Our skin serves as the first line of defense between us and insults from the outside world. Although we do our best to protect our skin and its microbiome by using sunscreen, clean beauty products, eating a diet rich in micronutrients, and staying hydrated, skin redness may still occur. Below, we cover how to assess the potential causes of skin redness as well as some tips on how to soothe irritated skin and what to avoid so you don’t make it worse.
Skin redness is extremely common and is often your body’s attempt at trying to heal whatever may have caused irritation. After exposure to a variety of negative stimuli, blood vessels dilate, allowing blood to rush to affected area. Your blood contains growth factors, anti-inflammatory molecules, and infection-fighting white blood cells that, along with oxygen-carrying red blood cells, work to heal the skin. Skin redness may occur as a result of acne, rosacea, dermatitis, rashes, mild chemical burns, or allergic reactions. We recommend seeing a dermatologist to receive a proper diagnosis before applying products that could potentially worsen or prolong skin redness. In the meantime, there are a few things that may help soothe the redness and a few actions/ingredients you should avoid to prevent it from becoming worse.
Before you attempt any treatment for your skin redness, we recommend thinking about the timeline and potential causes of your skin redness or blotchiness. Having a daily skincare regimen will help you stay on top of your natural skin condition so you can recognize any changes immediately. Redness and blotchiness can often appear slowly and subtly, so it may be difficult to remember when the redness started but this information is especially helpful for your dermatologist. Having a routine also means that you can easily pinpoint changes in that routine like introducing new skincare products, new makeup or hair products, changes to your eating/drinking habits, or new supplements/medications you may have started taking. Some other lifestyle changes we may overlook but that can impact the skin include washing pillowcases, a new detergent, or even the water quality in a new place you may have traveled. Any of these things can offset the delicate balance our skin fights to maintain, leading to irritation and redness.
To soothe red skin, we recommend going back to basics. If you’ve introduced any new products into your daily routine, stop using them, revert back to your routine before the irritation occurred, and take note of changes you observe. Well researched molecules like hyaluronic acid and niacinamide provide moisturizing and anti-inflammatory benefits to the skin, respectively1,2. Additionally, moisturizers that can contain peptides like collagen can help restore the skin barrier3. Websites likewww.EWG.org will help you assess the quality of ingredients in your skincare products and identify if they may even be contributing to the irritation. In addition to treating the irritated skin, there are some important ingredients and actions you should avoid:
- Physical exfoliants (scrubs/abrasive tools)- these items continue to disrupt the moisture barrier your skin needs to sustain itself and its microbiome4.
- Over-the-counter steroid creams (e.g. hydrocortisone)- while steroid creams can suppress inflammation in the short term, they often lead an even worse flare up down the line once you stop using them or if your skin becomes accustomed to them5.
- Cleansers that contain alcohol/leave your skin tight and dry- these items are too harsh and strip moisture from the skin6.
- Avoid fragrances- the chemical nature of fragrance compounds requires a volatile reaction to release scent. This reaction sensitizes skin to other insults and causes redness7.
Maintaining a daily skincare routine consisting of sunscreen and clean beauty products can help you establish a healthy baseline. When redness and irritation inevitably occurs, we recommend using gentle, cooling products with a focus on keeping the skin hydrated. If redness and irritation persist, seek the professional advice of a dermatologist. Healthy, glowing skin is possible for everyone but it takes consistency and patience.
- Levin, J. & Momin, S. B. How Much Do We Really Know About Our Favorite Cosmeceutical Ingredients? J Clin Aesthet Dermatol 3, 22–41 (2010).
- Papakonstantinou, E., Roth, M. & Karakiulakis, G. Hyaluronic acid: A key molecule in skin aging.Dermatoendocrinol 4, 253–258 (2012).
- Gorouhi, F. & Maibach, H. I. Role of topical peptides in preventing or treating aged skin.Int J Cosmet Sci 31, 327–345 (2009).
- Rodan, K., Fields, K., Majewski, G. & Falla, T. Skincare Bootcamp: The Evolving Role of Skincare.Plast Reconstr Surg Glob Open 4, (2016).
- Gabros, S., Nessel, T. A. & Zito, P. M. Topical Corticosteroids. inStatPearls (StatPearls Publishing, 2020).
- Löffler, H., Kampf, G., Schmermund, D. & Maibach, H. I. How irritant is alcohol?Br J Dermatol 157, 74–81 (2007).
- Aptula, A. O., Enoch, S. J. & Roberts, D. W. Chemical mechanisms for skin sensitization by aromatic compounds with hydroxy and amino groups.Chem Res Toxicol 22, 1541–1547 (2009).