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How many times every day do patients tell you they have sensitive skin? Do you roll your eyes when they’re not looking or crack a slight smile in a way only your assistant knows what you’re thinking? The phenomenon of self-declared sensitive skin is pervasive. This common condition affects many people, yet the exact prevalence of sensitive skin remains unknown.1 (According to the National Eczema Society, 31.6 million people (10.1 percent) in the US have some form of eczema, and one in 10 individuals will develop eczema during their lifetime.2) The most common skincare-related triggers for irritation and sensitivity tend to be using the wrong skincare product for the individual’s skin, over-using skincare products, and excessively harsh cleansing regimens involving scrubs, brushing, and exfoliation.3 By most accounts, women tend to report more skin sensitivity than men do, and it most frequently refers to the face. It’s also worth noting that after aesthetic procedures, approximately 25 percent of patients develop skin sensitivities.

With so many people experiencing the symptoms of skin sensitivity, there is a clear need for better consumer education. Even if consumers do read product labels, the language on the label may not be a 100 percent accurate description of what is inside the bottle or its potential effects on their skin.

Enter SkinSAFE, a unique collaboration of experts in their respective fields whose mission is to help people with sensitive skin find best-in-class products by tapping into their unique, AI-powered science and patch testing data developed in partnership with Mayo Clinic. SkinSAFE’s data-driven platform can identify what is in a product and if it is safe for the patient, based on personal standards, specific allergens, and physician recommendations.

The brain trust behind SkinSAFE is Jimmy Yiannias, MD, Professor of Dermatology at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Phoenix. Dr. Yiannias explains that his father had eczema and was patch tested at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester as being allergic to lanolin. So, he check all the skincare products in his dad’s bathroom to see if they were lanolin-free, and many of them did not make the cut. His father was the one who actually suggested that he go back to his team at Mayo Clinic and build a program that would tell patients what they could safely use.

“I returned to Phoenix to discuss it with my colleagues who loved the idea and told me to come back when we built it. So, we worked with Microsoft Access and our nurses built in the ingredients so the program would spit out a list of products for each patient. SkinSAFE was 20 years in the making and involved dermatologists and pharmacists who established the relationships between all of these ingredients,” says Dr. Yiannias.

“We learned early on that the chemicals, preservatives, and fragrances patients were shown to be allergic to were long and complicated,” he continues. “If a patient is allergic to one ingredient, we wanted to uncover what SkinSAFE should tell them to avoid, such as orange oil. We are always going to err on the side of caution. Our vision was for it to be both provider-facing as well as consumer-facing.”

Currently 750 physician groups are using the platform. In 2017, there were 2,000 products on the site. Fast forward to 2021, and over 54,000 products are featured, including 19,000 skincare products. Products are listed in six categories: Bath and Body, Fragrance, Hair Care, Makeup, Manicure and Pedicure, and Skin Care. The SkinSAFE site has had its highest growth over the past eight months during COVID.

According to Dr. Yiannias, more than 45 percent of common contact skin allergies can be avoided simply by using the SkinSAFE Top Free rated products. Thus, consumers can break the cycle of using the wrong skincare and learn how to avoid the most common causes of allergy, such as fragrances; he says that many brands do not live up to the “fragrance-free” label.

The site has a user-friendly interface. Patients can ask their dermatologist to generate a “Personal Code” (PC) to be uploaded to their SkinSAFE account, which is free. The platform’s proprietary algorithm is able to exclude products that contain ingredients associated with their known list of allergens. Users who do not have a dermatologist can use the directory on the site to find one in their area. Alternatively, the user can request a Personal Code with their unique allergens so they can easily identify “Safe for Me” products on the site.

This personalized approach goes one step further. The user can access a “Safe for Me” list on their phone while shopping to rule out any product their skin may not tolerate and vet products on the site to avoid making mistakes. The algorithm breaks down the markers into several wellness categories, including Sensitive Skin, Safe for, Free from, and Allergy free. For extremely sensitive skin, consumers can add the “irritant-free marker” to be 100 percent SkinSAFE. The SkinSAFE app bar code scanning function allows the user to determine how the product scores based on what they’re trying to avoid.

“Henna” Tattoo Reactions: A Simple Solution

Allergic contact reactions to Para‐phenylenediamine are well known—and common—often resulting from exposure via temporary tattoos. Researchers have shown that a common surfactant can be used to help remove the tattoos and limit the exposure. Karan Lal, DO, Marketing Committee Member for the Society for Pediatric Dermatology and a dermatologist at UMass Memorial Medical Center, was not part of the research team that recently published their findings in Pediatric Dermatology, but as a pediatric dermatologist, he welcomes the findings.

“Temporary tattoos are very common; if you go to carnivals, or little fairs, you can find them anywhere. In fact, in some cultures, for example Indian, Middle Eastern, and Pakistani cultures, henna is a very significant part of marital status, and it’s part of the ceremony process,” Dr. Lal observes.

“True henna, which is used in certain hair dyes and organic henna, which is green henna, actually poses minimal to no allergic risk to people, but not everybody reacts to henna; they don’t get that color for that tattooing effect. What companies have done is they’ve mixed henna with a black dye, which is para‐phenylenediamine, that is very striking and really brings out the color of henna. It can last three to four weeks.”

Polyethylene glycol 400 or PEG 400, a solvent found in many cosmetic products, is available through compounding pharmacies and other sources on the market. “It’s interesting that this study found a way to get rid of the tattoo. It’s great that they did this study, because often you end up treating the dermatitis, but as long as the tattoo is there, patients will continue to react. In fact, sometimes even after having contact sensitization initially, you can develop more widespread ID reactions that require more aggressive and longer treatment. With cycles of PEG 400 washes, we could minimize the risk for development of ID reactions, which would potentially require systemic treatment.”

According to Aki Hashmi, CEO and one of the founders of SkinSAFE, what is most unique about the platform is that it works in three distinct ways; skincare brands can partner with the site, consumers can buy the safe products they want directly from the site or in store, and it facilitates awareness of whether specific products contain allergens or not.

Michele Robson, the Founder of HER Inc. an online social health community for women (and men, too) launched in 2008, is a patient of Dr. Yiannias. She went to see him to recommend a moisturizer to hydrate her irritated skin. When he examined her, he determined that she had eczema, not just rough skin, and recommended patch testing. Ms. Robson chuckled at the thought of finding five consecutive days for patch testing in her schedule and asked if there was an alternative approach. He then gave her a shopping list based on the most common allergens from Mayo Clinic’s database. This helped her so much that she wanted to share the knowledge with others who were also suffering from skin allergens, sensitive skin, and more. So, she partnered with Dr. Yiannias and Mr. Hashmi to create SkinSAFE to help people with sensitive skin.

“If we could share this science-based information with consumers and patients, it could truly be a game changer. Our philosophy is very simple: we want people to live happier, healthier lives. If we can help accomplish those goals through tools like SkinSAFE, we’re all in!” says Ms. Robson.

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1. Chen W, Dai R, Li L. The prevalence of self-declared sensitive skin: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2020 Aug;34(8):1779-1788.



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