For the overall health of your skin, anything you can do to treat it gently is a very good thing. Treating skin gently encourages normal collagen production, maintains a smooth and radiant surface, and helps skin protect itself from environmental stressors.
Aside from diligent sun protection, using gentle, non-irritating skin-care products is part of how you can achieve the best daily and long-term skin care results possible—so you can have the skin you’ve always wanted (Sources: Dermatologic Therapy, January 2004, pages 16-25; American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, May 2004, pages 327-337; Cosmetics & Toiletries, Nov 2003, page 63; Global Cosmetics, Feb 2000, pages 46-49; and Contact Dermatitis, February 1995, pages 83-87).
With the goal being to eliminate anything that unnecessarily irritates and inflames skin, the following is a list of typical skin-care culprits that are not helpful in the least and are potentially damaging to your skin. The skin can react negatively to all of the following products, procedures, and ingredients.
Irritating Skin-Care Steps and Products
- Overly abrasive scrubs (such as those that contain aluminum oxide crystals, walnut shells, or pumice)
- Astringents containing irritating ingredients (alcohol and menthol being the prime offenders)
- Toners containing irritating ingredients (alcohol and menthol being the prime offenders)
- Scrub mitts
- Cold or hot water
- Steaming or icing the skin
- Facial masks containing irritating ingredients (watch out for fragrant essential oils and polyvinyl alcohol)
- Bar soaps and bar cleansers (Source: International Journal of Dermatology, August 2002, pages 494-9; Skin Research and Technology, May 2001, pages 98-104; and Dermatology, March 1997, pages 258–262)
Irritating Ingredients to Avoid
(These are of greatest concern when they appear in the beginning of an ingredient list.)
- Alcohol or SD alcohol followed by a number (Exceptions: Ingredients like cetyl alcohol or stearyl alcohol are standard, benign, waxlike cosmetic thickening agents and are completely nonirritating and safe to use; SD alcohols are not considered a problem when they are used in minute amounts, as is the case with some ingredient mixtures.)
- Balm mint
- Benzalkonium chloride (if it is one of the main ingredients)
- Benzyl Alcohol (if it is one of the main ingredients)
- Citrus juices and oils
- Clover blossom
- Essential Oils
- Fennel oil
- Fir needle
- Fragrance (may be listed as “Parfum”)
- Melissa (lemon balm)
- Menthol, Methyl Acetate, and Methyl PCA
- Oak bark
- Sandalwood oil
- Sodium C14-16 olefin sulfate
- Sodium lauryl sulfate
- TEA-lauryl sulfate
- Witch hazel
Many of these ingredients are extremely common, showing up in skin-care products for all skin types. And because many of these are recognizable, “Natural/Botanical” names, consumers often perceive them as “good” ingredients (that’s a whole different issue though, read more here: http://www.cosmeticscop.com/learn/article.asp?PAGETYPE=ART&REFER=SKIN&ID=133). Ingredients like camphor, menthol, mint, alcohol, and phenol are sometimes recommended because they are a type of anti-itch ingredient known as counter-irritants. The theory works like this: When your skin itches, the nerve endings are sending messages begging you to scratch. If you place these irritating ingredients over the area that itches, the nerve hears the irritation message louder than it hears the itch message and interprets this as a reason to stop itching. That reasoning is fine if minor, sporadic, occasional itching is your problem. If it is not and those ingredients are present in skin-care products meant for everyday use, they introduce a constant, irritating insult to the skin and cause dryness, rashes, increased oil production, redness, and breakouts. None of those side effects are attractive.
Skin doesn’t have to hurt, tingle, or be stimulated (even a little) to be clean. In fact, a simple indicator of irritation is if the skin tingles, it is being irritated, not cleaned. The major rule for all skin types is if a product or procedure irritates the skin, don’t use it again.
Exceptions to the rule: Because of the long-term benefits certain types of ingredients can provide skin, tolerating a little initial, though not long-term or serious, irritation may be necessary. For example, some stinging or tingling may occur when you initially begin to use a pH-correct alpha hydroxy acid or beta hydroxy acid product for exfoliation, a benzoyl peroxide product to battle blemishes, topical Retin-A, Renova, Tazorac azelaic acid, or Differin for either acne or wrinkles, or use Metrogel, Metrocream, or Metrolotion for rosacea. You may need to reduce frequency of application to once a day or every other day, or reduce how much you use at any one time. If the irritation persists for more than a few weeks or worsens with repeated use, then you should stop using it. For example, personally, my skin cannot tolerate Renova or Retin-A but I have no problem using a well-formulated beta hydroxy acid which has improved the texture of my skin immeasurably.