With so many skin care products available, including cleansers, moisturizers and cosmetics, it can be difficult to know which products to choose. While understanding your skin type can help you choose products formulated for your skin, it’s still possible that you’ll end up with a product that irritates your skin.
Sometimes, a skin care ingredient, such as one of the preservatives, can trigger a condition called allergic contact dermatitis, which can cause your skin to become red, itchy and swollen. Fortunately, board-certified dermatologists from the American Academy of Dermatology say testing skin care products on several small areas of your skin first can help predict whether you’ll experience a negative skin reaction.
“There are more than 15,000 allergens that can cause allergic contact dermatitis, and skin care products are a common cause,” says board-certified dermatologist Bruce A. Brod, MD, FAAD. “Even products labeled ‘hypoallergenic’, ‘natural’ or ‘clean’ can cause a skin reaction, so it’s helpful to test skin care products before using them as you would normally.”
Testing Skin Care Products
To test a skin care product, Dr. Brod recommends the following tips: Apply the product to a test spot twice daily for seven to 10 days. Choose a quarter-sized spot on your skin where the product won’t be rubbed or washed away, such as the underside of your arm or the bend of your elbow. Use the normal amount and thickness you would use as if you were applying the product regularly. Leave the product on your skin for as long as you would normally. If you’re testing something that you would usually wash off, like a cleanser, keep it on your skin for five minutes or as long as the instructions say.
If after seven to 10 days you don’t have a skin reaction, such as red, itchy, or swollen skin, go ahead and use the product. Keep in mind that some ingredients, such as retinol and glycolic acid, can irritate your skin, particularly if your skin is sensitive. This is normal and temporary.
If you develop a skin reaction, gently wash the product off as soon as possible, and don’t use it again. Apply a cool compress or petroleum jelly to relieve your skin, if needed. If your reaction to a product is severe and not relieved with cool compresses or petroleum jelly, you may need to see a dermatologist to help manage your symptoms.
“Sometimes, discovering the cause of skin irritation is easier said than done,” says Dr. Brod. “If it is difficult to pinpoint the exact ingredient causing your skin to react, talk to a board-certified dermatologist, who can help. You may need a medical test called patch testing to help find out what is causing your irritation.”
Once the cause has been identified, says Dr. Brod, it’s important to avoid it. For example, if fragrance in skin care products is causing your skin to react, he says, opt for products that are labeled “fragrance free.” Remain cautious with certain skin care products that are labeled “unscented” or have plant- based botanical ingredients, as these products may still have fragrance-related ingredients.
These tips are demonstrated in “How to Test Skin Care Products,” a video posted
to the AAD website and YouTube channel. This video is part of the AAD’s “Video of the Month” series, which offers tips people can use to properly care for their skin, hair and nails.