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Your mascara or your man?

Over the years, I've cultivated a consistent personal aesthetic. (Translation: I'm pretty happy with the look I've got going.) So nothing smears my mascara faster than somebody who thinks they have a better idea of how I should present myself to the world.

I mean, besides religious and political affiliation, I can't think of an arena with more sanctity than one's personal style. It's nobody's business if my lipstick is rain forest-friendly or if I only shave my left leg.

Or is it? What if your beauty practices gave other people hives Ñ figuratively or literally? How much would you alter your finely honed aesthetic to accommodate others?

It's a question I first encountered in the seventh grade, when I told my mother I would not be wearing pantyhose in the family Easter photo because they made me feel like a sausage in casing.

This proclamation wouldn't be such a big deal now because 'casual office' and self-tanners have pretty much run pantyhose the way of the woolly mammoth.

But at the time, my decision didn't go over very well with my mother, who wanted that photo to look just so. (After much discussion, we eventually compromised on tights, which were physically forgiving but fell a little short aesthetically.)

Years later, I decided that the week before a major event was the ideal moment to cut off my hair É or at least all but an inch of it. While I thought the spare cut was a fabulous juxtaposition with my visually 'busy' Missoni dress, my date wasn't convinced.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that he'd taken on the business of damage control himself, explaining to people that my hair loss was the result of having been 'sick.'

I still have the dress.

But what if you find that your style is more than just visually offensive to those near and dear, and that, indeed, there are people who find your very presence toxic? Such is the case with the current battle between my makeup and a man.

Basically, it seems that whatever makes my eyes smolder makes his suffer. This scenario raises more than simply an itchy reaction. At what point in a relationship does a girl consider dumping her Mac cosmetics in favor of the man? Is there a way to look polished without sending your date into paroxysms?

These are important questions, because the modern woman puts more research into finding the perfect color palette than she does the perfect man. (And why not? 'Bark' typically lasts longer than Brad.) There's an image and an investment to consider.

One compromise may be hypoallergenic cosmetics. Portland dermatologist Walter Larsen recommends Clinique and Almay brands but says that you may have to shop around to see what works for you Ñ or the person you're in close proximity to.

'The most common cause of allergic reactions is perfume, followed by preservatives,' Larsen says. 'Basically, hypoallergenic products reduce the allergenicity by eliminating the perfume.'

A technique called 'patch testing' is the only sure method to determine what's rubbing one the wrong way.

Larsen says that his staff puts a battery of 50 to 60 chemicals on a patient's skin, including fragrances and preservatives. But, he says, people can do their own scratch test at home.

'Rub the suspected cosmetics on the bend of your arm for a week to 10 days to see if they cause a breakout,' he says. 'Then you can at least identify what (the allergen) is.'

Sorry, Larsen says that there is no such test for relationships Ñ unless you count the ability to compromise.

Contact Jill Spitznass at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .