Bad Reaction From a Skincare Product: Identifying the Cause

Bad Reaction From a Skincare Product: Identifying the Cause

So. You tried a new product. Excitement gave way to dismay when, the next morning, or a couple of days later, or, in the case of some sneakier or more cumulative reactions, your face got mad. If you’d known that product was going to do that, you wouldn’t have gotten it, but now it’s too late.

What do you do?!

First of all, don’t stress! Product reactions happen to just about everyone who’s experimented with skincare. While they can be unpleasant, they’re not the end of the world. As long as it’s a run-of-the-mill reaction and not a symptom of a more serious underlying condition, and as long as you take care not to make it worse, the reaction will pass without lasting damage.

There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to a bad reaction to a product. In part one of this series, we’ll talk about identifying a reaction and identifying the cause of the reaction. In part two, we’ll start with the first steps to take to allow your skin to heal before moving on to additional ways to speed up the recovery process, what to do with the product that caused your reaction, and how to reduce your chances of similar reactions in the future.

Let’s get started!

Don’t stress! Product reactions happen to just about everyone who’s experimented with skincare. While they can be unpleasant, they’re not the end of the world.


What Does a Product Reaction Look Like?

Product reactions can look different from person to person, depending on your skin and the ingredient(s) that irritated it. In general, you’ll notice some unpleasant change to your skin. Some people develop itchy welts or an overall sensitization of their skin—“products that I’ve been using forever burn now” is a common complaint. Skin that feels hot and looks flushed may also be reacting to a product.

I tend to get eczema-like flare-ups of extremely dry, rough, scaly red patches along my jawline and sometimes up my cheeks. Those patches suck in layers of cream like there’s no tomorrow yet still remain dry and uncomfortable until the skin suddenly starts flaking off. The violent molting is always the last stage before my skin calms back down again.

fungal acne

Note that I’m not talking about breakouts here. While products that are unsuitable for the user’s skin do often cause breakouts, these are different in origin and treatment than the reactions I’m writing about here. There will be some overlap in how to figure out what’s causing the problem, but breakouts are best addressed differently.


Identify the Cause of the Reaction So You Can Stop Using It

A reaction (or breakout caused by a product that’s incompatible with your skin) won’t begin to heal until you remove the cause, so figuring out which product angered your skin will be your first step.

About a million times online and at least once in my book, I advise everyone to introduce new products to their routine one at a time, waiting for at least a few days and ideally a week or longer before adding anything else that’s unfamiliar. That way, if a product causes a reaction, you know exactly which one it was: the last one you added to your routine. Stop using it immediately.

bad reaction from product

If you recently added more than one unfamiliar product to your routine, you’ll have a harder time figuring out the culprit, but you still can. Take out one of the new products from your routine. Wait a few days and see if your skin calms down at all. If it does, you’ve probably isolated the problem and can move on to healing the reaction. If the reaction doesn’t begin to subside, move on to the next new product. Take that out as well and wait again. Repeat until you find the offending addition to your routine.

If you haven’t added any new products to your routine, consider whether you’ve changed anything else lately that might be affecting your skin. New hair products, laundry detergent or dryer sheets, or anything else that comes into contact with your face could cause a reaction. As with beauty products, discontinue use of the new thing and see if your skin begins to recover.

Finally, if none of the above apply to you, you can try eliminating the existing products in your routine one at a time, as I recommended you do with newer items. Brands sometimes quietly reformulate existing products and may add in ingredients that don’t agree with your skin. Skin sometimes also develops intolerances to things it previously handled just fine, much the same way that a food or environmental allergy can develop at any point in our lives. (As someone who never suffered from seasonal allergies until my mid-30s, I can confidently say that allergies are dumb and make no sense.)

Of course, there’s also a greater than zero chance that your reaction may not be caused by anything you’ve put on your skin at all. If you can’t figure out what you’re using that could be bothering your skin, or if the reaction is very severe or unusual in some other way, seek medical attention if you can. Your primary care doctor or dermatologist may be able to help. This article deals with non-emergency product reactions, so if you realize that you’re experiencing something more mysterious or more severe, consulting with a medical professional should be your next step.

For reactions that you’ve determined most likely are caused by a product you’ve been using, stay tuned for part two to learn how to deal with them!


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