Dealing With Reactions, Rashes, And Allergies

No matter how expensive a product is or how pretty a color looks, if it makes you itch, brings you out in a rash, or results in a breakout—stop using it immediately. Reactions create damaged skin, but how do you figure out what is the cause? Active products recommend doing a patch test behind the ear for at least 24 hours for this very reason. A reaction can occur straightaway or several hours later, and sometimes you aren’t even aware of it. Try to use new products one at a time, and I recommend trying them out at night first and on the neck area. Sampling items on the hand isn’t effective, as the skin on the face is different, and certain parts of the body can be more sensitive than others.

My first major reaction was when I was a teenager in my goth days, when my eye swelled up after using a wonderfully bright Mary Quant eye shadow stick. I loved it so much and in my head I didn’t think it was responsible, and blamed my red eye on my rubbing my eyes and getting an infection. I carried on using it, and one day the deputy head was so concerned he sent me home as he thought I was ill and infectious. I didn’t notice how bad it was as I had also covered it with make-up, so the important thing is to be honest with yourself, even if you love the product, it maybe damaging your skin.

Allergies and Intolerances

Reactions happen for a number of reasons, and you can be fine one month and then have a reaction the next. Sometimes companies change a formula and that alters the product structure, or if you have been on medication it can make the body and skin sensitive to certain ingredients. If you have food allergies or intolerances, there is a higher risk of the skin reacting to those ingredients too. For example, if you are allergic to strawberries, using a face mask with extract of strawberries may result in a reaction (and it’s not worth the risk), or if you have an intolerance to lactose it’s possible skincare products that use milk proteins may cause a reaction. Those with nut allergies should be careful using oils and creams that contain almonds, or walnuts, which are often used for softening. Logically, one would assume it would only affect the body on the inside, but the skin is a living organ and absorbs everything.

I personally experienced this as I have a lactose intolerance and used a very well-known cult skincare cleanser, only to find it left me with dry patches on my skin after a couple of hours. As it was the only new product I had used, I knew that was the culprit, and reluctantly had to give away the bottle. Some people may try to put up with adverse reactions, but what it does is weaken the skin and makes it fragile, and more susceptible to further reactions.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs or Fruit Acids)

AHAs are generally used for anti-aging treatments or for treating acne as the acids help to exfoliate the layers in the skin, by working on the living cells, thus helps speed up the skin renewal system resulting in clearer brighter skin. In the 1980s the popularity of these grew, but with it came concerns that they could cause reactions (as the products are active) and leave the skin more sensitive. Today, the technology has enabled the AHAs to be developed in lower concentrations, which causes less sensitivity. A word of caution though—whenever using any product with AHAs, you must use at least a SPF30 and preferably SPF50 to protect the skin. This is because the acids penetrate and weaken the acid mantle, which is the natural skin barrier and can lead to more sun damage or being photosensitive. Antibiotics can also lead to photosensitivity, so using both an AHA and antibiotics can change how the skin reacts to products.

Glycolic acid is a popular AHA (derived from sugar cane) lactic acid (milk), citric acid (citrus fruits), and tartaric acid (grapes), so it’s worth checking the ingredients on products if you do have any allergies to any of the above.


Spots and breakouts are usually associated with teenagers and oily skin, but they can also occur when a product is too strong and concentrated for the skin. This is called overstimulation, where the skin is reacting when it is pushed to do more than it can handle. A typical example is when a young skin uses an anti-aging serum that is rich and oily. If it is too heavy for the skin, it reacts and produces excess sebum to protect the skin resulting in spots, and a freak breakout. The common misconception is by using a stronger product it will prevent things such as wrinkles or dryness, but these are targeted treatments aimed at repairing issues, and not preventing them. Generally less concentrated products are for prevention, and concentrated products are for repairing the skin.

Products that are more likely to cause reactions contain:

  • Essential oils (concentrated ones can be too strong)
  • Natural Plant extracts (can cause reactions if not used within a couple of months of being opened)
  • AHAs
  • Perfume
  • Using homemade remedies due to the fact the ingredients are raw and unstable.

The phrase dermatologically tested means that a product has been tested for all known allergies only. There is no standard, but indicates it has been tested on human skin. While is does provide a small blanket of security, there is no guarantee that there will be no skin reaction, but one is less likely.

If your skin feels uncomfortable or has a reaction after using a new product stop, rather than see if the reaction settles down. It’s a good idea to only try one product at a time, but if you have tried a few, then stop them all for a week or until the skin has calmed down, then try one at a time overnight to single out the product. I personally only try new products at night, or if I am at home, because you can spot and deal with a reaction more effectively. It can take a few days and even a couple of weeks for the skin to calm down and get back to normal, and it’s best to keep to a very simple regimen Never apply serums or masks (or any targeted treatments) to broken, red, or irritated skin, as they can cause more damage and will be painful.

Beauty Philosopher Tips

  • Always keep a supply of products that you know that work and that you aren’t sensitive to. If in doubt use a mild baby product such as baby lotion to cleanse and moisturize until the skin has returned to normal.
  • Ensure all containers as closed properly as bacteria can seep in and contaminated products can lead to reactions. This is why I dislike sachets as once opened the product becomes contaminated.
  • Use an emollient balm to calm the skin; classics such as Elizabeth Arden’s Eight Hour Cream or Liz Earle’s Superbalm heal and protect the skin. Eucerin Aquaphor Soothing Skin Balm (available in most pharmacies) is always a good multipurpose product to have at home and is suitable for all ages.
  • Do not use astringents or any clarifying toners as they will upset and sting the skin. Instead pat in some rosewater or chamomile water that will soothe and keep the skin hydrated
  • When cleansing, ensure you use a fresh muslin cloth or sponge each day to prevent any bacteria and another further irritation to the skin.

©2016. Beauty Philosopher.



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1 Comment

  1. I am super sensitive to certain things in lotion, and one of them is coconut oil. I break out, got itchy, and my skin looked as if it is on fire.

    I always read the ingredients carefully nowadays after that experience.

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