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How to Soothe Irritated Skin: A Guide

How to Soothe Irritated Skin: A Guide

No one likes to have irritated skin.

Not only can it make you self-conscious, but it can also feel incredibly uncomfortable. If your skin is prone to sensitivity or irritation, there are ways to help calm it down and even prevent that irritation from recurring in the future. 

Learning how to soothe irritated skin is key to maintaining the health and appearance of your skin — and it’s easier than you may think!

What are the common signs and symptoms of skin irritation?

Although everyone’s skin is unique, and no two people will have the exact same symptoms of skin irritation, there are some common signs and symptoms. The way irritated skin presents is most often dependent on a combination of specific triggers and that person’s skin type. 

Some of the most common signs and symptoms of skin irritation include:

  • Burning
  • Cracking
  • Dryness (either all over or in patches)
  • Flaking
  • Hives
  • Itchy skin
  • Peeling
  • Rash
  • Red skin 
  • Stinging
  • Tightness

How can you soothe irritated skin?

Learning how to soothe irritated skin is an important skill for anyone who deals with frequent or recurrent skin sensitivity. Here’s how you can go about it.

Switch to a gentle cleanser

Every skin care routine should start with removing debris from the skin’s surface, which is important for maintaining optimal skin health and wellness. However, if the cleanser you’re using isn’t a good match for your skin type and its specific needs, it can do more harm than good.

Switching to a gentle cleanser can help. Fragrance-free, dye-free cleansers with hydrating and soothing ingredients like aloe vera and hyaluronic acid are often the most effective for sensitive skin.

When cleansing your skin, pay attention to the method that you use. Avoid scrubbing the skin with a washcloth made of harsh materials; instead, use your hands — and make sure they're clean! 

You’ll also want to use lukewarm water, as hot water can damage the skin barrier. Gently pat your skin dry with a microfiber cloth when you’re finished before moving on to any other skin care products.

Take a look at your active ingredients

Skin irritation can also be a side effect of the way that certain active ingredients interact with the skin. Frequent culprits include alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) and retinol. 

Why does this happen? The reason these actives can trigger skin irritation and sensitivity is the same reason they can be so effective — they help remove dead skin cell buildup to reveal fresh, new skin. While this is helpful in reducing the visibility of fine lines and dark spots, it can also be too intense for easily irritated skin. 

In some cases, an inadvertent interaction between active ingredients can also cause skin irritation. Combining exfoliants, for instance, can increase the likelihood of developing skin sensitivity. It can also lead to a breakdown of the skin’s crucial moisture barrier, which keeps the skin hydrated and protected. 

If you're experiencing active irritation, give your skin a break. Try reducing your skin care routine to the bare essentials — a gentle cleanser (or even just lukewarm water) and a supportive, healing moisturizer. When symptoms resolve, you can begin to slowly reintroduce products one at a time. 

Work with — not against — your skin type

Irritated skin can also be the result of not using the right skin care products to support your skin type. Although the idea of skin typing isn’t as linear as it used to be — skin often falls in between the traditional five categories (dry, normal, oily, sensitive and combination) — there's still some benefit to identifying how your skin behaves under normal conditions. 

For example, people with oily skin often think that they don’t need to moisturize. However, excess oil (sebum) production can sometimes be the result of dryness. The skin overcompensates and produces more oil than it ordinarily would to try to protect the skin. Finding a moisturizer that works with oily skin — often a lighter option like High Beam or even Youth Serum — helps support the skin without increasing the risk of clogged pores and breakouts. 

Meanwhile, those with dry skin may want to consider a heavier moisturizer, such as a face oil or night cream — we love Face Whip for dry skin types. These moisturizers often feature ingredients like lipids and ceramides that can help calm irritated skin and minimize flare-ups of dryness. This leaves the skin feeling soft and moisturized.

Prevent skin irritation before it starts

Learning how to soothe irritated skin is beneficial for those having symptoms, but why not prevent it from happening in the first place? Preventing skin irritation involves two primary components — identifying your triggers and keeping your skin protected. 

If you’re struggling to figure out what's triggering your skin irritation and sensitivity, it can help to keep a journal of your symptoms and consult with a skin care provider. Certain skin conditions may require prescription medications to treat and manage. 

When it comes to protecting the skin from irritation, there are two main things to focus on — hydration and sun protection. 

Hydration is crucial for keeping the skin barrier strong and intact. This helps prevent moisture loss and also protects against outside stressors like environmental toxins. 

Sunscreen — as long as it has an SPF above 30, has broad-spectrum protection and is water-resistant — also helps to protect the skin. In addition to preventing skin irritation, hydration and sunscreen can also help minimize visible signs of aging.

One final tip for preventing skin irritation is knowing how to integrate new products into your existing routine. When possible, it’s best to start with a patch test to reduce the risk of an allergic reaction. 

Avoid starting more than one new product at a time — give your skin at least a few weeks to adjust before making additional changes. If you know your skin has heightened sensitivity, you may also want to start using new products just once or twice a week before increasing the frequency. 

In summary...

Learning how to soothe irritated skin is essential for your skin’s health and appearance. Minimizing the amount of irritation the skin goes through can also reduce the likelihood of lasting side effects like scarring or changes in skin tone and texture. 

If you're ready to build a supportive skin care routine or want recommendations for products and treatments that'll help your skin look and feel its best, we'd love to help — book a skin consult with one of our providers today!


Benefits of topical hyaluronic acid for skin quality and signs of skin aging: From literature review to clinical evidence | Dermatologic Therapy

Understanding the Epidermal Barrier in Healthy and Compromised Skin: Clinically Relevant Information for the Dermatology Practitioner | PMC

Skin Diseases, Conditions & Disorders| NIAMS

Sunscreen FAQs | AAD


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