Everything you should and shouldn’t do when your skin has had an allergic reaction

how to treat skin after allergic reaction

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Beauty Crew Editor / August 25 2019

We’ve all been there at least once – you’ve just gotten your hands on a shiny new beauty product that you’ve been lusting after, only to have it leave your skin red, bumpy and feeling irritated after a couple of applications. 

Yep, the very unwanted discomfort of an allergic reaction is all too real.

GOOD TO KNOW: An allergic reaction doesn’t mean that the product itself is bad, it just means there’s something in it that hasn’t agreed with your skin.

What should you do to deal with it? More importantly, what shouldn’t you do? Will you be able to restore your skin to its former glory? Will you have to chuck out the product? These are all *very* valid questions. So, we called on the help of dermatologist Dr Cara McDonald to help you navigate what to do when your skin has had an allergic reaction, plus why it happened in the first place. 

How do I know if I’ve had an allergic reaction to a beauty product?

Allergic reaction or just a bit of irritation or sensitisation? Here’s Dr McDonald’s advice on how to tell:

“Allergic skin reactions tend to present with a rash, which may be red, dry, peeling and bumpy. Skin may feel tight or burning, but also tends to be itchy, which helps distinguish it from skin irritation or sensitive skin,” she says. 

And a reaction may not necessarily appear immediately after the first use. 

“In an allergic skin reaction, the rash typically occurs one to two days after using the product, but this can vary depending on the duration and frequency of application,” says Dr McDonald. 

Why did it happen in the first place?

While there is usually only the slightest chance there’s something going wrong in the formulation (for example, the product is past its expiration date), the chances are more likely that there’s an ingredient in there that doesn’t agree with you. 

“Allergic skin reactions occur when the skin becomes sensitised to a specific ingredient. It can occur in those with pre-existing dermatitis or sensitive skin, or in those with no previous skin problems. Some of the more common culprits can be some preservatives, fragrances and lanolin. There are many possible ingredients that may cause a skin allergy in different people, and in some cases, the only way to identify the cause is by undergoing a process known as Patch Testing,” says Dr McDonald. 

And she warns not to just blame a new product in your routine, either. 

“A big problem is that people assume only a ‘new’ product can cause allergy, when in fact it can often be an ingredient that has been used over a long period of time before sensitisation occurs. Once the person has become sensitised though, they will never be able to go back to using that ingredient without reacting to it again.” 

“There is a misconception that ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ products are better for the skin and won’t cause an allergy, but in fact, many essential oils and other natural ingredients can cause allergic reactions and irritation in certain people.”
Dr Cara McDonald

What am I meant to do if my skin has had an allergic reaction?

Well, the first step would be to obviously stop using the offending product as soon as possible. 

“[An allergic reaction] classically worsens over time if the responsible product is continued and may become more severe with swelling and blisters in rare cases,” warns Dr McDonald. 

Next, you’ll want to try figure out what it is in the product that’s causing the reaction. 

“It can be difficult to know whether the reaction is an irritant or allergic reaction without having specific testing. If it is allergy, then it is usually caused by just one ingredient in the product. It is very helpful if this can be identified, as it will need to be avoided indefinitely.” 

“If the skin is very itchy and inflamed, then it is best to seek some medical advice for treatment to calm down the reaction,” says Dr McDonald. 

As for treating your skin, do not continue using any of your regular skin care products. Dr McDonald recommends swapping them out for products specially formulated for sensitive and allergy-prone skin. 

“The products used should have a minimal number of ingredients and be free from alcohol, fragrances and other known regulated allergens. They should [also] be specifically formulated for sensitive and allergic skin,” she says. 

And, as you’d expect, she’s got a something specific in mind for your allergic skin: La Roche-Posay Toleriane Ultra Dermatological Moisturiser. “It is particularly good as it follows all these guidelines and also includes an ingredient [called] NeurosensineTM, which soothes sensitive skin. [The products also] contains shea butter and glycerine to hydrate the skin and thermal spring water to help calm redness.” 

The Toleriane Ultra skincare range has four products that are especially formulated for skin that feels like it needs a bit more TLC than usual – the Toleriane Ultra dual-action moisturiser helps soothe and repair dry sensitive skin while providing intense hydration; the Toleriane Ultra Light, a lighter version of the original moisturiser that’s suitable for combination and oily skin; the Toleriane Ultra Eye Contour, an incredibly light eye cream that soothes and hydrates the delicate skin under the eyes while helping tackle discomfort and puffiness; and lastly the Toleriane Ultra Overnight, a rich moisturiser for night-time use.

GOOD TO KNOW: The La Roche-Posay Toleriane Ultra range is free from colourants, fragrance, preservatives, alcohol and lanolin.

What shouldn’t I do when my skin has had an allergic reaction?

Just to really drill it home: The worst thing you can do is to continue use of the product causing the reaction. But beyond that, Dr McDonald advises being as gentle as humanly possible on your skin, so you don’t do anything that could cause further irritation. 

“You should also avoid all active skin care products, for example anti-ageing or acne products, avoid over-cleansing, and avoid any other skin treatments such as scrubs, peels or microdermabrasion,” she says. 

Do you find that your skin freaks out during allergy season? You’re not alone, and we’re here to help. Here’s why your skin goes haywire during allergy season, and how to care for it. 

What have you done to treat an allergic skin reaction? Please share with us in the comments section below.

Main image credit: Getty

Carli was BEAUTYcrew’s Editor from launch in 2016 until May 2020. You can find her words right here on BEAUTYcrew, and previously on beautyheaven.