8 Fast Solutions For Your Worst Skin-Care Screw-Ups

Our favorite derms are forever waxing on about how healthy skin is a long-term investment. And we get it — but we’re also human. Even the most dedicated among us are guilty of slipping up and getting too enthusiastic with a new facial peel, going postal on a zit, or crashing before cleansing. (Whiskey makes us so sleepy.)

The good news: “If you take care of your skin most of the time, the odd mistake is usually straightforward to treat,” says Amy Taub, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. Here, pros share the fast-acting products and tricks that can (almost) erase our worst skin mishaps.

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The screw-up: You over-exfoliated. Maybe your rationale went like this: If scrubbing daily makes skin glow, I’ll look like a freakin’ disco ball if I do it twice a day. Despite the benefits of exfoliating, overdoing anything that sloughs away dead skin cells — including using sonic cleansing brushes, acid peels, face scrubs, and microdermabrasion treatments — strips the skin of its barrier.
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The fix: Stop exfoliating for a week. Then, get obsessed with moisturizing. “When you’ve buffed away the outer layers, a cream with hyaluronic acid will attract and hold moisture in your skin until it grows back,” says Doris Day, MD, a clinical associate professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. As soon as you slather on a moisturizer, your skin will feel softer and less irritated. “But don’t stop — keep it up two or three times a day for at least a week,” says Dr. Day.
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The screw-up: You picked a zit. Performing an extraction on your face in front of the magnifying mirror feels so cathartic — for about 33 seconds. Then you step back, survey your handiwork, and reality sets in. Whenever you pick, scratch, or squeeze a pimple, you introduce bacteria and cause injury, all of which makes the spot angrier, longer-lasting, and more prone to scarring.
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The fix: Disinfect the area with a benzoyl peroxide lotion, which fights acne-causing bacteria, and dab on a zit cream with salicylic acid, like Clearasil Ultra Rapid Action Vanishing Treatment Cream, which helps prevent further blockage. Over the next few days, keep the spot hydrated — and feel free to cover it up with concealer. If the manhandling has produced a bloody mess, treat the area with an antiseptic like Neosporin at night.
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The screw-up: You didn't spot-test a new product — and your skin isn't happy. When your face starts itching, stinging, or burning, you most likely have a case of irritant contact dermatitis. This often happens when your skin is already injured “by something like over-exfoliating or windburn,” says Dr. Day. Less common, but also possible, is allergic contact dermatitis, when you have an allergy to a specific ingredient.
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The fix: Act fast. Clean your skin right away, and apply a cooling compress, says Dr. Taub. Treat any remaining irritation by gently dabbing a 1% hydrocortisone ointment on the area twice a day. If you’re itching or notice angry red blotches, take an antihistamine, such as Benadryl, too. See a dermatologist if the reaction persists for over two or three days: “It’s really helpful to bring a picture of the ingredient list to the visit, as it helps us identify the problem much faster,” says Dr. Taub.
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The screw-up: You forgot to apply sunscreen — one time! Right off the bat, we’re just going to say — this one is a big dermatology no-no. Maybe you missed a spot...or believed your BFF when she said a base tan is a good idea. (It’s not, ever.) Either way, it’s damage. The kind that turns you into a leather boot. The kind that makes your skin look red, feel prickly, and hurt like hell. The kind we, decidedly, do not like.
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The fix: The key to recovering from sunburn is to reduce inflammation as much as possible. Popping an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen is a good start. You can also soak a cloth in cold milk (stick with us here — the proteins in milk help calm your skin), and apply it to your face for several minutes at a time. In the initial days post-burn, you’ll want to avoid any exfoliants or active ingredients that could potentially irritate your skin further. Once the redness has fully subsided (and you’re no longer peeling), add a dark-spot treatment serum to your regimen. It will help to prevent freckles or sunspots that may pop up in the aftermath and fade existing ones. This one features a skin-lightening peptide that helps stop pigment from forming, thereby preventing future damage.
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The screw-up: You slept in your makeup. Scientists have known for a while that our skin heals and regenerates while we rest at night. Unfortunately, when we leave our skin marinating in its own debris (gross, we know, sorry), that doesn’t happen. Instead, pores become clogged, which can lead to breakouts‚ and skin gets dry and sensitive in patches.
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The fix: Get yourself to a sink and wash your face — twice. The first time gets rid of the makeup, and the second cleanses a little deeper, says Dr. Day. Go for a gentle, foaming formula if your skin is oily or acne-prone, and a cream cleanser if you're drier. If there are pimples forming, apply a thin layer of benzoyl peroxide. Then, moisturize as usual, and — if your skin feels really tight — smooth on a face oil. And then, for at least one day, either skip makeup or opt for a tinted moisturizer and concealer where needed.
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The screw-up: You ate too much salt, and now your face is puffy. Salt and booze are such a happy combination — especially on a Friday night. Unfortunately, too many salty snacks cause water retention, which makes your eyes puffy and your clothes feel tight.
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The fix: Steep two regular tea bags in hot water, let them cool, and then place them over your closed eyes. Sit back for about 10 minutes and let them do their work. Another old-school fix: cucumber slices. “They have astringent properties, which can reduce puffiness,” says Dr. Day. If you’re in a rush, swipe on a light layer of cooling eye gel. Drink loads of water all day, skip salty foods, and squeeze in a hot yoga session. “The more you flush out the salt, the better your eyes and face will look,” says Dr. Taub.
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The screw-up: You drank wine, and your skin is turning just as red. Chances are, this isn’t the first time you sipped a Bordeaux and turned into old Saint Nick. For rosacea-sufferers, certain foods or even a single glass of wine can make skin flushed and inflamed. Basically anything that turns up the heat is a no-go — including the steam coming off your morning coffee. You need a quick solution.
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The fix: Cool down — fast. “Sit in front of a fan, or use an ice pack on the flushed areas,” says Dr. Taub, stressing that the key here is to lower the heat so blood vessels constrict. Sensitive-skin formulas with ceramides will boost the skin’s moisture barrier, while antioxidants soothe inflammation.
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The screw-up: You forgot to apply moisturizer before makeup. It happens — and once it does, you might not want to start over with your entire base. But layering foundation over dry skin not only makes it look blotchy, but limits the coverage you get throughout the day.
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The fix: “Mist a water spray like Evian or Avène over your makeup,” says Dr. Day. “It will hydrate skin and set your makeup.” Makeup artist Tim Quinn also recommends dipping a brush in moisturizer or cream and lightly stippling over the dry areas.
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