Most allergic reactions to soaps and shampoos are because of a chemical sensitivity to either their fragrance, detergents or dyes. If you suffer from allergies to foods, pet dander or pollen, your immune system is already on overload in reaction to those environmental triggers. This can put your body into a hyper-reactive state. Add a harsh detergent or perfume and you get a tipping point for your overwhelmed system. This can bring on contact dermatitis, usually in the form of hives, rashes or flaky, dry skin patches.
The Likely Culprits
If you want to ditch those nasty bumps and itchy, red patches, you'll need to start reading soap and shampoo labels. Avoid products containing sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate, fragrance, parabens, mineral oil, petrolatum, phthalates, alcohol, formaldehyde and propylene glycol.
The Natural and Organic Myth
There are no federal standards or definitions that govern the use of the term "hypoallergenic." In other words, the word "hypoallergenic" is a valuable marketing tool for the cosmetic companies but it has no street cred with consumers. It might seem savvy to go the "natural" or "organic" cosmetic route, but you'll still need to read labels and choose ingredients wisely. Many big cosmetics companies offer lines of natural products, but they're still likely to contain chemicals that can make your skin and scalp look like a patch of bad road.
Visit the Dermatologist
If you switch out your soap or shampoo and still experience allergic symptoms, it is well worth it to visit a dermatologist. One visit may be all you need to gather a wealth of information and loads of free samples of high-quality gentle products. A dermatologist is familiar with every variety of skin problem and knows what works and what doesn't. If you can't swing the cost of a consult with a dermatologist, many companies will give you free product samples. It's to your advantage to experiment with these before you waste cash on a full bottle or bar.