How to reset your skin after a bad allergic reaction to a skincare product! Breakouts, dry skin, burning…

I just turned 30 and usually have fairly soft, clear combination skin, except will have breakouts on my forehead /hairline before my period. I recently bought a facial cleanser and toner that seems to have destroyed and devastated my skin. After two days, I had a bad breakout all over my cheeks and jaw. My skin has also turned dry, crepey, scaly, red and wrinkly. I look like I have aged ten years, and my skin is so tight and uncomfortable its hard to focus on anything else. Any oil or moisturizer I put on won't even penetrate my skin, and stings. So my skin remains broken out, and dry at the same time. What can I do to moisturize my skin without breaking it out more? Should I ignore the breakouts and focus on getting moisture back, or wait for the breakout to heal before dealing with the moisture issue? It has been this way for a week, does not seem to be getting better, just more pimples every day in places I never get breakouts. Help!

Ok…….don’t we know this happens a lot!  Almost everyone I talk to will confirm at least one bad reaction or allergic reaction to a skin care product. I had one about 3 weeks ago, testing products on myself from a new line. After 2-3 days, my skin was dry, irritated and dull. If this happens, and you had a much worse reaction, you have to go back and reboot your skin.

Step 1: Deal with the Allergic Reaction/Irritant Reaction

Deal with the allergic or irritant reaction first. There’s a difference between being allergic to a product, and being sensitive to it. If you’re interested, you can read more on this in my article about skin sensitivity here. Despite whether your bad reaction is truly because you’re allergic to something or just sensitive, here is the key to getting better: you must let your skin REST! When the barrier function of the skin gets disturbed by a rash or allergic reaction, many products that used to be fine may now cause irritation.  You probably will be able to go back to those products once your skin has completely healed which can often take a month or more.

  • Stop all products except a very bland cleanser and moisturizer.  If you have things like this, great!  If not, try Cerave liquid cleanser and the Cerave moisturizer that is sold in the little tub (the cream). You can grab these at most drugstores. Use the moisturizer 3-6 times a day or any time your skin feels tight or itchy.
  • You may need to even skip the sunscreen for now. But wear a hat to still protect your face when you’re outside.
  • You can use hydrocortisone 1% once or twice a day for 2-4 days.  After that, STOP!  It will make your skin worse in the long run, if you keep using it.
  • It can take a month sometimes for your skin to truly feel normal.
  • If you’re not seeing signs of improving after 3-4 days, you may be infected and should see your doctor.

Step 2: Deal with the Breakouts

  • Sadly, most acne medications will irritate already irritated skin, which is why you can’t use these until you’ve done step one.
  • Consider that you might  need a dermatologist if this is a chronic problem.
  • If the acne is mild, a good aesthetician may also be helpful.

What to Remember when Trying New Skincare Products

When you try a new skincare product, test is for two or three days in just one spot with a cotton pad. Somewhere discreet. This way you’ll get a read on how your skin will react to it, before applying it all over. This avoids big, and devastating allergic reactions like the one you mentioned. If you have more reactions, call your dermatologist and ask for something called “patch testing” to help identify chemicals in skincare products you are allergic to.

I have sensitive skin, as I mentioned. So I do what I advise my patients to do when buying new skincare products and makeups: look for these ingredients, which you should try and avoid. These ingredients are big culprits in causing skin sensitivity issues:

  • Propylene glycol
  • Parabens
  • Alcohol,  if its in the top 5 ingredients
  • Fragrances

If you’re looking for makeup recommendations for sensitive skin, see my blog reply to another reader about it here.

Hope this helps,   Dr. I



Dr. Brandith Irwin, MD

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Hi, I’m Dr. Irwin. I believe that consumers deserve a medically trained and unbiased skin care advocate.

  • All our content is written and researched by myself.
  • My medical office in Seattle has treated thousands of patients for 15+ years.
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