What To Do When A Beauty Product Makes Your Skin Freak Out

sshokrae_taylor-479-Edit_R-2_SunnyShokraePhotographed by Sunny Shokrae.
As a beauty writer, I test a lot — and I mean, A LOT — of products. It's a barrel of fun until I come across one that irritates my skin, which is exactly what went down this weekend with a wicked reaction that my boyfriend has since referred to as the "nuclear facial."
The scene: It was snowing, and I decided to take a dip in Lake Me. This meant a soothing weekend of slathering myself with creams and pampering products was in order. With the calendar blocked out as "Big Fat Nap," I grabbed a night cream that had been sent to me before the holidays and proceeded to apply liberally. It tingled a little on contact, which is fine, no big deal. But, the tingling swiftly turned to burning and "Big Fat Nap" quickly shifted to "Operation Facial Recovery." I was left with red, sensitized skin with patches that started to peel almost instantly. Ouch.
My skin has since recovered, but product reactions can happen to any of us, so it's important to get the 411 on how to handle them. I called NYC-based cosmetic dermatologist, Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank for instructions on exactly what to do when a product turns on you. Click through to find out what to do when a beauty product goes nuclear on your face.
skin-care-reactionIllustrated by Ammiel Mendoza.
Know the difference between irritation and an allergy.
"When people get a reaction, the first thing many think is, 'I have an allergy,'" says Dr. Frank. "A good general rule of thumb: If it burns, it's indicative of an irritation, while itching is usually a sign that you're having an allergic reaction."
A product breakdown doesn't mean a product breakup.
If you're trying something new, it might be a particular ingredient or compound that's causing the issue — it might be too strong for your face, for example. But, what if the product itself has been on your shelf since Miley was still on Hannah Montana? "If the product has expired, it may not hold the ingredients in the same way, which may cause a reaction." In other words, once the chemical bonds of a product break down, the ingredients aren't suspended in the same way — which means something you've used for years can suddenly turn on you. "Check for the expiration date on products," says Dr. Frank. "If it's older than six months, it's probably time to get rid of it." Beauty-product hoarders (guilty) take note.
Stop using whatever it is immediately.
My concern for a lot of my friends is that whole beauty-is-pain principle, where they think it must be working if it hurts. "If you're having a reaction or discomfort with a product, stop using it immediately," warns Dr. Frank. As a matter of fact, stop using everything, which leads us to our next tip...
Don't play doctor.
"A lot of people will try to use other products to help soothe or correct what's happening, which isn't the best course of action," cautions Dr. Frank. The best course of action from the good doctor? "You want to reduce the inflammation as quickly as possible. A 1% solution of hydrocortisone is the best thing to apply to the affected skin to help reduce the discomfort. You can also take Advil or Benadryl to help reduce any inflammation." What about aloe? "Aloe is fine, as it has some anti-inflammatory properties, but you won't get the same effectiveness as the hydrocortisone cream."
See also: Don't be a hero
If it's itching and/or you think you've had an allergic reaction — or if a more serious condition has arisen — definitely go see your doctor. "Your dermatologist can diagnose if it’s a true allergy or just an irritation. Allergies can be diagnosed through a series of tests." You should also go see your doctor if conditions don't improve. "If it's not better in three or more days, it's probably time to make the call and see a medical professional," says Dr. Frank.

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