We’ve all been there. You spend months getting your skin to a relatively good place, spend way too much on products to get it there and then use one thing – just one tiny new product – and it completely throws off the entire balance of our skin.
Whether it’s a retinol that completely dried it out, a serum that irritated it or a moisturiser that clogged up your pores, it can be an incredibly frustrating experience when our skincare turns on us, and even more so for those with sensitive skin as the tiniest thing seems to send it over the edge.
We’ve compiled a cheat sheet to help all you sensitive skin gals out there and show you what to do next time you have a flare up. Whether your skin gets so dry it feels like a mask or so irritated you look like you’re permanently blushing, we’ve got you.
Figure out what caused the irritation
Even if you started using a new product. Because it may not be the product itself, it may be the product combined with one of your other products that gave you a reaction. Dermatologists call this stage the ‘skin diet’, because you go cold turkey on your usual routine of products in order to isolate the problem. Adding them back in one by one with a few days in between each one can help you figure out where it all went wrong.
It’s also about giving your skin time to recover. You may have compromised the skin’s protective barrier and it will need time, hydration and the right products to heal in order to protect your skin properly again.
Be sure that any products you’re adding back in are gentle and as natural as possible, starting with gentle cleansers, then a fragrance-free, sensitive-skin-approved moisturiser, and finally mineral sunscreen.
If you have no idea what caused the flare up, you could call your pharmacy or dermatologist to organise a patch test to try and isolate the product or ingredient that caused the issue. Alternatively, if you’re sure it’s one of your face products, you could do a home test by using tiny amount of the product on your inner arm, labelling them, and seeing which one comes back as the irritant.
How to tell if it’s an allergy or an irritant
If the face becomes red or itchy or swollen, it could be an allergy to one of your products. Doctors recommend using hydrocortisone, a steroid cream, but be sure to ask your pharmacist, dermatologist or doctor first, as prolonged use of steroid creams can cause acne. They may alternatively prescribe an antihistamine instead.
However, if there’s a stinging sensation and your skin flares up red, it’s most likely what dermatologists call irritant dermatitis. Again, hydrocortisone can be useful here, but it’s important to check with pharmacist or dermatologist before putting anything on the skin so it doesn’t damage it further in this delicate and sensitive state.
What to do with acid or retinol-damaged skin
We’ve all been there. We get a salicylic wash and maybe someone recommends a new retinol or you try out a super strong vitamin C serum – or maybe all three of these things at the same time – and you wake up with your skin raw, flaking, red and super painful.
It’s a horrible experience and your skin feels like sandpaper for ages afterwards. Usually these treatments break down dead skin cells to help with everything from dullness to wrinkles to discolouration, but when we erode the top layer of our skin too drastically it can lead to super sensitive and painful skin.
What you need to do next is cut out any harsh ingredients in your routine. That means any acids, anything with a high chemical content – just prioritise super gentle cleanser and thick, sensitive-skin suitable moisturiser. Try find something skin repairing from La Roche Posay or Avéne, both of which have great options for inflamed, sensitive skin.
Skin can take up to 28 days to heal and regenerate, so be patient with it and stay away from any exfoliators, chemical or physical, for at least that period of time. We know it’s tempting, wanting to flake off all that dying, dry skin. But trust us, it’s better left alone to heal right now. The flaky skin should be gone within a week, so definitely lay off your retinols and acids for at least two weeks, just to give your skin time to recover.