Summer Skin Care

The Common, Irritation-Inducing Mistake Derms Say You’re Making With Super-Sweaty Skin

Photo: Getty Images / Werayuth Tessrimuang / EyeEm
Whenever I'm really sweaty—whether I've just finished an intense workout or gone outside on a sweltering day—I notice that my skin is more sensitive. Even after I've showered, the skin-care products I use every day tend to sting a bit more than usual, and I'm left with an angry complexion. Marisa Garshick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, says that's because sweat is an irritant and can temporarily sensitize your skin. So if you use products that are too strong too soon after you sweat, they're more likely to cause irritation.

"Sweat in and of itself is not bad for you—sweat is normal. There's a reason you sweat, and it provides physiologic benefits," says Dr. Garshick. But if it's sitting on your skin too long, the sodium, urea, and lactate in sweat can cause irritation. "By virtue of having some irritation on the skin, it can be more susceptible to sensitivity. If the skin feels a little bit more reactive or in a bit of a heightened state of reactivity, it's possible that your routine can be more irritating than typical."

Although it seems counterintuitive, the solve for this does not involve getting your skin squeaky clean.

"We want to make sure that the skin has undergone some type of cleansing, but you do not need to make sure every last bit of residue is off," says Dr. Garshick. "It's often best to stick with more gentle cleansers that are effectively going to get rid of build-up, oil, dirt,  debris, and things like that sitting, but will still be gentle on the skin." That also means you should massage the cleanser onto your face with care—don't vigorously scrub.

Dr. Garshick is a big fan of the CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser ($15 to $18).

“This gentle cleanser is a great option, especially for someone with dry skin, as it contains ceramides to help strengthen and support the skin barrier as well as hyaluronic acid to boost moisture,” says Dr. Garshick. “As a result, it effectively cleanses without stripping the skin of its natural oils, so the skin will still feel nourished even after cleansing.”

Once you're clean and ready to apply the rest of your routine, be sure your skin is fully dry before going in with any potentially-irritating ingredients, like glycolic acid or retinoids. Not only will this help you get a more precise application, but it will also prevent the active from feeling too strong.

"When your skin is wet, it can make things more likely to permeate, which can make things also a little bit more irritating on the skin," says Dr. Garshick. "You don't have to wait 20 minutes, but just making sure that the skin is dry before applying certain active ingredients can be helpful, especially if you are experiencing irritation. It's not only going to help ensure proper efficacy, but it will reduce any associated irritation that goes along with it."

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