Q&A: Could I Be Allergic to the Soy in My Cosmetics?

Personal/Inspirational, Skin Care
spoon with bean
Q: I have been using a moisturizer with soy extracts and my eyes have been getting watery with swollen eyelids. Does soy extract affect the eyes? 


First, stop using your eye cream. If you have any reaction to a product, you should stop use immediately. This sounds like this might be an allergic reaction. Contact and allergic dermatitis can cause skin to become inflamed, red, and itchy (New York Times).

Second, talk to your doctor. While soy might be a main ingredient in your eye cream, it’s not the only potential culprit of an allergic reaction. Discussing this issue with your doctor, showing her your eye cream, and getting tested for potential allergies can help you narrow down what’s causing the reaction.

Soy in Cosmetics

Soy has become a common ingredient in cosmetics.
Soy has become a common ingredient in cosmetics.

Over the past decade, soy has become quite popular in cosmetic products for a variety of uses. It contains a soybean trypsin inhibitor (STI) and a Bowman-Birk inhibitor (BBI), both of which help to lighten skin and reduce unwanted body hair. Its estrogen-like and antioxidant metabolites help to increase thickness of skin and synthesize collagen while also restoring the skin barrier function and moisturizing (Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology). With such a list of credentials, what’s not to love?

Unfortunately for soy, many have become increasingly aware of its potential as a skin allergen. Allergens can reach the skin through a variety of ways: through the air, by reacting to sunlight, and, of course, through contact between the hands and sensitive areas (e.g., eyelids). While allergens found in cosmetics are usually fragrances, preservatives, or antioxidants, an increasing number of people are reacting to natural ingredients, particularly protein-derived ones like oatmeal, hydrolyzed wheat, and soybean extract (Journal of Allergy).

Soy Allergy from Skin Contact

Usually we think of soy as a food allergen, but at least one case study shows that it can irritating skin upon contact.
Usually we think of soy as a food allergen, but at least one case study shows that it can irritating skin upon contact.

Soy is one of the top five food allergies, along with eggs, milk, wheat, and peanut (The Journal of Pediatrics). Usually, the protein in soy causes allergies, but there are also other reasons why soy might cause a reaction. One of the surprising things that might make soy an allergy for you is its high concentration of nickel (Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology). That’s right, it isn’t as obvious as nickel in coins and belt buckles, but it can cause allergic reactions when eaten and in patch tests.

To answer the question more directly, yes, soy extract can affect the eyes. The first-documented case of such a reaction occurred in a 55-year-old woman who had been using a night cream. She had developed erythema (redness of the skin) and, later, swelling of the face. While she didn’t have an allergic reaction to orally consumed soybean, patch tests of the extract produced reactions within 30 minutes (Contact Dermatitis). So while you may not have an allergic reaction to foods containing soy, it is very well likely that your moisturizer is causing an allergic reaction.

Bottom Line

It’s very possible that the soy in your eye cream is causing your issues, but it could also be other ingredients in your cream. If it is soy, it’s possible to have a skin allergy to soy and not have any symptoms of a food allergy.

No matter what’s causing your issues, stop using your eye cream immediately and talk to your doctor. Together, you can discuss what possible ingredients could be irritating your skin so you can avoid them in the future.

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  • Marquis Wirta

    Shots might seem like an unusual way to treat allergies, but they’re effective at decreasing sensitivity to triggers. The substances in the shots are chosen according to the allergens identified from a person’s medical history and by the allergist during the initial testing. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees the standards used in preparing the materials for allergy shots given in the United States.

  • Michel Ogorman

    Most people will have some problem with allergies or allergic reactions at some point in their lives. Allergic reactions can range from mild and annoying to sudden and life-threatening. Most allergic reactions are mild, and home treatment can relieve many of the symptoms. An allergic reaction is more serious when severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) occurs, when allergies cause other problems (such as nosebleeds, ear problems, wheezing, or coughing), or when home treatment doesn’t help.

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