Finding the right products with the right ingredients often takes a lot of trial and error. Especially since anyone can have an allergic reaction to a beauty product, even for those who were lucky enough to not experience it (yet). So it’s vital to see early signs that a product may not agree with our skin before anything happens.

Trying out a new product, photo by Sora Shimazaki

Who doesn’t feel excited and enjoys opening up a new product? As a beauty buff, it almost feels like all year round is your birthday, as new ingredients are discovered and new products hit the shelves. From browsing to experiencing the texture and then seeing a noticeable difference in your skin, what could be more than fun and engaging?

But, when you stray from the tried and tested it can be that our skin may not always give you the result that was promised on the product label. This is even more true for people with sensitive and fussy skin.

Of course, our skin can show its discontent in a loud way, with itchiness, rashes, or redness. But from time to time, our skin may behave in an underhanded and shifty way: We see our skin turning from best mate into a devious stranger showing us flakiness, dryness, bumps, and uneven skin tone.

If your skin surprises you with any reactions that you normally don’t see, then it’s a sign to re-evaluate the products you’re using.

1 – Burning or stinging

Depending on the actives in a product, they can cause a tingling sensation. But this tingling is over in moments, but surely not minutes. Particularly when you’re using a product for the first time and sensation is intense, more like burning or stinging, then your skin is telling you it doesn’t cope well with the product. In this case, wash it off immediately.

Say, you’ve used a product for a longer period of time without problems and your skin until now has not given any signs that it can’t handle it. But suddenly, you get a slight burning or stinging sensation with the product. Then it can be that you’re either using too much or certain ingredients are too strong for sensitive and delicate skin types.

2 – Dry, flaky, and peeling

Sometimes, you get dry skin, and it can just be a patch. But that patch is flaking, even to the extent of peeling – and worse, it just never seems to go away. This can happen if too many acid-based products are used, no matter if it’s to fight acne or for anti-ageing.

When the skin’s protective acid mantle is disrupted, the chances that your skin will react badly multiply. Also, a damaged skin barrier can’t protect you as well against both external irritants and moisture evaporating from your skin.

3 – Hives or rashes

Your skin is giving you a very obvious signal it’s not fond of the product you’re using. It can be due to the fragrances, preservatives, synthetic dyes, or what companies summarise under “other ingredients”.

4 – Itchiness

This is another loud signal of your skin that it doesn’t like what you’re applying. The itchiness may not be limited to the areas you’ve applied the product but may extend to your whole body.

5 – Redness

Redness is a sign that your skin is irritated and inflamed. It may even be accompanied by swelling. You don’t want to stress your skin with chronic inflammation, as this leads to premature ageing.

6 – Breakouts

On your usually blemish-free complexion, you suddenly see breakouts. Don’t think that all bumps are a form of a clogged pore, aka acne. Breakouts can appear as small bumps or “just” uneven skin texture in response to a product.

7 – Oily skin

If you find you’re shinier than usual, especially if you’re not prone to oily skin, then you may be using products that are too harsh for you and they’re stripping your skin of its natural oils.

Overwashing or using too harsh products prompts your skin to go into repair mode and compensate for the stripped-off oils.


Your skin is the first barrier against environmental irritants and invaders. It may rightly or wrongly identify something as an aggressor and react accordingly. It’s also not said that’s because you’re allergic to a certain ingredient.

It can be just that a product was poorly formulated or contains ingredients that are too strong for you. Or, you’re using the wrong product for your skin type. Say for example you’re using oil-absorbing products thinking that’d help acne-prone and oily skin. But you’ve got dry skin. So, your skin thinks it’s too dry and works overtime to protect the skin’s moisture mantle.

Maybe you’re also too enthusiastic with physical exfoliation and using too stiff-bristled brushes. And lastly, some unlucky people just have more finicky skin.

Often, what people think first is that they’ve got an allergy. But there’s a simple rule of thumb to figure out your reaction: If you feel heat, a burning sensation, that’s pointing to irritation. If you feel itchy, that’s more a signpost for allergy.

Skin detective

It’s time to identify the culprit and you’re the skin detective so that you can avoid the products and ingredients that turn your skin against you.

If you’ve not started trying out new products and the reaction was mild, you’ll want to try to remove one product at a time and gauge how your skin reacts. You may not see a difference for 2 up to 5 weeks.

In the ideal case, before you start using a new product, you patch test it. This is also the way to go if you’ve used several products all the at the same time. A patch test will help you figure out what product is the guilty party, and then you go on to find the ingredient.

Sadly, pinpointing the exact offending ingredient may prove to be more difficult, also because some companies don’t show their exact formulation and hide ingredients and concentration under “other ingredients” on the product label.

Solving the problem

The good news is most of the time, if you stop using the product you’ve identified, your skin will calm down. This means you should wash off the offending product immediately and rinse the affected area with cold water. Optionally, you may want to apply aloe vera to soothe your skin.

Try to limit the products you use to only the ones you’re absolutely sure your skin can handle. Treat the area gently, this means no scrubbing, no fragrant products, and no harsh soaps.

Make sure you know your skin type so that you’re using the products appropriate for your skin.

A few things to follow when you’re trying out new products

In a perfect world, we’re all so disciplined and patient that we patch-test every new product. Still, if that’s not possible to follow, you’ll want to try to introduce one product at a time and keep track of its ingredients.

This makes it so much easier for you to identify the offending product and stop using it at once. And the good news is, you know for sure that it was that new product that transformed your skin.

Start slowly when the new product contains actives. You can always increase the frequency once your skin can handle it.

Lastly, if you see how the products you’ve applied ball up when you apply one after the another, then you’ll want to give the first product enough time to sink in and then only apply the next one.

Do you know other tips to ease into a new skin care product? Let me know in the comments.

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