Q: I recently tried a new anti-aging serum and ended up with red, blotchy patches on my cheeks. Does this mean I’m allergic to it?
MyChelle Dermaceuticals licensed esthetician Catie Wiggy responds:
If you’ve never experienced a reaction to a skincare product, consider yourself lucky. It happens to many of us. Irritated skin can be caused by a number of things, including medications, topical irritants, infections or immune system disorders. When an allergen is responsible for triggering an immune system response, you may suffer from something as minimal as a little itch or as severe as a full-blown allergic reaction. Yikes!
When skin reacts to something cosmetic, it’s considered one of two things: irritant contact dermatitis or allergic contact dermatitis. It can be hard to distinguish between the two types, and to make matter worse, sometimes you can have a reaction that’s a combination of both.
Allergic contact dermatitis involves your immune system, and symptoms include redness, inflammation, itching and sometimes hives. Your skin can appear very inflamed and feel sensitive. You can experience an allergic contact dermatitis reaction on any part of your body, but it normally appears on the face, neck and ears. What should you do? Stop using the product(s) right away and call your doctor.
Irritant dermatitis is dangerous because it can cause long-term damage to the skin. Symptoms of intense burning and stinging can occur. The skin can appear red and irritated. In severe cases, skin blisters with pus can appear, especially if you’ve been scratching. The reaction and spot of irritation may appear anywhere the product was placed. What should you do? Again, stop using the product(s) right away and call your doctor.
Keep in mind, not all reactions are bad reactions. It’s OK to feel a little tingling with an exfoliator or to show a flushed pink color after applying a mask. What you don’t want is swelling, burning, bumps or noticeable irritation. If that happens, the most important thing you can do is stop using the product(s) causing the reaction. This alone may fix the problem, but making an appointment to see your doctor is a good idea too. In many cases, over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream can help ease inflammation and reduce itching; but in some cases, you’ll need a prescription-strength cream to address the problem.
Typically, the main culprits in skincare-related skin reactions are artificial fragrances and preservatives. Fragrances contain drying chemicals and synthetic irritants, while mainstream preservatives such as parabens, Imidazolidinyl, diazolidinyl and formaldehyde have all been linked to skin allergies. Look for products that are unscented or fragrance free to help reduce your chances of experiencing a reaction.
If reacting to products is something you feel happens frequently, consider using the MyChelle Pure Harmony Sensitive line which is super gentle yet inspiringly effective. Specifically created to ease inflammation, reduce redness and minimize irritation, our Pure Harmony products restore the skin’s resistance to environmental aggressors while replenishing vital nutrients and reducing puffiness and swelling.
Catie Wiggy is Innovative Programs Manager for MyChelle Dermaceuticals. She has been working in the skincare industry for over 10 years as a makeup artist and licensed esthetician. She holds several certifications in esthetics and has hands-on experience with chemical peels, microdermabrasions, acne management and anti-aging treatments.