By Amanda Etkind
Updated Apr 24, 2017 @ 6:30 pm
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If you’re anything like us, testing the latest powders, serums, and face creams makes your heart skip a beat, but sometimes, slathering on that new moisturizer you were oh so eager to try doesn’t go according to plan. Instead of glowing, hydrated skin your face turns into a blotchy, itchy, and sensitized mess. While it’s clear you had a bad reaction, you’re unsure of how to remedy the situation. To arm you with an arsenal of knowledge, we’ve talked to the experts to find out everything you need to know about how to deal when you have a negative reaction to a beauty product.

There’s a Difference Between an Irritation and an Allergic Reaction

There are two main types of skin reactions you want to look out for—irritation reactions and allergic reactions. “An irritant reaction is caused when a product is directly caustic or burns the skin, leading to immediate harm to the skin’s barrier,” says N.Y.C. dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner. This type of reaction can result from using an acid or a scrub that is too harsh for your face. “In the case of allergic reactions, the skin becomes red, inflamed, and scaly,” informs Dr. Zeichner. While allergic reactions take time to develop, and generally occur after repeated exposure, irritation reactions are normally instant.

The Common Offenders

While sensitivity to a product is totally an individual experience, there are some common ingredients to be wary of.“Fragrances, preservatives, and antioxidants like vitamin C and retinols are common allergens that cause reactions to the skin,” says San Diego dermatologist Dr. Melanie Palm.

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What To Do Right After The Reaction Occurs

If you have a moderate to severe reaction, it’s best to immediately see a board-certified dermatologist for a diagnosis and treatment. If your reaction is mild, Dr. Zeichner recommends to stop using the product immediately, wash the area with water, and then apply an over the counter hydrocortisone 1% ointment to the affected area twice daily for up to two weeks. “While an ointment may be more greasy than a cream, it will have fewer preservatives and be more gentle on the skin,” explains Dr. Zeichner. If you’re also experiencing itchiness, Dr. Palm suggests taking over-the-counter anti-histamine, like Benadryl, Claritin, or Zyrtec. If the rash doesn’t improve after two weeks, make sure to visit a board-certified dermatologist for an evaluation.

What To Avoid Doing in The Following Days

Skip using any abrasive scrubs, peels, toners, and acne treatments, and opt for a gentle cleanser and moisturizer. Dr. Palm recommends using basic cleansers and moisturizers from brands like CeraVe or Cetaphil as they’re bland, and won’t cause further irritation. Look for moisturizers with hyaluronic acid and ceramides, as those ingredients help to keep the aggravated area hydrated, and repair the barrier of the skin. “Once the inflammation goes away, which is what the topical steroid treats, the skin is eventually going to peel, and be dry,” informs Dr. Palm. It’s also recommended to steer clear of physical activity and sun exposure while healing. “If something is already red and angry, you’re at risk of further agitating the affected area with sunscreen, sweat and an elevated heart rate.”