1. What does “Hypoallergenic” mean?
I have very allergy-prone or easily-irritated skin. "Hypoallergenic" means less likely to cause allergies. In some countries, the term is not strictly regulated, but there are some best practices that are proven to be effective, all of which are practiced by VMV. Visit these links to learn more about what "hypoallergenic" means to us!
2. Allergen omission: VH-Rating System
The best way to reduce the risk of an allergic reaction - to make a product hypoallergenic - is to omit allergens (ingredients that are proven to cause reactions).
In 1988, VMV's founding dermatologist-dermatopathologist (a specialist in contact dermatitis and skin diseases) created the VH-Number Rating System as a standardized, objective measure of allergen omission.
The VH-Number Rating System shows how many allergens have been omitted from a product using independent, objective references: The North American Contact Dermatitis Group (NACDG) and European Surveillance System on Contact Allergies (ESSCA). These highly specialized groups examine the results of thousands of patch tests to determine which ingredients/allergens are causing the most reactions. If an ingredient makes it to one of these lists, we don't use it. It's that simple.
Memorizing the list of allergens is impractical so the VH-Rating is arguably the simplest, most immediate, visible and reliable measure of hypoallergenicity.
If you have had a patch test, the VH-Rating System tells you if there are allergens present, and if so, which ones. For example, if you are interested in a product and see that its rating is VH -108/109*, you know it contains one common allergen. Find the asterisk on the ingredients list and you'll find which ingredient is the allergen. If your patch test shows that you're sensitive to that ingredient, do not use the product. If your patch test does not show the highlighted ingredient, then you should still be able to use the product.
If you haven't yet had a patch test but have a history of skin sensitivity, choose products with the highest VH-Rating.
3. Using the fewest number of ingredients
Simple formulations with as few ingredients as possible minimize the risk of cross reactions.
The quickest way to spot a high-risk product is to look at the ingredients list. The longer the ingredients list, the higher the likelihood that you may react to it.
It is a requirement at VMV that our formulations achieve their preventive and therapeutic goals with as few ingredients as possible. We're highly selective about our ingredients - each one has to achieve maximum results and no irritation.
4. Sell-by & Expiration Dates
By policy, the products that we make available for selling to the public have a shelf life of 2 years or more. All VMV products have a longer shelf life than 2 years (some go as high as 5 years or even longer). Most active ingredients are tested to have the same degree of efficacy for up to two years. Based on most FDA requirements, products with a shelf life this long are exempt from needing expiration dates on labels. To be good to sell, our products should have an expiration of at least 3 months after date of purchase. With daily use, most products are normally emptied in under 3 months.
If any of our products show "expiration" dates, these are indicated primarily for retail purposes. This shelf-life period is for the benefit of wholesalers to determine how long they can keep items on display or in stock. Many of our products last much longer. And beyond their "good-by" period, they do not "rot" or "go bad" unless there has been a microbial contamination. Check for separation or a major change in color or texture, or a rancid smell. Many customers continue using products after the 2-year period so long as they do not see changes in the product. Others are more comfortable disposing of the products after a certain date regardless of whether or not the products seem fine to use.
For products with active ingredients (like sunscreens), the efficacy of the actives may deteriorate over time. Even if the product does not display any major changes and could therefore still be safe for use, it may no longer be as effective as when freshly produced. For products with actives that have expiration dates that have passed, the claimed protection factors and results may no longer be as when tested.
5. Avoiding Red Flags
Fragrance is consistently at the top of allergen lists, and usually in the top
Even if you don't see "perfume" in an ingredient list, the product could still have fragrances or masking fragrances (scents that don't smell "perfume-y" but cover up the odors of other ingredients). They could be written in their chemical names like benzyl alcohol, balsam of peru, geraniol or cinnamic alcohol. In lieu of shopping with a chemist in tow, take a whiff. If the product smells nice it's probably got a perfume. If it smells bland it's probably got a masking fragrance. If it smells like a lab, like chemicals, it's probably fragrance-free.
Lots of preservatives are allergens. Quaternium-15, parabens (methylparaben, propylparaben, etc.) are top allergens. Try to steer clear of them altogether. CAUTION: many products achieve "preservative-free" status by piling on fragrances that have preservative properties.
Dyes are easy to spot: first, it's close to impossible to get a very bright color from mineral pigments, second, dyes are written as a color followed by a number and usually the word "lake", e.g. Yellow 6 Lake, Red 22 Lake or Blue 1 Lake. At VMV, some of our lip color, eyeshadows and blushes contain dyes - if you are allergic to dyes, choose from our wide selection of dye-free shades. All our foundations and powders are 100% dye-free.
Other well-known red flags are propylene glycol, rubber (common in cosmetic sponges), propolis (from bees wax) and tea tree oil
6. Avoiding Allergenic Naturals
Even the most organic fragrances are allergenic. Several tree barks, fruits and their peels, bee products and other natural extracts are highly allergenic.
If you've got sensitive skin, hypoallergenic products trump natural ones all the time. A common misconception is that "natural" and "organic" ingredients are not allergenic. In many cases, it is the opposite that's true. Bee stings, mangoes, shellfish, pollen, dander, peanuts are examples of different things that, even in their most natural and organic forms, can cause allergic reactions (some very severe) in people who are sensitive to them. And many natural ingredients are on the allergen list.
At VMV, we try to use natural, organic and sustainable ingredients whenever we can. But our first filter is always hypoallergenicity.
7. Clinical testing
A big concern about cosmetics is how reliable their claims are. Can you judge a brand's honesty? One way of vetting a brand is to find out if its clinical studies have been published in medical journals. This is objective proof of legitimate science and can give you some peace of mind.
At VMV, clinical testing is our "thing." Our claims are supported by clinical trials, including randomized, double-blind (also called "evidence-based") trials. We have dozens of published studies in peer-reviewed medical journals, and some have won awards and dermatological conventions too. We do studies for some of the largest pharmaceutical, cosmetic, and laser companies as well. We have never tested on animals, and we never will.
8. Post-market surveillance
Monitoring products throughout their "life spans" in the market is frequently done to ensure the consistency of manufacturing quality - that each product is produced according to specifications and behaves the way it should.
At VMV, our post-market surveillance includes continuing case studies and monitors not just production quality but also reported reactions. In this way, we've sometimes been able to "flag" certain ingredients before they appeared on allergen lists.
9. Patch testing
Products that are patch tested are better, but they still may not mean much. Many brands accept reactions of 5-15% of patients tested.
With rare exceptions (which the VH-Rating clearly indicates to alert customers) VMV ingredients, applicators and formulations are approved only if they elicit 0% reactions.
Due to this practice and VH-Ratings, we've averaged less than 0.1% (about 0.008%) of reactions reported to our products in over 30 years, and those were mostly to ingredients not considered to be allergens or due to incorrect product usage.
A little known fact: many allergens are also photo-allergens - chemicals that can react with light (from the sun but also computer screens and office or house lights) to cause darkening. At VMV we use ingredients that are photo-patch tested and proven not to cause photo-allergic reactions (if you are photosensitive, avoid our makeup colors with dyes).
If you are highly allergic, it's best to get a patch test. This painless procedure shows you exactly which ingredients you need to avoid, even if they're not yet well-known allergens. It significantly reduces the expense, frustration and irritations that come with random trial and error. If your doctor is also a member of the American Contact Dermatitis Society (contactderm.org), your results can be entered into CAMP (the Contact Allergen Management Program), which can give you a list of ingredients to avoid, as well as specific brands and products that you can use.
If you are very prone to hyperpigmentations (dark spots, blotches or scars), ask your doctor for a photo-patch test. Simple avoidance of the things that trigger your pigmentation can enhance your active lightening therapy or even help clear up existing pigmentations.
1. What are allergens?
Allergens are ingredients commonly found in cosmetic products, clothing, and lots of other materials used in consumer products (on mobile phone casings, laptop sleeves, gym equipment handles, slippers, clothing, underwear, goggles, etc.) and in life in general (plants, pets, etc.) that are known to cause allergic or irritant reactions in skin.
Common allergens are those that tend to cause reactions the most. These are determined by studies that examine the patch test results of thousands of people in multiple clinics and testing centers in different countries.
A common misconception is that "natural" and "organic" ingredients are not allergenic. In many cases, it is the opposite that's true. Bee stings, mangoes, shellfish, pollen, dander, peanuts are examples of different things that, even in their most natural, organic forms, can cause allergic reactions (some very severe) in people who are sensitive to them. And many natural ingredients are on the allergen list.
2. I am very allergy-prone or easily irritated skin
If you have very allergy-prone or easily irritated skin, we have two suggestions:
Ask your dermatologist for a patch test.
Choose VMV products with the highest VH-Ratings.
A patch test is a painless procedure that shows which ingredients you in particular need to avoid. This significantly reduces the expense, frustration, and skin trauma of trial and error.
If you are in the USA, ask your dermatologist if s/he uses CAMP (the Contact Allergen Management Program of the American Contact Dermatitis Society). If your physician does use CAMP, s/he'll be able to give you a list of not just your allergens but of specific products that you can use.
1. Our skingredients
We source our ingredients from trusted providers around the world; most come from the highest-quality purveyors in Europe and the USA.
We choose ingredients based solely on their hypoallergenicity, efficacy, quality, beneficial merit, and sustainability...not on their aesthetic properties or other "marketable" claims.
This punctiliousness is heightened by our policy of using the least amount of ingredients possible (which helps increase a product's hypoallergenicity). So our ingredients give maximum benefits without having to pile them on, a practice that increases the likelihood of irritations and cross-reactions.
Our "skingredients" are so fine (we patch test each and every one!) that we've proudly displayed them on our labels since we started in 1979...long before U.S. and other countries' legislation mandated that ingredients be disclosed on cosmetics products.
2. How we test
You'll see this phrase on all our products. It means that the product was tested using our patch test protocols at VMV HYPOALLERGENICS®; this means using standard patch test protocols practiced by your doctor and leading experts and then building on top of them.
We patch test each ingredient and raw material that goes into every product we make, the final formulation itself, and even the ancillary things that touch your skin: like puffs, sponges, and brushes.
We also use packaging that does not contain allergens such as rubber or certain metals as much as possible. If, for the sake of stability, we must use a packaging material with an allergen (such as a colorant), we make sure that it does not touch the product itself and that the product can be handled without much contact with the problematic surfaces. We also test packaging to confirm that its harmful components do not leak into the formulations inside them.
In Vitro and In Vivo:
In vitro means testing done in a laboratory. Many of our tests are in vitro, but we're proud to say that we also do an extensive amount of in vivo testing.
In vivo means testing done with human volunteers in actual-use conditions. Our Armada sun and light protection products, for example, are subjected to in vivo sunscreen studies to give you protection factors proven in actual-use conditions, not merely in laboratories with simulated skin. We do that, too, but we're proud to be one of the few companies to always do in vivo sunscreen studies (which we've been doing since the 1980s).
Our own clinical studies are further supported by other independent studies published in respected dermatological journals and publications.
For example, our Re-Everything anti-aging line features kinetin, a growth hormone that performed (with our unbuffered glycolic acid and other active ingredients) excellently in our own randomized, double-blind clinical study. But we still scoured published studies on kinetin in order to further support our decision to use it in our formulations. Finding a wealth of legitimate published research on kinetin, combined with our own evidence-based studies, we decided it was the right choice for Re-Everything.
No animal testing:
Our standards are so high that we have no shortage of volunteers (the human kind) who are eager to try new products. Plus, we do extensive laboratory (microbial, stability, etc.) testing to ensure both efficacy and safety. If you're interested in trying new formulations or procedures, contact the VMV Skin Research Centre + Clinics.
We do Evidence-based Studies:
"Evidence-based" is the most respected protocol for product testing, including randomized, double-blind clinical testing on statistically relevant pools of subjects over a specific time period.
1. What is the VH-rating system?
The VH-Rating System works like this:
The higher the number, the more allergens are ABSENT from a product and the better the chances that you won't develop a rash or other skin problems.
The minus sign followed by a number shows the current maximum number of known allergens. The current highest VH Rating is VH - 76/76 (contains 0 of all 76 known allergens).
If a product contains one allergen, its VH-Rating would change to VH -75/76* (contains one allergen out of 76). The asterisk is repeated on the product's ingredient list so you can quickly identify which is the included allergen (it's underlined, too, so you can't miss it). If you've had a patch test, one glance at the ingredient list can tell you if you can still use the product (if, for example, the included allergen is vitamin E but you're allergic to parabens). If you haven't had a patch test, select the higher VH-Rated product.
VMV HYPOALLERGENICS® was the first brand to rate its hypoallergenicity with the VH-Rating System. In 1988, VMV's founding dermatologist-dermatopathologist (a specialist in contact dermatitis and skin diseases) created the VH-Number Rating System as a standardized, objective measure of allergen omission.
The VH-Rating System is proprietary (an original VMV "skinnovation"). It is the only hypoallergenic rating system of its kind and VMV HYPOALLERGENICS® is still the only brand rating its hypoallergenicity.
The VH-Number Rating System helps clients select the right level of hypoallergenicity for their needs.
The VH-Number is a little like an SPF for hypoallergenicity. Much like SPF, the higher a VH number is, the more protected you'll be from allergens. VH tells you that a product has been Validated as Hypoallergenic (VH), and the minus sign and number show you how many allergens are absent from the formulation. The higher the VH-Number, the more allergens are absent from a product, and the more hypoallergenic it is.
The VH-Rating System is based on objective and independent references for allergens: the lists of the most common allergens regularly published by the North American Contact Dermatitis Group (NACDG) and European Surveillance System on Contact Allergies (ESSCA).
2. VH rating example
VH -109/109 = Validated Hypoallergenic MINUS all 109 of 109 allergens.
VH -108/109* = Validated Hypoallergenic minus 1 allergen (the product has 108 of 109 allergens omitted), indicated in the ingredients list by an asterisk.
Why is it important to identify the allergen in the ingredients list? Because knowing which allergen is present can help expand your product options.
For example, if your patch test shows that you are sensitive to parabens but not to dyes (which are known allergens), and a product contains a dye, it's VH-Rating would be VH-108/109*. With the asterisk, a quick glance at the ingredients would show you that the allergen isn't one that you are sensitive to, and the product should still be safe for you to use.
If you have not had a patch test and have a history of sensitivity, choose higher VH-Ratings.
NOTE: We are all individuals and you may be sensitive to an ingredient that is not yet considered an allergen. If you have a history of skin sensitivity, your best bet is to ask your doctor for a patch test.
Most VMV products are rated VH -109/109: all 109 known allergens are absent. If we must use an ingredient that appears on the allergen list, it is usually present in the smallest possible concentrations, ranked low on the allergen list, and indicated by an asterisk so that you can quickly identify if it's an ingredient that you are allergic to.
While lower VH ratings can work for many people, you can choose products with higher VH numbers if you have a history of allergies or hypersensitivity. This is the beauty of the VH-Rating System: you are empowered with a clear indication of what allergens are included/excluded, so you can make wiser decisions on what you can use.
3. Our commitment in reformulating when needed
"VH" means that a product has been tested - validated - for hypoallergenicity.
The minus sign followed by a number shows how many allergens are absent in the formulation. Our commitment: The VH-Rating System is effective as long as it and products are regularly updated.
If just one of the ingredients we use makes the allergen list, we reformulate our products to remove it.
Considering the barrage of tests that we subject each raw material, ingredient and final formulation, this is a daunting, exhaustive process that's unique to VMV. But it's our commitment to your skin's safety.
Our Labels: In an effort to provide the most hypoallergenic products possible, we periodically reformulate our products to be consistent with the latest published allergen lists of the NACDG and ESSCA. If our products remain compliant with new publications and no reformulations are necessary, we still modify our packaging to reflect the new maximum number of allergens if it has changed.
As this process takes some time - and we'd rather not throw away perfectly good packaging! - this sometimes results in VH Ratings on products not yet reflecting the most current publications.