You can’t believe everything you read, even when it comes to children’s products labeled “hypoallergenic.” Researchers from the Loma Linda University School of Medicine in California tested an array of widely used products typically used for children with eczema and found 89 percent contained at least one allergen, despite promising labels.

“Kids who have eczema or atopic dermatitis use more lotions and creams and ointments, etc. Ostensibly, their caregivers who purchase these products to use on the kids' skin, give preference to products using these meaningless marketing terms,” the study’s lead researcher Carsten Hamann, a medical student at Loma Linda University School of Medicine told Reuters Health. The label “hypoallergenic” is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and has in turn turned into a marketing ploy, Hamann added.

Over 30 million Americans suffer from eczema, which throws them into cycles of itching, scratching, and releasing of inflammatory chemicals, according to the National Eczema Association. The red patches of itchy skin often appear on their arms, legs, cheeks, and necks. Those with eczema are diagnosed when they are babies or young children, but the symptoms become less severe as children grow into adults. Their outbreaks make them more susceptible to allergic reactions to any topical substances, including lotions, preservatives, fragrances, or other kinds of chemicals.

“It would be very difficult for even the most caring, intelligent, and well-read parent to know the names of 80-plus allergens and their synonyms,” Hamann said. “Let alone compare that list of allergens to a 15-plus long ingredient list on the back of a pediatric product. Many of the chemicals on that list are very, very rare causes of allergy.”

Hamann and his colleagues tested 187 cosmetic products found throughout six different stores in California. They were looking to see if they contained any of the 80 most common known allergens. They proved the mislabeling when they found 89 percent of the products contained at least one allergen, 63 percent contained two or more, and 11 percent contained five or more. The labels read “hypoallergenic,” “dermatologist recommended/tested,” “fragrance-free,” or “paraben free,” but that doesn’t mean any of that was true. No government body is checking to make sure companies are using those terms honestly because it’s an unregulated label.

Eerily similar, “All-Natural,” “Organic,” and “Non-GMO” (genetically modified organism) labels are used more as a way to advertise to consumers instead of inform them. The difference is the food industry is regulated and has faced legal action for falsely using the labels. Throw a “Non-GMO” label onto a barrel of apples and your company can be held accountable. If those apples were genetically altered to resist pesticides, a lawsuit is fair game.

Why are cosmetic companies exempt from using labels that are used to inform the consumer? The consumer, in this case, is after all a parent trying to protect his or her child from harmful chemicals that could cause an allergic reaction. So what can parents do instead of play the guessing game?

Dermatologists recommend safe petroleum-based products such as Vaseline for sensitive skin. Products that include a full label of their ingredients are usually reliable. Also, try to “avoid fragranced, colored products and those where the ingredient listing is not stated,” Dr. Michael Ardern-Jones, a skin disease specialist at the University of Southampton in the UK, told Reuters Health.

“Almost any chemical compound could be implicated as an allergen, so it is almost impossible for a cream to be truly non-allergic,” Ardern-Jones said. “Thus, as there is no true ‘hypoallergenic’ cream, there is no agreed meaning of ‘hypoallergenic.’”