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Adverse Skin Reactions & How To Treat It

Adverse Skin Reactions & How To Treat It

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From time to time, even if you take care of your skin and treat it like the sensitive little baby it is, something can flare up. And when skin gets angry, it can seem like everything you do just aggravates the situation. But there are some tips that can help you calm the stormy waters of an adverse complexion and help you return to normality once more. 

Oh, and just a disclaimer—this doesn’t refer to an actual allergic reaction, which can be dangerous and require necessary medical attention. What we mean when we talk of a reaction is that annoying (but manageable) red, burning, painful effect your skin can take on when it’s simply been overworked. We aren’t doctors (in case you hadn’t gathered).

Clean & Cool

The first thing you want to do when your skin is flaring up is to make sure it’s free of debris, makeup, and dirt. Any impurities on the skin can only exacerbate the situation, so getting that stuff off ASAP is key. The problem is that many cleansers are simply too harsh for skin that’s already feeling irritated. But there are some specific formulas on the market that are designed for such situations. 

Kiehl’s Centella Cleanser and Clarins Extra Comfort Anti-Pollution Cleansing Cream are among the best for these painful times. They’re very simple, non-aggravating formulas, which remove dirt, oil, makeup, and grime, but don’t strip the skin. They also don’t have classically irritating ingredients like fragrance.

an image to wash your skin to prevent an adverse skin reaction.
Becky Fantham

With these, it’s a really good idea to use a soft and non-abrasive washcloth. Something made of microfiber like the Makeup Eraser (or one of its many dupes) feels delightfully fluffy and smooth, while also supercharging your cleanser to ensure you’re squeaky clean. Soak it in cool water and apply over irritated areas over longer periods of time if skin is hot to the touch—it will feel amazing.

Spray Moisture

You don’t want irritated skin to dry out, but applying a heavy cream can feel cloying, and can end up making skin feel even worse. A great way to add moisture to the skin without building up a heavy layer is a hydrating spray. If your skin is feeling cross, keeping one on hand to mist throughout the day can help calm the situation—plus, the cool mist feels totally fantastic.

A classic in the category is the Heritage Rosewater & Glycerin. Of all the many hydrating facial sprays I’ve tried, this one packs the biggest punch in terms of moisture. It also smells like total heaven, and the minimal ingredient list means there are no nasty (potentially irritating) surprises. 

Another great spray, particularly if you’re feeling super reactive, is the S.W. Basics Lavender Hydrosol. Lavender is known for its calming properties, and this spray is perfect for soothing an adverse complexion back to its former chilled-out glory. It also smells fabulous.

Soothing Ingredients

Oatmeal is well known for its soothing properties. In fact, many doctors recommend an oat bath for skin that’s undergoing a painful eczema flare-up. But if that sounds too messy and annoying for you (and let’s face it, it does) then a great alternative is the First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Oatmeal Mask. This delivers a soothing dose of oatmeal to adverse skin, plus does the work of repairing and protecting your complexion from future issues.

Witch hazel is also a good ingredient for irritation—though those with drier skin types should use it sparingly. You can soak a cotton round in pure witch hazel and apply it to a patch of reactive skin for a cooling, soothing effect. It also effectively cleanses and manages germs, which can minimize the potential for infection.

If you have a patch of irritation that just isn’t going away, though, it can be good to look for a medicated hydrocortisone cream. While they aren’t a long-term solution (as they shouldn’t be used too consistently), being able to stop itching and pain while calming redness can be a real lifesaver for adverse reactions.

In a total pinch, it can also be useful to take an oral antihistamine. If you believe your skin is reacting to something you’ve eaten or applied (rather than just flaring up out of nowhere) they can act as the first defense against any further symptoms down the line.

See Also

Press Pause

When skin is irritated, you shouldn’t treat it like you would normally. This means you may need to reconsider your skincare routine for a little while—or at least until the reaction has passed. There are a few classic ingredients that skin normally loves, but can cause massive issues when you’re feeling more sensitive. Anything containing acids, retinol, benzoyl peroxide, or vitamin C is all best avoided during the reactive period. On top of this, it’s a good idea to put a pause on makeup


There’s one thing you don’t want to skimp on—particularly if you’re in the midst of a reaction. That’s SPF. During a moment of irritation, your skin will be more sensitive to the sun than ever. The problem is that many SPF products are not formulated with sensitive skin in mind. Many sunscreen ingredients can be harsh or even painful on already angry skin.

treating your adverse skin is more important when the sun is out.

But there are two which are ideal for this exact situation. The first is the Purito Centella Green Level Safe Sun SPF. It’s super emollient and hydrating, feeling almost like a moisturizing primer, but has a super high SPF. It’s super cooling and calming, and frankly a joy to apply. 

The other great option is the Dr. Jart Cicapair Color-Correcting Treatment. This one looks green, but turns a light peach upon application, helping to minimize any redness in the complexion—which is perfect if you’re feeling a little self-conscious. But even better than this is the fact that it contains SPF 30, so you’re both perfected and protected from any adverse reactions.


The final stage of any skin reaction journey is reflection. Look back and try to pinpoint the cause of all this drama. Did you introduce a new product, or overdo it with an old one? Knowing exactly what went wrong can help you to prevent adverse skin reactions in the future. And if you do have a product you suspect is the culprit? Well, before reintroducing it to your precious face, make sure to do a patch test on the delicate skin on the inside of your elbow. This can help prevent your next flare-up—or at least make sure it’s better hidden!

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