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What Causes Sensitive Skin To React To Products?

Makes this sound familiar with your sensitive skin: You’re excited to try a new skincare product you’ve heard about wonderful things. It goes on beautifully and feels great—but then the next morning, or a few days later, or even weeks later, the problems start showing up.

People can have different negative reactions that range from red patches to swollen eyes, or a tight, dry feeling when their skin is sensitive. You may even see bumps in the mirror that look like puberty has started all over again. The inevitable question is, what happened?


Regrettably, the answer isn’t easy because reactions to skincare products have a broad range of causes. Thankfully, there are solutions, too; it just takes some detective work to figure it out!

What Causes Sensitive Skin to React to Products?

Sometimes, using a new product or a new mix of goods can cause sensitive skin to have an adverse reaction—even if the products are well formulated. You may even wonder if you did something wrong, or if the product itself is faulty.

There are six primary reasons why sensitive skin reacts negatively to a new product, a new skincare routine, or even to products you’ve used for months or years:

  • The product(s) was poorly formulated with harsh or skin-aggravating ingredients that caused the adverse reaction. Ingredients we warn about such as alcohol (SD or denatured), fragrance (synthetic or natural), or numerous fragrant plant extracts show up in many products. The reaction can happen immediately, or it can develop over time. Sometimes, when several fragranced products are used, the skin reaches a critical tipping point and reacts strongly. That’s one reason why using several products with “just a little” fragrance can overwhelm skin.

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  • An allergy to a particular ingredient or combination of ingredients in the formula is often to blame. This has nothing to do with the quality of a cosmetic; rather, it’s a personal reaction to an ingredient or a mix of elements. It’s like being allergic to cats, a problem many people have, but it’s certainly not the fault of the cat, and it doesn’t make cats wrong.
  • Using the wrong product for your skin type. For example, using oil-absorbing products when you have dry, flaky skin can make your skin even drier and cause red, scaly patches. If you have oily skin, using thick, emollient products can cause the skin to develop more bumps and clogged pores.

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  • Applying too many products with potent ingredients at the same time. When it comes to anti-aging products, some people think that if a little is good, then more must be better. So, they start using three types of exfoliants at the same time, followed by a serum with a high percentage vitamin C, and then a high-concentration retinol moisturizer followed by a skin brightening product. Even for the most durable skin types, applying these products all at once is overkill. It’s not that they don’t all have a place in a skincare routine, but instead of slathering them on all at once, they can be alternated between your morning and evening skincare routines or applied on alternate days. And no one needs to use three exfoliants at the same time!
  • Using abrasive scrubs or stiff-bristled cleansing brushes. These can cause extremely adverse reactions such as micro-cracks in skin’s surface that can make it more vulnerable to anything else you put on it.
Beautiful young clean female face with splash of water - blue background

Beautiful young clean female face with splash of water – blue background

  • The final reason is the most difficult to assess: Some people just happen to have reactive and overly sensitive skin to just about anything they put on their face and neck. For them, the more products they use, the greater the risk of a reaction, and especially so if the product contains even a small amount of questionable or bioactive ingredients.

Be a Skincare Detective

Like any good detective, solving the mystery of why your sensitive skin reacted to a product (or products) requires examining multiple possibilities to identify the most likely culprit. Taking time to do this means you’ll be less liable to go through a “my skin’s gone haywire” episode again.

First and foremost, the products you use must not contain questionable ingredients that are known to cause skin sensitivity. Using only well-formulated products is essential.

Next, be certain the products are a good match for your skin type. Oil-absorbing or matte-finish ingredients will be a disaster on dry skin, while emollient, thick moisturizers will be a problem for someone with oily skin or combination skin with oily areas.

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If you tend to have highly reactive skin, be cautious about products with high concentrations of ingredients like niacinamide, retinol, vitamin C, BHA (salicylic acid), or AHA (glycolic or lactic acid). While these elements are brilliant for skin, when you have sensitive skin, you want to start by using products with lower concentrations and alternate the days you use them. If all goes well for weeks, then you can test a higher strength of each ingredient, but only introduce one new product at a time.

Sunscreens can be suspect if they contain synthetic sunscreen ingredients. That doesn’t make synthetic sunscreen ingredients wrong, but they can be more sensitizing. The best option, in this case, would be to use a sunscreen that only lists titanium dioxide and zinc oxide at the active ingredients.

Even important, well-formulated skincare products like cleansers, toners, serums, or moisturizers can trigger negative reactions for some people. This usually starts when you introduce a new product into your existing skincare routine or when you begin using a new group of goods. If the reaction is mild, stop using one of the products and see what happens. If that doesn’t help, stop using another one of the new products and see what happens after a day or two. If that doesn’t resolve the problem, then go back to the previous routine that didn’t cause your skin to react.

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Sadly, when you reach this point, the hunt for products that won’t cause a reaction starts anew—unless you want to keep using your former products, assuming they’re well formulated.

What Isn’t Causing the Reaction

Some people think silicone ingredients (examples would be Cyclopentasiloxane or dimethicone) in skin care products can cause negative reactions, but isn’t true. In fact, just the opposite is true: Silicones are a group of uniquely soothing, gentle ingredients that form a permeable shield, soothe skin, and provide exceptional moisturizing properties.

Lots of people also think synthetic or manufactured cosmetic ingredients are harmful to skin, but that isn’t the case. There are good and bad natural and artificial ingredients. An ingredient being natural doesn’t automatically make it better, safer, or gentler for skin.

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The Recipe for Solving the Problem

Having an adverse reaction to a new skincare product doesn’t mean the product is poorly formulated. Of course, there are poorly formulated skincare products that can cause all sorts of reactions, but frequently the bumps, redness and other symptoms are due to a personal response to an ingredient or a combination of ingredients.

Remember to think like a detective so you can—as quickly as possible—determine what’s causing the reaction. This is tricky because it’s not always as easy as pointing the finger at the new product you just started using. It might be the product, or it might be how that new product interacts with other products you’re using—especially if they contain common sensitizers like fragrance.

Think of how adding one ingredient to a recipe can completely change its taste, and it’s easy to understand how adding a new product to an existing skincare routine may cause trouble (or be very helpful) for your skin.

Credit: Paula’s Choice

References for this information:

  • International Journal of Cosmetic Science, April 2016, issue 2, pages120-127
  • Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, November 2010, Issue 5, pages 789-798
  • Clinical Dermatology, May-June 2011, Issue 3, pages 311-315
  • British Journal of Dermatology, August 2008, issue 2, pages267-273
  • Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, July 2008, Issue 4, pages 191-120

DPL  Treatment For Sensitive Skin

What is Intense Pulsed Light (DPL)?

DPL devices use multiple wavelengths of light to treat sun-induced changes on the face, including brown pigmentation, age spots, and broken blood vessels. DPL is also used to deal with the facial changes of rosacea, including redness and broken blood vessels. DPL may be utilized for these changes on the hands, neck, and chest as well. It is safe, non-invasive and is tailored to the individual patient’s skin.


The result is various depending on each specific case.

How DPL (IPL) Works

A broad spectrum of light is transmitted through a small, smooth, transparent handpiece which is gently placed over the skin. Cut-off filters in the handpiece change the wavelength range allowing it to be optimized for different applications and skin types. The light penetrates the tissue and is absorbed by either the blood when treating vascular lesions or the melanin when treating pigmented lesions damaging them. The body’s natural processes then remove the injured tissue giving the skin a more even and youthful appearance.

Click here for more information about DPL Treatment


Address: Room 910 – 9th Floor – Diamond Plaza

34 Le Duan street – Ben Nghe Ward – District 1 – HCMC

Phone: 08 38 221 668 – 0903 996 646

Email: info@paragonclinic.com.vn

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The result is various depending on each specific case.