Skincare for irritated skin: how to soothe your skin

We cannot stress this enough: irritation and inflammation are bad for skin—really, really bad. Daily assaults such as unprotected sun exposure, hot water, and applying skincare products that contain irritating ingredients generate an irritant response. The result? The skin's repair process becomes faulty and the surface of the skin becomes weaker.

Signs of irritated skin

Often skin irritation involves more than just redness or itching. Collagen and elastin can break down, the outer layer (skin barrier) can become weakened and skin recovers less easily. Skin that's become irritated also has a higher chance of developing wrinkles, brown spots and other signs of skin ageing. Plus, for those with oily skin, irritation triggers nerve endings in the pore that activate hormones and increase oil production, leading to enlarged pores.

Skin inflammation is usually related to external factors that cause irritation, which damages the skin barrier in numerous ways, whether you see the reaction or not. When the skin’s surface is irritated, it activates neuropeptides in the brain, which regulate the body’s hormonal system. As a result, inflammatory chemicals trigger an increase in oil production that can enlarge pore size and heighten the likelihood of acne. The more inflammation occurs, the worse the risk becomes.

What causes irritated skin?

The main causes of skin irritation are sun damage, environmental factors, the weather, and fragrances (even aromatic plant oils/essential oils). Scents, whether synthetic or natural, are perhaps the least obvious cause of skin irritation. They usually smell lovely, but the scent comes from a volatile reaction, which can irritate skin.

How to calm irritated skin

Anything you can do to treat skin gently is a very good thing, as this encourages normal collagen production, keeps it smooth and radiant, helps skin protect itself from environmental damage, reduces oil production, and makes pores smaller. If your skin is prone to irritation, avoiding irritating products and learning to be more gentle will cause dramatic improvements.

How to avoid skin irritation

Check product labels and ingredients lists to avoid these common irritants in skincare products:

  • Overly abrasive scrubs (such as those that contain aluminum oxide crystals, walnut shells, or pumice)
  • Astringents containing irritating ingredients (alcohol and menthol are 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)
  • Loofahs
  • Bar soaps and bar cleansers

Common irritating ingredients in skincare products to avoid

These skin irritants tend to be most problematic when they appear at the beginning of an ingredients list.

  • SD Alcohol (also known as denatured alcohol)
  • Ammonia
  • Arnica
  • Balm mint
  • Balsam
  • Benzalkonium chloride
  • Bergamot
  • Camphor
  • Cinnamon
  • Citrus juices and oils
  • Clove
  • Clover blossom
  • Coriander
  • Essential oils
  • Ethanol
  • Eucalyptus
  • Eugenol
  • Fennel
  • Fennel oil
  • Fir needle
  • Fragrance
  • Geranium
  • Grapefruit
  • Horsetail
  • Isoeugenol
  • Lavender
  • Lemon
  • Lemongrass
  • Lime
  • Linalool
  • Marjoram
  • Melissa (lemon balm)
  • Menthol
  • Menthoxypropanediol
  • Menthyl Acetate
  • Mint
  • Oak bark
  • Orange
  • Papaya
  • Peppermint
  • Phenol
  • Sandalwood oil
  • Sodium C14-16 olefin sulfonate
  • Sodium lauryl sulphate
  • TEA-lauryl sulphate
  • Thyme
  • Wintergreen
  • Witch hazel
  • Ylang-ylang

How to soothe irritated skin around eyes?

The delicate skin around your eyes can be especially prone to irritation, so it’s vital to always treat it gently and only use fragrance-free eye creams and skincare products here. If skin around the eyes is red or irritated, it’s best to avoid wearing eye makeup or excessively touching the skin. If you’re looking to address puffiness and dark circles, try our C5 SUPER BOOST Eye Cream.

How long does skin irritation on face last?

Everyone’s skin is sensitive to some extent and the reaction is not always visible. In many cases, this is a subcutaneous process. But the reaction can also build up and cause a rash or redness. Most visible skin irritation disappears within 48 hours of having the reaction, but as everyone is different it can sometimes last longer.

Five skincare ingredients and products that soothe irritation

To help protect skin from irritation, choose gentle, fragrance-free skincare and remember to use a broad-spectrum sun cream every single day. If you're suffering from skin sensitivity and irritation, try our new and improved CALM collection specifically formulated for those who experience sensitive skin. Here are five of our favourite products that help reduce skin irritation and sensitivity:

  • CALM Repairing Serum: Suitable for all skin types. Immediately calms skin irritation and reduces redness with mild yet highly effective ingredients, such as antioxidants.
  • CALM 1% BHA Sensitive Skin Exfoliant: A gentle exfoliant lotion with a concentration of 1% BHA (salicylic acid) for all skin types. Helps reduce redness and inflammation. Cleanses pores on the inside and improves the appearance of a rough, pimply skin.
  • EARTH SOURCED Perfectly Natural Cleansing Gel: A light cleansing gel that gently cleans sensitive skin. Suited for all skin types, especially easily irritated ones.
  • CALM Rescue & Repair Moisturisers: Our CALM collection features two moisturisers - one for normal to dry skin and another for oily to combination skin. Both products feature key ingredients that target sensitivity and redness, as well as instantly soothe and hydrate the skin while targeting wrinkles and other signs of ageing.
  • CLINICAL Ultra Rich Moisturiser: Specialised, rich cream for very dry skin. Helps strengthen the skin’s protective barrier and protect it against moisture loss for up to 12 hours.

Take a look at the full range of Paula’s Choice products to find more skincare for sensitive skin types.


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