How To Avoid A Total Skin-Care Disaster

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As I've told you guys already, I had a terrible reaction to a new product/stress/the change of seasons this fall. It was so bad that after having normal skin for years, my skin now seems to be sensitive for life, reacting to anything from lack of moisture to new products with a full-on rage (read: dryness, redness, and blemishes) that I've never seen before.
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Since my profession prevents me from avoiding trying new products ever again, I decided to do some research into how exactly one can integrate a new treatment product (with active ingredients such as retinol, glycolic acid, or benzoyl peroxide) into one's skin-care routine without everything going totally haywire. I spoke to Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, co-director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery in Washington, DC, who provided pracitcal tips on how to avoid a total complexion meltdown. Read on for her expert advice — and here's hoping that you never have to deal with a finicky visage ever again!
Dr. Tanzi's first piece of advice is to approach new products gingerly, and integrate them into your routine as slowly as possible. In other words, don't march into your local department store, snap up a full anti-aging line, and start using all of the products together. "In general, I recommend bringing in products one by one," says the good doctor. "If you start a whole new line, and then have a reaction, you'll never be able to figure out which product or ingredient is wreaking havoc on your skin." For most treatment products, Dr. Tanzi advises starting by applying it at night, every other night, for at least two weeks — this is how long skin typically takes to get accustomed to a new product. The exception: Prescription retinol, which is a typically irritating product, explains Dr. Tanzi. With retinol, some dryness and irritation is pretty much expected until the patient's skin adjusts to the medication (again, about two weeks).
If you're experiencing major irritation from applying the product every other night (or, if you've been prescribed a strong product and know that you have typically sensitive skin), Dr. Tanzi recommends applying the product as a mask for one to two hours, and rinsing off before bed, rather than leaving the product on all night. Another option is to apply your treatment product after, rather than before, your moisturizer, in order to lessen the amount of active ingredients that are absorbed into your skin. If, on the other hand, you apply the product every other night with no negative symptoms, Dr. Tanzi advises that you can start applying the product every night to get the full effect.
An important aspect of this conversation, according to Dr. Tanzi, is the difference between normal irritation, which subsides as the skin becomes used to the active ingredients in a product, and allergic reactions, which can occur as soon as someone applies a new product. Dr. Tanzi hypothesizes that when I had my terrible reaction after trying that fancy glycolic-acid cream, I was having a full-on allergic reaction, which does occur in a small population of people that try glycolic acid products." So, lesson learned: If you experience extreme redness, hives, or a rash from a product soon after trying it for the first time, you should cease using the product right away — this is one example of a time when pain does not equal beauty.
First Aid Beauty Skin Rescue Blemish Patrol Pads, $30, available at Sephora; Bare Escentuals BareMinerals Biolucent Mineral Brightening Treatment, $55, available at Beauty.com.
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