Is there anything more disappointing than being excited about a product just to have it cause irritation or breakouts on your skin? A true tragedy especially if you don’t hang on to your receipt or buy from somewhere that doesn’t accept returns. Fortunately, you may not need to toss out products! Not every bump or red splotch is caused by your new product. “It depends if it’s really a breakout of acne or just a few bumps from irritation,” Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, founder of Capital Laser & Skin Care dermatology practice and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at George Washington University, tells Byrdie. She explains that if your blemish is small and painless to touch, wait it out for about two weeks to see if it disappears. However, if you are experiencing breakouts that are large, painful, and/or cystic, it’s time to return.
What else should you look out for, and how do you repair your skin after a negative reaction to a product? Let’s take a look.
There is a somewhat misunderstood phenomenon in skincare known as “purging.” This occurs when a new skincare product causes the formation of acne to speed up, which causes all of your clogged pores that are lurking under the surface to come up. Essentially it’s like a fast forward button for your acne.
The misunderstanding comes because some people say that any product can cause your skin to purge but that is not entirely true. “Generally it is seen with products that increase cell turnover such as a retinoid or hydroxy acids,” Sejal Shah, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York City tells Allure. “Because purging is thought to be due to increased cell turnover, it’s really going to bring preexisting microcomedones to the surface and they will turn into whiteheads, blackheads, papules, pustules, and cysts. Usually, it happens in areas that you usually get breakouts,” she adds.
How can you tell the difference between a reactive breakout vs, purging? “If you are experiencing breakouts in new areas this is more likely a reactive breakout,” Shah answers.
Dermatitis is a prevalent skincare condition, affecting about 3.5% of the population, or about 1 in every 30 people. It’s technically defined by dryness and recurring skin rashes that are characterized by one or more of these symptoms: redness, skin swelling, itching and dryness, crusting, flaking, blistering, cracking, oozing, or bleeding. Contact dermatitis is when this irritation is caused by a skin rash or irritation at a site where the skin has been in direct contact with an allergen (i.e. from a beauty product like skincare or fragrances). The most common irritants found in products are artificial fragrances and essential oils.
But it’s not just allergens that can cause a reaction! Applying certain combinations of ingredients can be irritating. For instance, don’t use niacinamide with vitamin C (as L-ascorbic acid). In the presence of UV light, niacinamide and L-ascorbic acid can form a 1:1 complex that turns the solution yellow, rendering both compounds useless, as well as hydrogen peroxide, a known pro-oxidative compound. Hydrogen peroxide can be irritating and sensitizing to the skin.
And using products in certain locations of the face can also be irritating. Heightened sensitivity is often noticed near or in the nasolabial folds, where there are differences in the lipid bilayers from the rest of the face, as well as a large number of sensory nerves. Another location that proves difficult for many persons is the area near the eyes, which is markedly thin from regular use and contains fewer oil-producing glands than the rest of the face.
How to Repair Your Skin
First things first, STOP USING THE PRODUCT. This seems obvious but some people believe that things have to “get worse before they get better,” but if you’re experiencing painful breakouts and irritation that is not the case. Next, splash your face with cold water or use a cold compress to soothe irritation. You can use over-the-counter 1 percent hydrocortisone cream to help stop the itch or an oral antihistamine.
While your skin is healing just stick to the very basics. A gentle cleanser and moisturizer. This can be tough for someone who is a skincare fanatic but I promise your skin will be better for it in the long run. Contact dermatitis, in particular, can really damage your skin’s natural barrier, so focusing on strengthening that is important.
If you find that your irritation is severe and not going away. Seek medical help ASAP!
You should ALWAYS do a patch test before going in with a new product. Do this by placing a small amount on the inside of your elbow and wait 48 to 72 hours. If you do not notice any redness, swelling, itching, or burning on that spot, it’s OK for you to use.