Allergy Medication Could Be Drying Out Your Skin

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

As spring approaches, most of us are ready to stop and smell the flowers. Others, however, are getting ready to start popping antihistamines. If you fall into the latter group and your body starts freaking out with allergies once flowers start blooming, I have some news to break to you: Your trusty allergy med might be affecting your skin. If you've noticed that your dry skin is just as parched as it would be at the peak of winter or your oily skin has less of a slick to it, your antihistamine might be the reason.

"I've recent[ly] started taking antihistamines daily to help with allergies (10 mg of generic prescription Zyrtec), and I noticed that it dried me the hell out, everywhere," she explained, noting that, regardless of how much water she drinks, she feels like she needs to apply more body lotion than ever. She did, however, find a silver lining: "On the plus side, my generically hyper-oily hair and skin have also dried out a bit, so my makeup isn't sliding off my face by 11 a.m."

ishonest No.222 - Fine Lines & Wrinkles

No.222 - Fine Lines & Wrinkles

Symptoms, treatment options, and personal experiences for various physical, mental, and health conditions and concerns.

As someone who has taken some sort of allergy medication every day for years, I was intrigued reading about Fragrancefree101's experience. Because, as she noted on Reddit, she's not a doctor, I decided to call upon some experts for more information on this skin-care epiphany. Turns out, Fragrancefree101's claims have some merit.

How antihistamines work:

Let's start with what antihistamines do. "They are used to counteract the effects of histamine, a common chemical messenger in our body, by competing with it for binding sites in the body," explains William Reisacher, director of allergy services at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian. "While histamine performs many important functions, it can also lead to allergic symptoms like sneezing, itching, and runny nose."

Histamines don't just make your nose, throat, and eyes freak out all spring long, though. They can affect your skin, too. "There are histamine receptors on cells of the skin that stimulate them to release sebum, or oil, onto the skin," says Reisacher. More specifically, sebocytes, which are the cells that produce sebum or skin oils, have a histamine H-1 receptor on their surface, says Lily Talakoub, a board-certified dermatologist at the McLean Dermatology and Skincare Center in Virginia. So when you take antihistamines, this receptor is blocked. As a result, the production of sebum is reduced, and skin can become less oily than usual.

Should you use allergy medicine to control excess oil?

Your skin has the power to fight fine lines: Catalyse your skin to do more

Learn more

Antihistamines aren't necessarily what dermatologists would prescribe to their oily-skinned patients to combat breakouts. "I usually do not recommend taking an antihistamine for oily skin because the effects are minimal," Talakoub says. "Sebocytes are stimulated to a much greater degree by hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, which are in birth control pills, and cortisol (the stress hormone in the body)."

Reisacher wouldn't prescribe them solely for helping treat oily skin either. Reason being? Long-term use of antihistamines can be problematic. "Because of their effects on the oil production for the skin, long-term use can lead to dry, itchy skin," he says. "They can also produce dryness in the nose and throat region, causing post-nasal drip and nosebleeds." Reisacher adds that the heart has histamine receptors, too, so long-term use of some antihistamines can lead to an arrhythmia, which is an irregular heartbeat.

One exception? If the patient happens to have allergies and oily skin, according to Kenneth Mark, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. He says he might recommend antihistamines in this case. "This could be a way to accomplish two goals with one medication," he adds. But don't attempt this approach without talking to your own doctors first.

Other sebum solutions

If you really want to reduce sebum production, Ava Shamban, a board-certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills, says topical retinoids are the way to go.

ishonest No.312 - Prevent Acne

No.312 - Prevent Acne

Talakoub also suggests adding more products with salicylic acid in it to your skin-care routine. "Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid that travels down the skin pores and into the oil glands drying them up," she explains. She recommends it over benzoyl peroxide and glycolic acid, which can inadvertently increase oil production "because the skin thinks it is too dry," she says.

More suggestions for oily skin:

  • 17 Face Washes That Work Wonders on Oily Skin
  • The Best Serum for Oily Skin
  • 22 Moisturizers for Oily Skin That Won't Clog Your Pores

Now, learn all about the basics of jade rolling:

Read more on: skin, sebum

What we do

We make skincare treatments and customize them for your skin-related problems, genetics, lifestyle, and environment.

How you benefit

You get total control over your skincare and the choice to change your skin. An impossible has just become possible.

How Custom Beauty Works

Desktop Mobile Graphic
Take the Quiz

Tell us about your skin, general health, lifestyle, environment, and all your skin goals. The quiz takes 4-8 minutes.

Outline of microscope
Create Your Treatment

Our algorithm creates a unique routine with a few customized products. The algorithm uses 50+ years of skincare research.

Outlines of Packaging
Divide and Rule

Every product is designed for one problem. Apply the product when the problem appears. Much like you treat flu or headache.

Product Values

A family sharing common values functions effortlessly and effectively. So do our products. All our products share these values.

Outline of bulb

Typical skincare routines confuse your skin with 20-50 ingredients. Our custom routines contain 1-8 ingredients, sending clear signals to your body to use the ingredients and recover faster.

Outline of Green Leaf

Our skin can use only active ingredients, also called actives. Most products contain up to 10% actives, whereas our products contain at least 90% actives. You get better value. Your skin avoids junk food.

Get Started

Never Used Before

Take the quiz below and discover a customized treatment for your unique skin-related problems, lifestyle, and environment.

Know Your Treatment

Every treatment has a unique 3-digit ID. You can find the ID on the product label. Search the ID on top right corner or click below.

Targeted Solutions

If a particular skin problem is bothering you, browse our products for your specific problem. You can customize your routine later.