We've all been there: After hours of Internet research on the most effective acne treatments or anti-aging creams and picking the ones with the most positive reviews, your skin doesn't like what you've chosen to slather on it.
If you're experiencing irritation such as redness, bumps, itchiness, pain, or dryness after using common active ingredients like salicylic acid for breakouts or a retinoid for fine lines, there's a few factors that could be causing it.
"True allergies to these ingredients are rare," says dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner, Director of Cosmetic & Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. "Genetic differences explain why some people experience irritation and others can tolerate certain ingredients. Also, higher concentrations of the active ingredients, using more product, and more frequent application all can increase your risk of skin reactions."
To prevent irritation, Dr. Zeichner recommends applying a moisturizer first to prime the skin and hydrate and protect the barrier. "Look for moisturizers with skin repairing ingredients like ceramides and colloidal oatmeal," he says. We like Aveeno's Skin Relief Intense Moisture Repair Cream ($10; target.com).
Along with moisturizing, it's also important to use a gentle cleanser that helps moisturize skin while removing dirt and oil. This can help minimize the risk of discomfort when you're about to use a product with a potentially irritating ingredient. "Washing the face with harsh cleansers can strip the skin of essential oils and actually damage the skin barrier, increasing your risk of skin irritation," explains Dr. Zeichner. His pick: Dove's tried-and-true Beauty Bar ($1; target.com).
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Dr. Zeichner says that a few other ways you can prevent irritation is to switch to a formula with a lower concentration of the active ingredient, change the quantity of what you're applying, and switch to using the product every other day.