How to Recover After Using a Product Your Sensitive Skin Doesn’t Agree With

Photo: Getty Images/MangoStar_Studio
After months spent working to get your skin to a good place, having everything suddenly blow up in your face after trying out a new makeup or skincare product is the worst feeling ever. Trust me, I know. Whether it causes a breakout or irritation, your skin doesn't always just bounce back to normal. Sometimes it can take days, weeks, or months to undo facial skin irritation or breakouts caused by something your skin didn't agree with. But a dermatologist says there's no need to worry.

"The beauty industry is always trying to sell us something new. It's how they stay in business! But in reality, less is more and the best skin routine is simple," says board-certified dermatologist Caren Campbell, MD. "While it’s frustrating when breakouts or irritation happens, they’re usually temporary and taking away the cause usually helps resolve things quickly."

Experts In This Article

So say goodbye to whatever caused your skin woes and listen up, because these are all the steps you'll need to recover from a skin disaster in record time.

If a new product causes a breakout

Acne can be caused by a variety of different factors, including hormonal influences, excess oil production, bacterial overgrowth, and clogged pores from dead skin cells or topical agents, says Dr. Campbell.

"In the case of acne triggered by a product, the clogging of the pore is likely the primary cause," she says. "The clogged pore creates a modus for oil and bacteria to accumulate, which then sends inflammatory cells to the site leading to more cystic, inflamed acne lesions. Clogged pores are called comedones, so looking for products that are 'non-comedogenic' is usually an indicator they are much less likely to cause acne."

your in-the-moment fix:

Have to leave your house, like, now? Don't pop, pick at, or mess with any new pimples. Instead, go on a quick pharmacy run

"An at-home treatment like squeezing the acne can leave you at risk for scar formation. I recommend Acnomel, a topical agent available over-the-counter that contains sulfur and resorcinol as a spot treatment to expedite the resolution of the acne," says Dr. Campbell. "Ideally, you would visit your dermatologist and get a cortisone injection for more cystic lesions or have white heads treated with acne surgery—aka squeezing out the material clogging the pore."

Your long-term solution:

Aside from never using the product that caused your acne ever again, Dr. Campbell says a good long-term solution to clear up the breakout is sticking to a good treatment plan.

"Stop the pore clogging agent to prevent the formation of new acne lesions," she says. "To treat the active outbreak, benzoyl peroxide washes like Neutrogena Clear Pore can be helpful. Benzoyl peroxide serves as a 'keratolytic,' meaning it removes dead skin cells from the pore. If acne isn’t a normal occurrence for you, the benzoyl peroxide wash daily and Acnomel spot treatment should be sufficient."

If you've been struggling with acne for a longer period of time, Dr. Campbell says starting a retinoid would be advised. "It takes six weeks for retinoids to start working, which is why this is best reserved for those with a more chronic form of acne," she says. "Differin is a retinoid that's now available over-the-counter."

Here's a closer look at a dermatologist's skin-care routine:

If a new product causes facial skin irritation

Maybe your new makeup or skincare product didn't cause acne and instead left you super irritated. The bad news is it's not always easy to figure out the cause of facial skin irritation. Because of that, Dr. Campbell recommends an elimination diet for your skin.

"A skin diet is always recommended when a new product causes irritation. It means taking away all products and slowly adding them back one by one a few days apart so that the product causing the issue can be identified," she says. "Unfortunately, once your skin starts experiencing irritation from one product, it becomes primed to react to others, so taking a break is advised, if possible, from most products aside from a gentle cleanser, fragrance-free moisturizer, and mineral sunscreen."

your in-the-moment fix:

If you're red and itchy after the application of a product, Dr. Campbell says you're probably dealing with an allergy. "This is best calmed with the application of a steroid cream like hydrocortisone, but keep in mind that long-term use of steroid creams on the face can actually lead to acne. You can also take an antihistamine—like Zyrtec or Allegra—which help calm the allergy," she says.

Burning, red skin, on the other hand, is most likely an irritant dermatitis. "Hydrocortisone can also be helpful, but limiting your use to two weeks, twice a day, is advised," she says. If you’re still having issues, Dr. Campbell recommends a visit to your dermatologist.

Your long-term solution:

If you really want to get to the bottom of a new facial skin irritation, it might be time to undergo patch testing. Especially because Dr. Campbell says new allergies can develop at any time—even with something you've used for years. Annoying, right? "Patch testing can be performed to identify the exact ingredient in the product. It involves applying stickers with the most common allergens to your back for two days, then when they're removed, your dermatologist can identify if an allergy developed at the site of the allergen," she says.

You can perform an at-home patch test, too. "Just put a small dab of your products on your inner arm one by one, then cover each with a Band-Aid. Leave them on for 24 hours, then remove," she says. "If you develop a small red rash at the site of the application, you know to avoid that product. This doesn’t identify the exact ingredient, but it can help narrow things down. In office patch testing is more specific."

Having to deal with skin issues that come about from products you're using is undoubtedly frustrating. But with these tips, you'll be feeling like yourself again in no time—and can hopefully avoid any problems from popping up in the future.


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