Featured Skin

6 Truths About Acne That May Surprise You

Which 5 statements about ACNE are TRUE?

Find clues in VMV Hypoallergenics’s weekly livestreams and IGTV!

  • ? Acne is an inflammation of the follicle.
  • ? Skin conditions like keratosis pilaris, pityrosporum folliculitis, ingrown hair, and others can be confused for acne.
  • ? Acne means your skin is dirty.
  • ? Oily skin is something that needs to be fixed.
  • ? Things that cause acne include pore-cloggers; substances that irritate the pore including allergens, disinfectants and PPEs; inflammatory food; poor sleep; stress; hormones; some medications, bacteria, fungi, mites, genes.
  • ? Because “Comedogens” are tested and graded consistently, you can generally trust ratings that you see on the internet.
  • ? “Comedogens” are more accurately determined by human skin tests, not Rabbit Ear Assays which are old and inconsistent.
  • ? Acne only affects teens and people with oily skin.
  • ? Because so many things can cause acne, and some skin conditions can look like acne but aren’t, you should see a dermatologist for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
  • ? Antibiotics and other medications to manage acne are *never* necessary.
  • ? Coconut oil, stearic acid, and stearyl alcohol are not comedogenic.

 ANSWERS: ?????? are TRUE.

TRUE: ? Acne is an inflammation of the follicle.

Acne usually starts as a comedone (plugged hair follicle). Sebum production follows, then an overgrowth of a microbe in the follicle (innate bacteria, fungi, or mites), which leads to more inflammation and the formation of papules, pustules, and/or cysts.

TRUE: ? Skin conditions like keratosis pilaris, pityrosporum folliculitis, ingrown hair, and others can be confused for acne.

Many bumps and lesions can be confused for acne, which is why it’s so important to get an accurate diagnosis from a dermatologist.

TRUE: ? Things that cause acne include pore-cloggers; substances that irritate the pore including allergens, disinfectants and PPEs; inflammatory food; poor sleep; stress; hormones; some medications, bacteria, fungi, mites, genes.

Acne has LOTS of possible causes. And unless you identify it or them accurately, you might be treating the wrong thing.

TRUE: ? “Comedogens” are more accurately determined by human skin tests, not Rabbit Ear Assays which are old and inconsistent.

A surprising number of ingredients flagged as “comedogens” online aren’t because many websites use results of old, outdated, inaccurate Rabbit Ear Assays as their reference. Plus, “comedogens” only clog the hair follicle to cause comedones. “Acnegens” do the same thing AND cause irritation and inflammation. For acne prevention, you need non-comedogenic (based on newer, more accurate human controlled trials) as well as the absence of top contact irritants and allergens to prevent the irritation that eventually leads to inflammation and acne.

TRUE: ? Because so many things can cause acne, and some skin conditions can look like acne but aren’t, you should see a dermatologist for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Definitely. Your dermatologist will take a more complete history and possibly ask for tests or even a cross-consultation with another specialist. Because acne is inflammatory, what will help are the classic anti-inflammatory things you should be doing anyway: no junk food, lots of fresh veggies and fruit, proper sleep, and stress management. But which topical products will work for your acne, and if you need an oral medication, is best determined by your dermatologist.

TRUE: ? Coconut oil, stearic acid, and stearyl alcohol are not comedogenic.

Based on those more reliable Human Controlled Trials, none of these ingredients are comedogenic or acnegenic.

For more, check out Lots Of Comedogenic Ingredients Aren’t Actually Comedogenic, and What You Really Need To Prevent Acne.

Laura is our “dew”-good CEO at VMV Hypoallergenics and eldest daughter of VMV’s founding dermatologist-dermatopathologist. She has two children, Madison and Gavin, and works at VMV with her sister CC and husband Juan Pablo (Madison and Gavin frequently volunteer their “usage testing” services). In addition to saving the world’s skin, Laura is passionate about health, inclusion, cultural theory, human rights, happiness, and spreading goodness (like a great cream!)

Featured Skin

Lots Of Comedogenic Ingredients Aren’t Actually Comedogenic, and What You Really Need To Prevent Acne

“Don’t use virgin coconut oil! Or stearic acid! They’re so comedogenic!”
         … are they, though?

And is “non-comedogenic” alone the one magic, major thing to prevent acne? The internet is a wonderful source of good information…but also outdated information, information without context, incomplete information, and wrong information. Comedogenicity, for example, has had a complex history with conflicting results and different testing methods. Yet many sites that list comedogenic ingredients don’t show the sources of the studies and how the studies have held up over time. And it seems that comedones are only half the story. To really help keep acne at bay, we need “hypoallergenic” and “anti-inflammatory” as much as “non-comedogenic.”

To help “unclog” some of the confusion, we asked dermatologist and dermatopathologist Dr. Vermén Verallo-Rowell to explain: what do “comedogenic” and “acnegenic” mean, and what studies should we be trusting?

What we learned…

See Dr. Verallo-Rowell’s original summary below. These are 3 of the most eye-opening things that we learned.

1. Non-comedogenic isn’t all that you need to prevent acne. Look for: non-comedogenic, no contact allergens, no irritants, and anti-inflammatory.

First, let’s clarify what’s what…

Comedones and comedogenic:

“Comedone” is the medical term for a plugged hair follicle. Hormones, other inflammatory stress triggers, as well cosmetics and skincare and/or their ingredients can form comedones. When they’re closed, they’re whiteheads. When they’re open, they’re blackheads. They might be visible or not (micro-comedone).

What clogs the follicle — the product itself and/or its ingredient(s) — is a comedogen(s).

Acne and acnegenic:

Acne is caused by inflammation. There can be many triggers, from an inflammatory diet, hormones, a medical condition, and certain drugs. A cosmetic product or its ingredients can also be a trigger — here, the product/ingredients may cause an irritant contact dermatitis that also becomes inflamed. Acne starts as a comedone (clogged hair follicle). Sebum production follows, then an overgrowth of a microbe in the follicle (innate bacteria, fungi, or mites), which leads to more inflammation and the formation of papules, pustules, and/or cysts.

What clogs the follicle but also causes irritation and possibly inflammation — the product itself and/or its ingredient(s) — is an acnegen(s).

What should I be looking for?

Comedogens (which clog the follicle) are not necessarily acnegens (which clog then irritate the follicle, and cause inflammation); and acnegens are not necessarily comedogens

A product that says “non-comedogenic” should have done tests on the ingredient and final product — and/or is relying on studies already done on the same ingredient — to prove that it does not clog pores. “Non-acnegenic” may be the better term to look for if you’re trying to prevent acne in addition to clogged pores but many FDAs prevent the use of this term for cosmetic products (both “acne” and “inflammation” are restricted to drugs). The best thing would be to look for products that:

• Say “non-comedogenic”;
• Have zero of the top contact allergens and irritants; and
• Are anti-inflammatory.

Remember that comedogens clog pores. Acnegens both clogs pores and cause irritation and inflammation. A non-comedogenic product with anti-inflammatories and without allergens or irritants should fit the bill. Just make sure that the brand relies on Human Controlled Use Tests or similar studies on people to determine comedogenicity and/or acnegenicity because…

2. Most of the studies used to determine “comedogenicity” are old and inconsistent or inaccurate.

Part of the confusion lies in that the most commonly cited studies for comedogenicity are old, done on rabbit ears (Rabbit Ear Assays; “REA”), and are less reliable. Just ten years after some of the earliest studies that were considered the gold standard for comedogenicity, the same team of doctors, using a human skin model in lieu of the Rabbit Ear Assay, saw that the results of their initial animal (and later human) studies were incongruent.

To try to resolve the difference, in 1989, the American Academy of Dermatology held the Symposium on Comedogenicity to standardize testing methods. To clarify findings, especially if positive in REAs, it was recommended that “the product should be adequately tested in humans before general use.” Results from tests on humans were considered the defining results.

The next wave of influential studies began in 2006 with Draelos et al. One study concluded that finished cosmetics with ingredients shown to be comedogenic in Rabbit Ear Assays are not necessarily comedogenic when tested on human skin. More recent studies use updated methodology that measure oil production and tackle inflammatory follicular targets. These seem to more accurately identity what ingredients or products are comedogenic and acnegenic.

Draelos’s results, the results from tests on human skin, as well as newer methodologies are what we use in our research center and when formulating VMV Hypoallergenics products.

The newer methodologies have many advantages: they are more accurate, they don’t need bunnies, they are easy to perform on more subjects for greater statistical significance, and they can be done with more types of ingredients, finished products, and other materials. Importantly, unlike REAs which were incongruent themselves and incongruent when compared to human tests, these newer methods are more consistent and are accurately reproducible. And, in case you were wondering, these show virgin coconut oil as not comedogenic. Virgin coconut oil is also not acnegenic.

3. What is causing your acne may not be what you think.

The easiest thing to blame is the last product you used or a new product you’re trying. But acne (especially adult acne) is multi-factorial: it can have many possible causes. Some causes include certain cosmetic products, and using too many cosmetic products, but also hormones, certain medical conditions, disinfectants, some medication, lack of sleep, halogens (fluoride, chloride, iodide, etc.), and inflammatory food (red meats and byproducts, highly processed foods, junk food, too much carbs and dairy, “white” food like white rice and bread, pre-packaged drinks, vegetable oils, etc.).

A product that produces a reaction quickly might be acnegenic: it clogs the pore but also causes irritation (remember, acne in this case is actually a type of irritant contact dermatitis of the follicle) and inflammation. On the other hand, a product that is comedogenic would take time (sometimes weeks) to show a reaction because more applications are needed for the erring ingredient/s to build up and cause clogging.

If you’re convinced that a product that you used is the problem because you noticed new acne soon after using it, maybe the product is acnegenic: it contains both comedogens but also allergens and irritants that have irritated the pore and caused inflammation. If the lesions developed over time, it might be due to the comedogens in your most recent product or in your other products that have had enough time to build up and clog your pores. Or it could be a change in lifestyle (more stress, lack of sleep, worse food), new medication, a development in hormones, or even a condition that just looks like acne but isn’t. This is why your best bet is to see a dermatologist for a comprehensive history, tests, and a proper diagnosis.

For guidance, a lot of people search online and stumble upon “comedogenicity tables” on acne websites. Most of the tables are adapted from the Kligman Rabbit Ear Assay studies and Fulton collation of these studies. As a review of medical literature shows that these are incongruent at best: what is consistent is the inconsistency of results between Rabbit Ear Assays and human skin studies.

This well established incongruence between REAs and human studies, along with the difficulty in reproducing the results of REAs, led to the official AAD Symposium Consensus Statement saying that human skin tests are the determining results. We therefore rely on human skin tests with newer methodologies (like Human Controlled Use Tests) and not on older Rabbit Ear Assays that have been proven wrong or proven to be difficult to reproduce with the same results.

Summary by Vermén M. Verallo-Rowell, MD, FPDS, FAAD, FASDP, FADA

The concept of acnegenic and comedogenic to describe ingredients individually, and in skin care and cosmetic products, has been based on animal and human test protocols. The results are varied and standards not well defined for manufacturers or by regulatory bodies. Hence the confusion for the users of these products and the meaning and use of these terms. 

Acnegenic products induce comedones plus inflamed papules, pustules, and cysts. The cause of acnegenicity is follicular irritation. It is a variant of irritant contact dermatitis with a more pronounced follicular component. As such, acne lesions appear quite quickly after application, while comedones may take weeks to develop. Therefore, comedogenic substances are not necessarily acnegenic, and the reverse is also true.(1)

Comedogenicity is the potential of a cosmetic or of its components to form acne-like plugged hair follicles that, when closed, are called whiteheads and, when open, are called blackheads. The medical term for both is a comedone. Chloracne, a form of comedonal acne was first seen among factory workers through the 1940s. Using the Rabbit Ear Assay (REA), chloracne was shown to be due to chlorinated hydrocarbons.(2) Kligman in 1970 used the REA to rate the comedogenicity of human sebum on a scale of 0 (no potential) to 3 (severe potential).(3) In 1972 Kligman and Mills next linked REA comedogenicity ratings of human sebum and cosmetic ingredients to low-grade acne which they called “cosmetic acne” in the cheeks of 22-25 year old post-adolescent young women.(4) 

Ten years later, Mills and Kligman continued to do comedogenicity studies on the same chemicals, but used a human skin model in lieu of the rabbit ear. Surprisingly, the results of their initial animal, and later human, studies were incongruent.(5)

To try to resolve the difference, the American Academy of Dermatology in 1989 held the Symposium on Comedogenicity to standardize testing methods. They came up with the following consensus statement: “If the animal model does not show evidence of comedogenesis, the test material under consideration is unlikely to be comedogenic in human skin. One plus (+) positive reactions are also unlikely to cause reactions in humans. Two (++) or three (+++) responses require sound scientific judgment. Reformulation should be considered, or the product should be adequately tested in humans before general use.”(6)

These findings lead to a study in 2006 by Draelos on six individuals with prominent follicular orifices and the ability to form comedones on the upper aspect of the back which served as the test sites. Using the technique of Marks and Dawber, 0.2 to 0.5 mL of 7 cosmetics with at least 2 ingredients reported to be comedogenic in the REA assays, a positive, and a negative control were applied, kept covered for 48 hours, opened, and re-applied 3 times weekly for 4 weeks. Cyanoacrylate follicular biopsies at baseline and at the end of the study counted the ratio of follicles to microcomedones per square inch. Like Kligman, Draelos’ results were likewise “incongruous”. The study concludes that finished cosmetics with ingredients shown to be comedogenic in rabbit ear testing, are not necessarily comedogenic when tested on human skin.(7)

In recent years, dermatologists have noted the rise of cases of adult acne defined as acne in men or women 25 years and older. Unlike adolescent acne which occurs from hormonal surges in adolescence(8), adult acne is multifactorial. The factors include hormones from stress-related fluctuating hormones of fast-paced modern lifestyles; polycystic ovarian syndrome; and discontinuing birth control pills. Commonly used drugs and chemicals such as antidepressants, cough medicines, corticosteroids including those in inhalers; pollutants like particulates, chlorines and dioxins in our environment, and in our food and drinks are others. Lastly, the increasing number of chemicals in cosmetics and cosmeceuticals are frequent suspect causes.(9,10) Quality of life among adolescents to adults with acne have been shown to be as serious as in those with diseases considered to be dire such as CVD, diabetes, and cancer.(11-13)

More recent studies are now used to characterize sebum production, and inflammatory follicular targets that may be useful to more accurately characterize what ingredients or products are indeed comedogenic and acnegenic.(14,15 ) 

A study by Catambay, Villanueva and Verallo-Rowell in 2016 modified the Draelos human comedogenicity assay (DHSA). The study again proved that although there were some similarities of REA and DHSA ratings in 3 oils, the 5 others had different readings. Similar were DHSA (and REA) – comedogenic Olive and Almond; DHSA (and REA) – non-comedogenic Castor. Dissimilar were DHSA non-comedogenic Coconut, Avocado and Grapeseed (REA comedogenic); DHSA non-comedogenic sunflower and safflower (REA mildly comedogenic) oils. Notable is coconut which, despite years of being listed as comedogenic (in REA ratings), was shown  non-comedogenic by DHSA, Table 1. This confirms what has been seen in clinics where VCO, for regular application not just on the face, but also all over the body, is a non-comedogenic moisturizer and antiseptic oil. The study utilized a new methodology with many advantages: accurately reproducible, easy to perform, cost effective, can be done on a larger number of test materials (ingredients, finished products), on a bigger subject size for greater statistical significance of results, and “no animal testing” for cosmetic ingredients and cosmetic products.(17) 

Consumers tend to immediately blame cosmetics for their adult acne and look for self-help guidance to the comedogenicity tables found in the internet (acne websites) or even in dermatology literature. Most of the tables are adapted from the Kligman (0-3) ratings and Fulton who collated the REA studies and rated comedogenicity and also irritancy as (0 to 5). All are based on REA assays.


  1. Draelos ZD. Atlas of Cosmetic Dermatology. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Churchill Livingstone, 2000, pp. 25-29. 
  2. Moses M, Lilis R, Crow KD, et al. (1984). Health status of workers with past exposure to 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin in the manufacture of 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid: comparison of findings with and without chloracne. Am. J. Ind. Med. 5 (3): 161–82. doi:10.1002/ajim.4700050303. PMID   6142642
  3. Kligman A.M., Wheatley V.R., Mills O.H. Comedogenicity of Human Sebum. Arch Dermatol 1970 Sep;102(3):267-75.PMID: 4247928
  4. Kligman AM, Mills OH. Acne cosmetica. Arch Dermatol. 1972;106:893-897
  5. Mills OH, Kligman AM. Human model for assessing comedogenic substances. Arch Dermatol. 1982;116:903-905.
  6. Consensus Statement, American Academy of Dermatology Invitational Symposium on Comedogenicity. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1989;20:272-277.
  7. Draelos ZD, DiNardo JC. A re-evaluation of the comedogenicity concept. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2006;54:507-512.
  8. Smithard A, Glazebrook C, Williams HC. Acne prevalence, knowledge about acne and psychological morbidity in mid-adolescence: a community-based study. Br J Dermatol. 2001;145:274-279.
  9. H. P. M. Gollnick H.,P.,M. Review: From new findings in acne pathogenesis to new approaches in treatment. 07 June 2015
  10. Verallo-Rowell V.M. Chapter 7. Role of diet and environment in skin ageing. In:Ageing and Longevity Medical Webinars Handbook. Genuino RF, Genjuino LS, Arquiza MC, eds.Manila, Philippines: Mu Sigma PhiSoririty Inc. June 2020.  
  11. Barnes, LE, Levender,MM, Fleischer Jr, AB, Feldman, S.R. Review Quality of Life Measures for Acne Patients. Dermatol Clin 2012 Apr;30(2):293-300, ix. doi: 10.1016/j.det.2011.11.001
  12. Mallon E, Newton JN, Klassen A, Stewart-Brown SL, Ryan TJ, Finlay AY. The quality of life in acne: a comparison with general medical conditions using generic questionnaires. Br J Dermatol. 1999;140:672-676.
  13. Lasek RJ, Chren MM. Acne vulgaris and the quality of life of adult dermatology patients. Arch Dermatol. 1998;134:454-458. 
  14. Campos P.,M.,B.,G.,  Melo, M.,O.,Mercurio, D.,G. Use of Advanced Imaging Techniques for the Characterization of Oily Skin. 2019 Mar 26;10:254. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2019.00254. eCollection 2019.
  15. Yoon JY, Kwon HH, Min SU, et al. Epigallocatechin-3-gallate improves acne in humans by modulating intracellular molecular targets and inhibiting P. acnes. J Invest Dermatol. 2013;133:429-440.
  16. M. Jackson Edward, F. M. T. Robillard Norman The controlled use test in a cosmetic product safety substantiation program.September 2008Cutaneous and Ocular Toxicology 1(2):117-132OI: 10.3109/15569528209051517
  17. Catambay N., Villanueva J., Verallo-Rowell VM. Comedogencity of virgin coconut (VCO) and other cosmetic oils using a modified Draelos protocol: a randomized double blind controlled trial. Poster presentation at the American Contact Dermatitis Society, 2016 Annual Meeting.
  18. Verallo-Rowell, V.M., Katalbas, S.S. & Pangasinan, J.P. Natural (Mineral, Vegetable, Coconut, Essential) Oils and Contact Dermatitis. Curr Allergy Asthma Rep 16, 51 (2016).
Beauty Featured Skin

Curly Hair & Silicones…What’s Really Bad (and Good!)

Curly hair does require special care. While there are lots of great resources online for important daily maintenance and styling tips — using a silk pillowcase, air drying or using a microfiber towel or T-shirt, etc. — we thought we’d add some information from a dermatological and formulation angle and address one ingredient in particular that has been flagged as “bad” for curly hair: silicones.

Is Silicone “Bad” For Curly Hair?

Several curly hair bloggers recommend no silicones in hair products. The bad rating seems to be based on the idea that silicones are not water soluble and therefore build up in curly hair. This is stated to be a concern for curly hair in particular because, as it is not washed daily, the silicones become saturated and weigh down the hair’s natural curls. When this happens, one then needs a “clarifying” shampoo to fully wash away the silicone buildup, and clarifying shampoos are too drying for curly hair.

This assumes two things: 1) something false about silicones (which we tackle further below), and 2) something true about many clarifying shampoos (they can indeed be too drying for curly hair…but there is more to this as well).

Diving Into Silicones

1) Allergenicity: Silicones are not allergens. This is notable because silicones are everywhere. The risk of allergenicity increases significantly when an ingredient is very common. Nickel, for example, is the top contact allergen and part of the reason why is its ubiquity (it’s found in almost every metal). Despite silicones being widely used in many products, the reports of contact allergies to them are extremely rare, and they are not in published allergen lists (these lists are based on patch tests done on almost 30,000 individuals). Silicone’s hypoallergenciity is important for sensitive skins and scalps, and can help reduce stress on the hair shaft, which is fundamental to curly hair care.

2) Anti-Inflammatory: In addition to not being allergens, silicones are normally well tolerated. Peer-reviewed published medical literature shows that dimethicone-based anti-acne regimens significantly had less erythema and dryness and could be used as a counter-irritant in formulations known to cause erythema and irritation; dimethicone added to sunscreens resulted in less irritation in patients with rosacea who tend to experience more irritation to common topical preparations; and silicones do not show comedogenic or irritant properties. Silicones, therefore, also have several benefits for the skin and scalp, including helping to lessen inflammation.

3) Environmental Concerns: In the case of nanoparticles, the concern is the potential buildup of silicones within the body. Nanoparticles (and this is a concern not just for silicone but for any ingredient in nanoparticle form) are very small molecules and there is a debate about their ability to penetrate beyond the skin to potentially cause harm inside the body. While there is still no definitive study or conclusion, we at VMV Hypoallergenics have chosen not use nanoparticles in any of our formulations. We have made this decision partly because of this concern but also because of another basic rule of hypoallergenicity: the smaller the particle size, the more an ingredient penetrates the skin, and the higher the risk of an allergic reaction. The particle size of silicones (certainly the ones we use) are large at 60 microns. The particle size that is inhaled and gets into the lungs and vessels is <10 microns.

4) Silicones and curly hair: It is highly unlikely that silicones cause buildup. Silicones tend to evaporate quickly (almost as quickly as alcohol), making buildup unlikely. They seem beneficial for curly hair as they provide additional slide, making detangling less risky (preventing the risk of breakage). Possibly more damaging to curly hair are strong detergents and other harsh ingredients, allergens, and irritants that tend to dry out hair, e.g. fragrance, dyes, amido-amine sulfates (e.g. cocamide-dea, cocamidopropyl, etc.) parabens, and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives. These do tend to be present in clarifying shampoos…but not all. If you have curly hair and happen to need a clarifying shampoo because of another reason (like styling product buildup), there are options like Superwash that are allergen- and irritant-free, and that are non-drying.

In summary, because silicones evaporate almost as quickly as alcohol, it is unlikely that they’d build up in curly hair, even with infrequent shampooing…which also makes the need for a clarifying shampoo unlikely.


Preventing dryness is fundamental to curly hair care. Dry hair is generally a result of physical injury to the hair shaft. Some common culprits include harsh shampoos such as some anti-dandruff shampoos; frequent hair color stripping and/or dyeing; or regular hair curling, heating or straightening treatments. Very gentle care is required to reduce the stress on stretched hair shafts (the same applies to broken cuticles).

A regularly prescribed technique by our founding dermatopathologist who cares for more extreme cases is:

  • Apply plain petroleum jelly or The Big, Brave Boo-Boo Balm before shampooing to provide a barrier that protects breaks in the hair shaft.
  • Shampoo hair with a very gentle shampoo such as Essence Clark Wash which is free of ingredients — such as dyes, fragrance, and preservatives — that can potentially break down hair.
  • Use a rich but non-irritating conditioner and virgin coconut oil for repair.

For an at-home deep hydration treatment, try this:

  • Shampoo and condition your hair. As much as possible, do not dry.
  • While your hair is wet, comb Know-It-Oil or Oil’s Well virgin coconut oil through your hair and cling wrap it.
  • Rinse after 30-60 minutes.
  • Let air dry.

Read more about how hypoallergenic helps dry hair and dry scalp. And try this for a great (hypoallergenic) hair pomade!

Laura is our “dew”-good CEO at VMV Hypoallergenics and eldest daughter of VMV’s founding dermatologist-dermatopathologist. She has two children, Madison and Gavin, and works at VMV with her sister CC and husband Juan Pablo (Madison and Gavin frequently volunteer their “usage testing” services). In addition to saving the world’s skin, Laura is passionate about health, inclusion, cultural theory, human rights, happiness, and spreading goodness (like a great cream!)

Allergen, Not An Allergen Featured Skin

ALCOHOL: Allergen or Not An Allergen?

Not An Allergen.

This is a little tricky but let’s break it down: the most common alcohol (isopropyl, ethyl) used for disinfection is an irritant — and it is certainly drying —but it is not a common contact allergen. For more on the difference between irritant and allergic reactions, see It’s Complicated: Allergic Versus Irritant Reaction.

Complicating things somewhat: not all alcohols in skincare are liquids that dry out the skin. “Alcohol” is a categorization of a substance based on its atoms. There are many alcohols that aren’t drying, and many aren’t even liquid. Some alcohols that we don’t think of as alcohols are sperm oil, jojoba, rapeseed, mustard, and tallow. Some alcohols are beneficial (moisturizing!) to skin, like those from coconut and palm oils. Most alcohols are waxes (and waxes aren’t drying) from plants and beeswax. Lanolin, a fatty substance from sheep’s wool, is an allergen — far from being drying, lanolin is a common base in ointments. Allergen alcohols include benzyl alcohol and cinnamic alcohol.

For isopropyl and ethyl alcohol, its percentage in a product makes a difference. The higher the concentration, the more drying on the skin. Most astringents that are drying contain 85-90% alcohol (VMV Hypoallergenics Toners and Id Monolaurin Gel contain between 25% and 56%). In many countries, hand sanitizers must contain at least 70% alcohol. Because the antimicrobial action of our Kid Gloves Hand Sanitizer is primarily provided by monolaurin — which, along with virgin coconut oil, studies since the 1970s have shown to be as effective an antiviral and antimicrobial as 85% alcohol — we can limit its alcohol content to 38% (which is why it’s less drying than most hand sanitizers).

One more thing to consider: many alcohols used for disinfecting add moisturizers (to try to reduce the drying action on skin) and/or fragrances (to try to mask the inherent odor of alcohol). Some of these ingredients may be allergens and could actually cause more dryness or other skin reactions.

If you have a history of sensitive skin, don’t guess: random trial and error can cause more damage. Ask your dermatologist about a patch test.

To shop our selection of hypoallergenic products, visit Need help? Ask us in the comments section below, or for more privacy (such as when asking us to customize recommendations for you based on your patch test results) contact us by email, or drop us a private message on Facebook.

For more:

On the prevalence of skin allergies, see Skin Allergies Are More Common Than Ever and One In Four Is Allergic to Common Skin Care And Cosmetic Ingredients.

To learn more about the VH-Rating System and hypoallergenicity, click here.

Main References: 

Regularly published reports on the most common allergens by the North American Contact Dermatitis Group and European Surveillance System on Contact Allergies (based on over 28,000 patch test results, combined), plus other studies. Remember, we are all individuals — just because an ingredient is not on the most common allergen lists does not mean you cannot be sensitive to it, or that it will not become an allergen. These references, being based on so many patch test results, are a good basis but it is always best to get a patch test yourself.

1. Warshaw, E.M., Maibach, H.I., Taylor, J.S., et al. North American contact dermatitis group patch test results: 2011-2012. Dermatitis. 2015; 26: 49-59

2. W Uter et al. The European Baseline Series in 10 European Countries, 2005/2006–Results of the European Surveillance System on Contact Allergies (ESSCA). Contact Dermatitis 61 (1), 31-38.7 2009

3. Wetter, DA et al. Results of patch testing to personal care product allergens in a standard series and a supplemental cosmetic series: An analysis of 945 patients from the Mayo Clinic Contact Dermatitis Group, 2000-2007. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2010 Nov;63(5):789-98.

4. Verallo-Rowell VM. The validated hypoallergenic cosmetics rating system: its 30-year evolution and effect on the prevalence of cosmetic reactions. Dermatitis 2011 Apr; 22(2):80-97

5. Ruby Pawankar et al. World Health Organization. White Book on Allergy 2011-2012 Executive Summary.

6. Misery L et al. Sensitive skin in the American population: prevalence, clinical data, and role of the dermatologist. Int J Dermatol. 2011 Aug;50(8):961-7.

7. Warshaw EM1, Maibach HI, Taylor JS, Sasseville D, DeKoven JG, Zirwas MJ, Fransway AF, Mathias CG, Zug KA, DeLeo VA, Fowler JF Jr, Marks JG, Pratt MD, Storrs FJ, Belsito DV. North American contact dermatitis group patch test results: 2011-2012.Dermatitis. 2015 Jan-Feb;26(1):49-59.

8. Warshaw, E et al. Allergic patch test reactions associated with cosmetics: Retrospective analysis of cross-sectional data from the North American Contact Dermatitis Group, 2001-2004. J AmAcadDermatol 2009;60:23-38. 

9. Foliaki S et al. Antibiotic use in infancy and symptoms of asthma, rhinoconjunctivitis, and eczema in children 6 and 7 years old: International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood Phase III. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2009 Nov;124(5):982-9.

10. Kei EF et al. Role of the gut microbiota in defining human health. Expert Rev Anti Infect Ther. 2010 Apr; 8(4): 435–454.

11. Thavagnanam S et al. A meta-analysis of the association between Caesarean section and childhood asthma. Clin Exp Allergy. 2008;38(4):629–633.

12. Marks JG, Belsito DV, DeLeo VA, et al. North American Contact Dermatitis Group patch-test results, 1998 to 2000. Am J Contact Dermat. 2003;14(2):59-62.

13. Warshaw EM, Belsito DV, Taylor JS, et al. North American Contact Dermatitis Group patch test results: 2009 to 2010. Dermatitis. 2013;24(2):50-99.

14. Wetter DA, Yiannias JA, Prakash AV, Davis MD, Farmer SA, el-Azhary RA, et al. Results of patch testing to personal care product allergens in a standard series and a supplemental cosmetic series: an analysis of 945 patients from the Mayo Clinic Contact Dermatitis Group, 2000-2007. J Am Acad Dermatologist 2010;63:789-798

15. Swinnen I, Goossens A. Allergic contact dermatitis caused by ascorbic tetraisopalmitate. Contact Dermatitis 2011;64:241-242

16. Belhadjali H, Giordano-Labadie F, Bazex J. Contact dermatitis from vitamin C in a cosmetic anti-aging cream. Contact Dermatitis 2001;45:317

17. de Groot, A. Monographs in Contact Allergy: Non-Fragrance Allergens in Cosmetics (Parts 1 and 2). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2018. 

Want more great information on contact dermatitis? Check out the American Contact Dermatitis SocietyDermnet New Zealand, and your country’s contact dermatitis association.

Laura is our “dew”-good CEO at VMV Hypoallergenics and eldest daughter of VMV’s founding dermatologist-dermatopathologist. She has two children, Madison and Gavin, and works at VMV with her sister CC and husband Juan Pablo (Madison and Gavin frequently volunteer their “usage testing” services). In addition to saving the world’s skin, Laura is passionate about health, inclusion, cultural theory, human rights, happiness, and spreading goodness (like a great cream!)

Ask VMV Skin

Rosacea: When Your Skin’s Always On Red Alert!

Rosacea can be frustrating because it is so multi-faceted, involving bright redness, dilated vessels, big pores, photosensitivity, extreme dryness and large cysts or acne  — and possibly, all at the same time.

There is strong evidence that rosacea is more common than once thought. Rosacea is frequently under-diagnosed or misdiagnosed and its multi-factorial nature suggests that rosacea may share common inflammatory pathways with other inflammatory skin conditions. The contradictory nature of some symptoms — acne and severe dryness — can make treatment difficult (many acne treatments are drying on purpose, for example). There is clearly a need for a better understanding of rosacea.

We asked our founding dermatologist-dermatopathologist for help….

What Is Rosacea?

Rosacea is the prototype of red facial skin. It is characterized by:

  • Centrofacial redness,
  • Fine to more prominently-dilated capillaries (telangiectasia),
  • Small bumps that become larger that may eventually develop into acne and thick skin.

One or more of the following is/are sufficient to make the diagnosis:

  • Flushing (transient erythema or redness),
  • Persistent redness,
  • Obvious dilated capillaries,
  • Papules (bumps without infected matter) or pustules (bumps with infected matter, like pimples).

Additional symptoms and signs to look for are: burning/stinging, facial edema (swelling), dryness, plaques (raised patches), eye redness, similar changes beyond the face, and phymatous (swelling, masses, or bulbous) changes of the nose.

Who Gets It?

Rosacea changes are often first seen at age 30, more among women, with men more often having the type that produces bulbous thickening (rhinophyma) of the nose and bumps. While rosacea is described as more common in fair-skinned individuals, there are no prevalence studies among Asians and darker skin types where it is known to exist but is also often unrecognized or misdiagnosed as contact, photocontact, seborrheic or atopic dermatitis.

Risk Factors/Causes 

Those who tend to get rosacea seem to have a combination of 1) genetic predisposition, plus 2) an environment/lifestyle that includes triggers like spicy foods and sun and light exposure, 3) certain microbes on the skin and/or in the stomach, and 4) higher-than-normal levels of naturally-occurring pro-inflammatories in their bodies. In detail, common risk factors include:

  • A tendency to flush (turn bright red) easily in response to:
  • Certain chemicals or natural ingredients,
  • Some foods, such as alcohol or hot (both temperature and spiciness) foods;
  • Psychological factors like stress or shame.
  • Chronic sun and light (including heat) exposure; and
  • Genes: having blood vessels that increasingly dilate as they respond to stimuli.

Other factors include micro-organisms:

  • Demodex folliculorum (mites that live in the hair follicles of susceptible people).
  • Helicobacter pylori infection in the digestive tract.

Another theory concerns vascular development, the flow capacity of blood vessels, and neuro-transmitter mechanisms.

Some of the newest research shows cathelicidins as the primary cause for the inflammation in rosacea. These proteins are important to our innate immunity but are also PRO inflammatory. Cathelicidins are markedly increased in skin with rosacea which makes it hyper-reactive.

Our Recommendations:

Articles contributed by doctors do not contain product recommendations for ethical reasons, and we at VMV Hypoallergenics believe in protecting the integrity of our resource physicians. Below are some products that we at feel can be recommended based on the preceding resource information. They are our “skinformed” selections based on the insights given above and not necessarily recommended by the medical author of the article.

Most rosacea treatments use steroids or azelaic acid to reduce inflammation and redness, both of which are not intended for long-term use and can be irritating or have other side effects. Other treatments rely solely on antioxidants, and several contain allergens which are proven to promote inflammation and dryness. We recommend…


The best way to deal with redness is to prevent it. Prevention is important in all health concerns. When it comes to rosacea and hyperreactive skin, it is vital. Your new mantra: “non-inflammatory”.

  • Get 7-8 hours of sleep, de-stress, and exercise regularly (daily, even if some days are just easy walks).
  • Improve your diet: avoid processed foods, white sugar, white rice, white pasta (switch to brown, whole-grain, and raw alternatives), soda, pre-packaged juices (even “health” juices), candies, and chips.
  • Choose very gentle, non-reactive, anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory products in all of your personal care:
    • Hair and body washing: Essence Skin-Saving Clark Hair & Body Wash and Conditioner.
    • Sun protection: Armada Baby 50+ or Armada Post-Procedure Barrier Cream 50+.
    • Makeup: Skintelligent Beauty.


Try steroid-free, anti-inflammatory, moisturizing, comforting Red Better Redness + Inflammation Calming System.

STEP 1: Red Better Deeply Soothing Cleansing Cream (nay, custard) is an ultra-gentle, comforting facial wash.

STEP 2: Red Better Daily Therapy Moisturizer for anti-inflammatory + anti-cathelicidin therapy plus rich, palliative yet non-pore-clogging hydration.

STEP 3: Armada Post-Procedure 50+, a purely physical (“inorganic”) sun + light screen for use both indoors and outdoors all year round. Redness conditions can be photosensitive and can flare up just from indoor light exposure. Its subtle (mineral) green tint offsets redness, too.

AS NEEDED: If you have acne, Red Better Spot Corrector is a uniquely non-drying (even hydrating and soothing!) quick-acting spot treatment. For flare-ups, try Red Better Flare-Up Balm.

FAN TIP: Keep your skincare in the refrigerator (especially soothing for red, hyperreactive skin)!

Red Alert Skin-Savers

The big deadline got moved up. Your toddler decided to see if your phone could swim. That curry was spicier than you thought. You’re finally meeting that big client after months of wooing. Despite your best efforts, this is too much for your skin and it happens: the full-scale(y), fire-engine-red flare-up.

Your doctor might prescribe a topical steroid for short-term use — follow these orders. But if you can’t get to your doctor, get relief with non-steroidal, non-irritating Red Better Flare-Up Balm. 

Other skin-emergency tips:

  • Dab Boo-Boo Balm on the tip of a wet towel wrapped around ice. Apply gently as a cold compress.
  • If it’s such a bad flare-up that plain water stings, stop all products for the duration of the flare-up. Favor darkness (turn off lights and avoid windows). Meditate, sleep, relax — self soothing is important to not feed the inflammatory eruption. And see your dermatologist.
  • If the reaction seems worse than a typical flare-up and you notice a rash that is spreading or difficulty breathing, get to the emergency room.


“Dew” More:

To shop our selection of validated hypoallergenic products, visit Need help? Leave a comment below, contact us by email, or drop us a private message on Facebook.

If you have a history of sensitive skin, don’t guess: random trial and error can cause more damage. Ask your dermatologist about a patch test.

Learn more:

About rosacea, see Can’t Calm Rosacea? #candew!and Put Angry Skin On “N-ice”.

To learn more about the VH-Rating System and hypoallergenicity, click here.

Featured Healthy Living Skin

Study Review: Coconut Oil, Monolaurin & Other Derivatives As Antivirals

The quick summary:

There are multiple published clinical studies on the antimicrobial properties of virgin coconut oil (VCO) and its derivatives, and they’ve been around longer than you may think.

We asked a leading dermatologist and dermatopathologist, Dr. Vermén Verallo-Rowell, who is a specialist in contact dermatitis, psoriasis, and its secondary infections — and whose regularly-cited studies on virgin coconut oil and monolaurin have helped us understand their clinical, nutritional, and cosmetic applications — for a review of these studies to help us better understand how virgin coconut oil and its derivatives really hold up against some of the most common microbes.

Her review spanned laboratory and clinical disinfection studies on VCO and derivatives compared with alcohol since the 1970s.

It seems that VCO and its derivatives are as effective as alcohol in typical hand sanitizers but with some important differences.

Her detailed review follows below but this simple summary shares the highlights of how coconut derivatives compare against alcohol, the all-time classic against viruses.

1. Alcohol, at very high concentrations, kills viruses

Alcohol is virucidal, significantly so at 85%, less so at 70-80%. Check your hand sanitizer to make sure it that it contains alcohol at these concentrations.

2. VCO and its derivatives are as effective as 85% alcohol, but at much lower concentrations due to how they work

Alcohol works by denaturing the virus’s protein materials. VCO and its derivatives are as effective but they act in a different way: they act on lipids so they directly disintegrate the viral envelope, which destroys the rest of the virus.

Lauric acid monoglyceride as 2% monolaurin has been shown to kill not just viruses but also fungi as well as gram (+) and (-) bacteria, and some of their resistant strains.

3. Pros and cons of alcohol versus VCO and its derivatives

VCO, its derivatives, and alcohol all have immediate effects but alcohol evaporates quickly (is transient). VCO and its derivatives are lipids (fats). They stay longer on surface skin and mucosa, so their antimicrobial effects last longer.

VCO can also be used to gargle with, and our clinic and research center regularly prescribes monolaurin pellets to be taken orally as daily supplements.

A virtually-pure monolaurin (96%) in hand sanitizers and other leave-on products is an excellent alternative. Its studies are so consistent that VMV Hypoallergenics uses monolaurin in the majority of our products as part of our proprietary self-preserving system and to protect skins with compromised barrier functions (such as in psoriasis and eczema) from microbial colonization.

These products are more expensive than alcohol-based ones but their antiviral action on the breakdown of enveloped viruses and other microbes, combined with their moisturizing and longer-lasting effects, are desirable, especially with frequent use. These can be applied to hands and nostrils, including the inside mucosa that can be easily reached.

4. What about price?

If 80-85% alcohol is available, that’s great and usually very affordable. If not, and if clean water is available, a hand or body wash with sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) or sodium laurel sulfate (SLES), is better to use than diluted alcohol. SLS and SLES are relatively cheap coconut oil derivatives made with lauric acid. They are often found as a saponifier in bar soaps (read ingredient labels for its presence) and in some hair and body washes. Just make sure to choose products with lower concentrations of SLS or SLES and with no allergens or irritants in the formulation. While not an allergen, SLS and SLES, just like alcohol, can be irritating (more so SLS than SLES) as their concentration increases.

As an alternative, VCO can be used. When we do medical outreaches, the doctors we work with teach patients to make their own coconut oil, if coconuts are more readily available than other options. We then instruct them to massage the VCO well — rubbing it into the skin — to help the lipases in non-/pathogenic microbes in the skin break down the VCO into its monoglycerides and fatty acids, especially into lauric acid and monolaurin. The slippery feel of the oil disappears quickly because 65% of its fatty acids are short to medium chain.

What about on 2019-nCoV (coronavirus)?

In January, 2020, The Potential of Coconut Oil and its Derivatives as Effective and Safe Antiviral Agents Against the Novel Coronavirus (nCoV-2019), a study by Professor Emeritus Dr. Fabian Antonio Dayrit and Dr. Mary Newport, explored “the potential use of coconut oil as a safe antiviral agent against the novel coronavirus.” It posed the question…

“Several researchers have been designing drugs to specifically target protease enzymes in coronavirus, but testing for these drugs is many months away. What if there is a treatment candidate against the coronavirus that might already be available and whose safety is already established?”

They continue: “Lauric acid (C12) and monolaurin, its derivative, have been known for many years to have significant antiviral activity. Lauric acid is a medium-chain fatty acid which makes up about 50% of coconut oil; monolaurin is a metabolite that is naturally produced by the body’s own enzymes upon ingestion of coconut oil and is also available in pure form as a supplement. Sodium lauryl sulfate, a common surfactant that is made from lauric acid, has been shown to have potent antiviral properties. Lauric acid, monolaurin, and sodium lauryl sulfate (which is also known as sodium dodecyl sulfate) are used in a wide range of products for their antiviral properties.”

How is monolaurin a compelling candidate for novel coronavirus?

Doctors Dayrit and Newport explain lauric acid and monolaurin’s antiviral mechanisms: “first, they cause disintegration of the virus envelope; second, they can inhibit late maturation stage in the virus replicative cycle; and third, they can prevent the binding of viral proteins to the host cell membrane.”

Monolaurin works by disintegrating the virus membrane.

Both the 2020 study and Dr. Verallo-Rowell’s review point to the antiviral studies of lauric acid and monolaurin from as early as 1979. A 1982 study by Hierholzer & Kabara “showed that monolaurin was able to reduce infectivity of 14 human RNA and DNA enveloped viruses in cell culture by >99.9%” with monolaurin working specifically by disintegrating the virus envelope (later validated by further studies; see review).

Because monolaurin works by preventing maturation, it prevents replication.

A 2001 study on fatty acids against the Junin virus (JUNV; the cause of Argentine hemorrhagic fever) showed that lauric acid was the most effective at inhibiting “a late maturation stage in the replicative cycle of JUNV.”

As a result, this may slow down the increase in viral load in the body.

Monolaurin prevents the virus from binding to our cells.

Instead of influencing protein synthesis in the viral membrane, lauric acid prevents binding to the host cell.

Doctors Dayrit and Newport cite a 1994 study showing that lauric acid prevented infectious vesicular stomatitis by preventing the viral proteins from binding to the healthy host’s cells’ membranes. Furthermore, removing the lauric acid removed the antiviral effect.

It is important to emphasize that, to our knowledge as of this writing, monolaurin has not been tested on nCoV-2019 specifically (neither has alcohol). This information is compelling but needs validation on this particular virus. The available evidence seems to suggest similar efficacy to alcohol in destroying enveloped viruses and some coronaviruses. Follow your doctor’s instructions, and rely on trusted sources such as the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and your country’s department of health. For the study review of VCO, monolaurin and other coconut oil derivatives as antivirals, antibacterials and antifungals, continue reading. 

Study Review: Broad Spectrum Anti-Virals, -Bacterials, -Fungals From Coconut Oil And Its Derivatives by Vermén M. Verallo-Rowell, MD, FPDS, FAAD, FASDP, FADA

Since 2007, Dr. Verallo-Rowell has treated, disinfected, and prevented recurrences on H. simplex Virus 1 and 2, Verrucae, Molluscum contagiosum, and various other skin infections using 96% monolaurin in oral pellets, 2-4% monolaurin in topical preparations, and 1% monocaprin topical preparations, with high efficacy and very rare adverse reactions.

She often combines the use of these monolaurin products with the daily application of cold-pressed, organic virgin coconut oil (VCO) which, in addition to its broad-spectrum antimicrobial properties, has humectant, occlusive, lipid cell membrane and skin barrier repair capabilities, from its unique fatty acids and glycerin.

She also regularly uses 2-4% monolaurin in hand gels and in petrolatum for antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal antisepsis.

The summary of her study review states: “Virgin coconut oil and its derivatives are shown in laboratory and translational clinical studies to have a broad-spectrum, antimicrobial effectivity on viruses, bacteria and fungi. Most of the studies are published in international, a few in regional journals. Still fewer are pilot trials that similarly show these antimicrobial effects against various organism types.”

Introduction to virgin coconut oil and its derivatives

“Like all vegetable oils, coconut oil (CO) is made up of triglycerides which have three fatty acids (FAs) linked to the three carbons in its core glycerin molecule.

Lipase enzymes of non-pathogenic microbes present normally in the skin, and pathogens that may invade it, break down the links, first to a di- then a mono-glyceride, and lastly, into its glycerin and three-fatty acid components.

VCO has about 50% Lauric acid, and 7% Capric acid. The monoglycerides of these two fatty acids have broad-spectrum antimicrobial effects as seen in a few pilot studies; and in laboratory studies and clinical trials published in international and regional journals since the 1970s.

In our studies, we use virgin coconut oil (VCO) that is cold pressed with no heat, certified organic, and freshly harvested to ensure purity, maximum content of important fatty acids, its monoglycerides, fatty acids, and its anti-oxidants .”

Monolaurin, Monocaprin and VCO Anti-Viral Laboratory and Clinical Studies

The antiviral activities of Lauric acid and monolaurin were first noted by Sands and co-worker in 1979. In 1982, monolaurin was shown to be highly antiviral, at times, at 10 times less concentration, than its Lauric Fatty acid. Five years later in 1987, monolaurin is confirmed as highly anti-viral at concentrations 10 times less than Lauric acid. This study also showed that both monolaurin and Lauric acid inactivate viruses by cell membrane disintegration. A 1994 study showed that Lauric acid had a dose-dependent, reversible inhibition of infectious vesicular stomatitis virus production. When Lauric acid was absent, this antiviral effect disappeared. Lauric acid did not influence viral membrane (M) protein synthesis, but prevented binding to the host cell membrane. In 1999, monocaprin was shown to be a feasible mucosal microbicide to prevent sexually transmitted infections such as Neisseria gonorrhea, Chlamydia and HIV.

In the 2000s, studies were published on coconut oil for HIV-AIDS (repeated in 2016 with forty HIV subjects with CD4+ T lymphocyte counts divided into a VCO group and control group (no VCO). The VCO group showed significantly higher average age CD4+ T lymphocyte counts versus control after 6 weeks. Monolaurin for Molluscum contagiosum (a skin virus), and monolaurin in a gel is highly active on repeated high viral loads of Simean immunodeficiency virus in macaques. A study in 2001 on saturated C10 to C18 fatty acids against JUNV (an enveloped virus and the causative agent of Argentine hemorrhagic fever) infection showed Lauric acid as the most active inhibitor. Mechanistic studies from transmission electron microscopic images from 2012 concluded that Lauric acid inhibited a late maturation stage in the replicative cycle of JUNV.

In 2007, monoglycerides were tested on respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and human parainfluenza virus type 2 (HPIV2) at different concentrations, times, and pH levels, with monocaprin (even as low as 0.06-0.12%) showing the most activity against influenza A virus.

From 2015 onwards, studies show monolaurin’s efficacy in a wider range of viruses, from avian influenza virus in chickens, to the female genital tract in Rhesus macaques. Further studies show coconut oil and its derivatives as safe and effective antiviral compounds in both humans and animals against envelope viruses, causing complete envelopes, plasma membranes, and viral particles to disintegrate, lyse, and cause the death of cultured cells. Because of the antiviral and antibacterial protection that it provides to animals, coconut oil, as well as lauric acid and monolaurin, are used in farm animals and pets as veterinary feed supplements in chicken, swine and dogs.

Studies Reviewed:
  1. Sands JA, Auperin LD, Reinhardt A. Enveloped virus inactivation by fatty acid derivatives. Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 1979;15(1):134–136. doi:10.1128/aac.15.1.134.
  2. Hierholzer JC, Kabara JJ. In vitro effects of monolaurin compounds on enveloped RNA and DNA viruses. J Food Safety 1982;4:1–12.
  3. Thormar H et al. Inactivation of enveloped viruses and killing of cells by fatty acids and monoglycerides. Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 1987 Jan;31(1):27-31.
  4. Thormar H, Isaacs CE, Brown HR, Barshatzky MR, Pessolano T. Inactivation of Enveloped Viruses and Killing of Cells by Fatty Acids and Monoglycerides. Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, 1987; 31(1): 27-31.
  5. Hornung B, Amtmann E, Sauer G. Lauric acid inhibits the maturation of vesicular stomatitis virus. Journal of General Virology, 1994; 75: 353-361.
  6. Thormar H, Bergsson G, Gunnarsson E, et al. Hydrogels containing monocaprin have potent microbicidal activities against sexually transmitted viruses and bacteria in vitro. Sex Transm Infect. 1999;75(3):181–185. doi:10.1136/sti.75.3.181
  7. Kristmundsdóttir T, Arnadóttir SG, Bergsson G, Thormar H. Development and evaluation of microbicidal hydrogels containing monoglyceride as the active ingredient. Journal of Pharmaceutical Science, 1999; 88(10): 1011-1015.
  8. Dayrit CS. Coconut Oil in Health and Disease: Its and Monolaurin’s Potential as Cure for FOR HIV/AIDS. XXXVII Cocotech Meeting. Chennai, India. July 25, 2000.
  9. Bartolotta S, Garcí CC, Candurra NA, Damonte EB. Effect of fatty acids on arenavirus replication: inhibition of virus production by lauric acid. Archives of Virology, 2001; 146(4): 777-790.
  10. Chua EO, Verallo-Rowell VM. Coconut oil extract 2% Monolaurin cream in the treatment of Molluscum contagiosum. A randomized double-blind vehicle-controlled trial. Scientific Poster presentation Semi-Finalist. In Abstracts, World Congress of Dermatology October 1-5 2007, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
  11. Hilmarsson H, Traustason BS, Kristmundsdóttir T, Thormar H. Virucidal activities of medium- and long-chain fatty alcohols and lipids against respiratory syncytial virus and parainfluenza virus type 2: comparison at different pH levels. Archives of Virology 2007: 152(12):2225-36.
  12. Li Q, Estes JD, Schlievert PM, et al. Glycerol monolaurate prevents mucosal SIV transmission. Nature. 2009;458(7241):1034–1038. doi:10.1038/nature07831.
  13. Grant A, Seregin A, Huang C, Kolokoltsova O, Brasier A, Peters C, Paessler S. Junín Virus Pathogenesis and Virus Replication. Viruses, 2012; 4: 2317-2339.
  14. van der Sluis W. Potential antiviral properties of alpha-monolaurin. Poultry World. Downloaded from
  15. Widhiarta KD. Virgin Coconut Oil for HIV – Positive People. Cord, 2016; 32 (1): 50-57.
  16. Kirtane AR, Rothenberger MK, Frieberg A, et al. Evaluation of vaginal drug levels and safety of a locally administered glycerol monolaurate cream in Rhesus macaques. Journal of Pharmaceutical Science 2017; 106(7):1821-1827.
  17. Baltić B, Starčević M, Đorđević J, Mrdović B, Marković R. Importance of medium chain fatty acids in animal nutrition. IOP Conf. Series: Earth and Environmental Science 2017; 85: 012048.
  18. Verallo-Rowell V.M., Katalbas S.S., Evangelista M.T., Dayrit J.F. Curr. Dermatol. Rep., 2018, 7: 24.
  19. Yan B, Chu H, Yang D, et al. Characterization of the Lipidomic Profile of Human Coronavirus-Infected Cells: Implications for Lipid Metabolism Remodeling upon Coronavirus Replication. Viruses. 2019;11(1):73. Published 2019 Jan 16. doi:10.3390/v11010073
  20. De Sousa ALM, Pinheiro RR, Araújo JF, et al. Sodium dodecyl sulfate as a viral inactivator and future perspectives in the control of small ruminant lentiviruses. Arquivos do Instituto Biológico, 2019; 86. Epub Nov 28, 2019.
Featured Healthy Living Skin

Another Disinfection Technique: Wash Your Hands, Use Monolaurin…and Virgin Coconut Oil Your Nose!

With new bugs and superbugs, we’re looking for more ways to prevent infection. Improving our nutrition and overall well being is important (which includes lessening stress and getting enough sleep). Another is increasing our probiotic intake. Some classic best practices include frequent and proper hand washing, upping your use of hand sanitizer, and wiping down surfaces with alcohol or bleach. But while alcohol isn’t an allergen, it is drying and all that sanitation can cause skin problems, particularly on your hands. Virgin coconut oil (VCO) and its derivatives like monolaurin could be just what you need to stay safer while keeping your skin comfortable and healthy.

Why VCO and Monolaurin?

Lauric acid monoglyceride as 2% monolaurin and virgin coconut oil (VCO) have studies going as far back as the 1970s showing their efficacy against viruses (including enveloped viruses) and comparably so with 85% alcohol.

VCO and its derivatives, even at lower concentrations, directly disintegrate the viral envelope which destroys the rest of the virus (alcohol denatures the virus’s protein materials). While both act immediately, alcohol evaporates quickly (is transient) while VCO and its derivatives, being fats, stay longer on surface skin and mucosa, so that their antimicrobial effects last longer. And, unlike alcohol, VCO and monolaurin do all this while moisturizing the skin instead of drying it out.

Furthermore, VCO and its derivatives kill not just viruses but fungi as well as gram (+) and (-) bacteria — and some of their resistant strains — so you get broad-spectrum protection that feels yummy on the skin.

That yummy feeling isn’t just for pleasure, either. VCO and monolaurin have important anti-inflammatory effects.

Try This Technique

As with all things related to health and infection, consult your doctor and refer to trusted sources like the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

1) Wash Your Hands

Wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds. Ideally, use a wash that contains sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) or sodium laurel sulfate (SLES) which are made with lauric acid from coconut oil. Just make sure to choose a product like Superwash that has lower concentrations of SLES (less irritating than SLS) and that has no allergens or irritants in the formulation. While not an allergen, SLES and SLS, just like alcohol, can be irritating (SLS is more so) as their concentration increases. If you do not have an SLES or SLS-cleanser handy, soap is fine. Wash your hands well, covering all surfaces and scrubbing under your nails. If you’ve been commuting or out in a crowd, wash until your elbows.

2) Wash Your Face

This isn’t always necessary but if you’re concerned about contagion, are immune-compromised, or are feeling vulnerable, get a gentle SLS facial cleanser like any SuperSkin Care Cleanser and wash your face, too. Besides your face being almost as exposed as your hands, we tend to touch our faces a lot more than we think.

End of the day?

If you’re home and staying put, go ahead and take a full shower. Use Superwash and your SLS-cleanser.

3) Snort Your Coconut Oil

Ok, while you could, in fact, snort it, it’s more comfortable (and less messy) to rub it in there instead. Pour some VCO onto a cotton swab or tissue. If your tissue or swab is new and real clean, you can also dip one end of it into the oil. Swipe the oil all around the insides of your nostrils. Massage well: this helps the lipases in the skin break down the VCO into its monoglycerides and fatty acids, including the awesome antimicrobials lauric acid and monolaurin. Throw the swab or tissue away properly.

Pro Tip 1: Want extra protection?

Try Oil’s Well which has only those two magical ingredients: virgin coconut oil and monolaurin.

Pro Tip 2: Dry, painful nostrils?

If you’ve been blowing your nose a lot, or they’re raw from allergies or cold weather, use Boo-Boo Balm in your nostrils instead. It contains virgin coconut oil and monolaurin but in a balm for quicker healing.

4) Hand Sanitize with Monolaurin

Rub monolaurin hand sanitizer all over your hands, including under your nails. Don’t wipe it off: let it air dry (it takes just a few seconds).

Pro Tip 1: We love multitaskers

Both Id Monolaurin Gel and Kid Gloves Make-It-Cleaner Hand Gel are multipurpose, with lots of great skin benefits from sweat acne to mattifying skin, and keeping you feeling cool and fresh (you can even apply them on your underarms to control odor or if the stress of the day has made things extra sweaty).

Pro Tip 2: You’re spoiled with a choice

You’ve run out? Not a problem! Use virgin coconut oil alone or a product that contains VCO and/or the right percentage of pure monolaurin — like any of our moisturizers and hand lotions. They’re great stand-ins!


It is important to emphasize that, to our knowledge as of this writing, monolaurin has not been tested on nCoV-2019 specifically (neither has alcohol). This information is compelling but needs validation on this particular virus. The available evidence seems to suggest similar efficacy to alcohol in destroying enveloped viruses and some coronaviruses. Follow your doctor’s instructions, and rely on trusted sources such as the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and your country’s department of health. For a study review of VCO, monolaurin and other coconut oil derivatives as antivirals, antibacterials and antifungals, click here.

Laura is our “dew”-good CEO at VMV Hypoallergenics and eldest daughter of VMV’s founding dermatologist-dermatopathologist. She has two children, Madison and Gavin, and works at VMV with her sister CC and husband Juan Pablo (Madison and Gavin frequently volunteer their “usage testing” services). In addition to saving the world’s skin, Laura is passionate about health, inclusion, cultural theory, human rights, happiness, and spreading goodness (like a great cream!)

Allergen, Not An Allergen Featured Skin

It’s Complicated: Allergic Versus Irritant Reaction

A reaction is a reaction…isn’t it?

Yes, in that a skin reaction usually looks and feels “off.” No, in that a skin reaction can be irritant or allergic. Some substances can be irritants but not allergens (such as the iodine on the bottom right of the photo above) or allergens but not irritants (such as the lemongrass essential oil on the top left of the photo above). Always trust your dermatologist to make the diagnosis, but this is a quick overview to help you understand the difference between the two:


An irritant reaction is a form of contact dermatitis but it is not an allergic response. According to DermNet NZ, “Irritant contact dermatitis is a form of contact dermatitis, in which the skin is injured by friction, environmental factors such as cold, over-exposure to water, or chemicals such as acids, alkalis, detergents and solvents.”

Irritant reactions have a relationship with the concentration of the ingredient in a product, the frequency of your skin’s exposure it, and how long your skin is exposed to it. While a diagnosis needs to be made by your dermatologist, here are examples of what an irritant reaction might look like:

  • You use a moisturizer most of your life and experience relatively mild symptoms like dryness that you don’t think of as a reaction, but that are, in fact, mild irritant reactions. If you spread on more of the moisturizer or use it more often, you notice more dryness or possibly other symptoms like redness. If you stop using it for a while, the symptoms subside. And when you use it again, you don’t notice a problem unless you use more of it or use it more frequently.
  • Babies often get an irritant reaction from their saliva around the mouth and on the chin. The reaction goes away as they drool less as they get older.
  • Temporary burns from strong chemicals like chlorine.
  • Itching and redness after touching certain insects.
  • Dry, red, itchy skin from winter or dry, cold air.
  • An instant redness or itching after applying a certain threshold amount of a cosmetic product (in an allergic reaction, the symptoms would appear regardless of the amount applied).


An allergic reaction is a true allergy, meaning that the body has an immune response to an allergen.

You can use something for weeks, months, or years without a problem and then only later develop an allergy to it. This happens once your cells recognize a substance as foreign. After this, on repeat exposure, the allergic reaction occurs even with exposure to small amounts of the allergen (whereas an irritant reaction would require a certain threshold amount to elicit a reaction). If you are allergic to a substance or develop an allergy to it, any percentage of it for any amount of time on the skin will cause a reaction.

Irritant Versus Allergic

The percentage of an irritant or allergen (how much of it was applied or how much of it the skin was exposed to) is important in differentiating irritant and allergic contact dermatitis.

Irritants at a high concentration cause acute irritant contact dermatitis (marked swelling and blistering), such as after just a one-time exposure to a strong acid. At lower concentrations of an irritant and/or constant exposure to it, a chronic irritant contact dermatitis can develop. You might see this in the hands — the skin becomes thick and leathery — of people who work in the health, laundry, or cleaning industries from the frequent exposure to strong soaps and cleaning agents. That said, you could also actually build a tolerance to mild irritants over time.

In allergic contact dermatitis, you may be exposed to an allergen for weeks, or even most of your life, and not react to it. This changes once your skin’s T cells recognize the allergen as “foreign” or “bad,” and develop an immune response then a delayed response that continues every time you are exposed to it from that moment on. Once this immune response is set, any amount of the allergen shortly after contact with your skin will cause a reaction.

An allergic reaction can coexist with an irritant reaction. For example, dryness or redness from the frequent use of alcohol, bleaches, chlorine or other disinfecting products could be an irritant reaction. But if the products also contain fragrances, preservatives, formaldehyde or other top allergens, you might also develop an allergic reaction.

Contact dermatitis experts are the specialists to accurately identify whether the skin changes you are seeing — dryness, redness, dark patches, and other symptoms — are an irritant or allergic reaction. A patch test is important to accurately identify which substance or ingredient is causing the reaction, and patch tests can also confirm if a reaction is allergic or irritant. After you get your patch test results, you’ll know exactly what you need to avoid. And often, just simple and careful avoidance of the substance can give you relief and clarity.


Check out the other posts related to contact dermatitis:

Allergen-Not An Allergen

Get A Patch Test Or Photo-Patch Test

On Contact Dermatitis, Sensitive Skin, and Patch Testing: Interview with an Expert

Laura is our “dew”-good CEO at VMV Hypoallergenics and eldest daughter of VMV’s founding dermatologist-dermatopathologist. She has two children, Madison and Gavin, and works at VMV with her sister CC and husband Juan Pablo (Madison and Gavin frequently volunteer their “usage testing” services). In addition to saving the world’s skin, Laura is passionate about health, inclusion, cultural theory, human rights, happiness, and spreading goodness (like a great cream!)

Featured Skin Tip of the Week

Don’t Touch Your Face

Paws Off That Fab Face.

You use your hands to touch everything…your phone, keyboard, handrails, others people’s hands, desktops and kitchen counters…everything. Transferring all those microbes to your face increases your risk of sickness and acne, and could trigger a contact dermatitis, atopic dermatitis (eczema) or allergic flare-up if you happen to have touched allergens that you’re sensitive to.

Touching your face could make it more tempting to pick at pimples, too, which can lead to further infection, more acne, and scarring.

Got a habit of resting your face on your hands or fingers while at the computer, reading, listening to a lecture or watching a movie? You may not realize that you’re pulling or pushing your skin in different directions, straining its elasticity more than usual and making your anti-aging cream work harder than it has to.

Use your hands to wash your face and apply skincare…then leave your face alone. And, keep a non-drying hand sanitizer, uh, handy at all times to lessen the chances of infection (TIP: our Id and Kid Gloves Monolaurin Gels double as pimple-fighting anti-inflammatories for “acnemergencies!”)

Featured Skin

What Your Skin NEEDS In Your Gym Bag

My Workout Wunderkinds: What’s In Your Gym Bag?

Tons of my friends are living more mindful lives through yoga. The Jiu-Jitsu guys at the club where I go for kickboxing classes get totally in the zone during their matches. Barre, CrossFit, Pilates, there are so many studio classes you can choose from to integrate into your daily work-life routine…each with proven physical and mental benefits. Committing to a more active lifestyle is a challenge as it is. It’s no surprise that your post-workout skincare is the last thing you think about. But don’t let all that hard work undermine your skin’s clarity! If your exercise is making you break out, that’s one more excuse not to work out…which is the last thing any of us needs.

Here are 5 multi-function wonders you should be packing:

1. Essence Superwash + Conditioner — gym amenities may not give you the same anti-allergy, anti-acne care. Getting clean as soon as you’re done with your sets helps prevent sweat and bacteria from clogging pores and wreaking havoc.

2. SuperSkin Care Regimen — just like exercise, it’s consistency that gives you results. Get travel-sized versions of your regular regimen — super handy to throw in your bag’s side pocket.

3. Id Monolaurin Gel — prevent post-workout sweat acne. And bacne. And buttne. This knockout sanitiser is also great for anything that requires hand wraps or gloves where perspiration tends to pool during your session. You should also apply it to any part of your body that comes into contact with shared gym equipment — kettle balls, kicking pads, the studio floor mat, etc. — because nobody has time for staph infections.

Side skinsider tip: if you start itching, check if it’s because you’re sensitive to dyes or rubber in your gym gear!

4. Boo-Boo Balm — for cuts or abrasions. I’ve had one too many a mat burn myself from kickboxing. This ouchless first aid champ has also come to the rescue of long-distance runners who suffer chafing.

5. Armada Sport 50+  — when you’re at the pool or sweating it up outdoors.

Karen leads VMV Hypoallergenics’ Global Markets division, traveling extensively and loving VMV’s distributors across the world, including Canada, Costa Rica, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, Sweden, and Taiwan. Karen finds exhilaration in VMV’s aspirations of amicable global expansion, systems and strategies, the realm of words, English humor, and music festivals. Follow Karen on instagram for travel, health, and overall positivity!