: Churchill.  

Day 1: Patches placed

Fragrance patch: limonene, linalool, perfume mix, fragrance mix

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