Skin Irriation: Causes and Prevention

The skin is our largest organ: it is a barrier that protects us from harmful substances and external threats such as virus and bacteria, and it also prevents water loss and thus, dehydration. That’s why we need to take proper care of it and avoid irritation and inflammation, two things that are very bad for our skin, causing a lot of damage. But what causes irritation, why is it so bad for skin and are we sure we can always tell when our skin is irritated?

Skin irritations: causes and damages

Harsh or too hot weather, unprotected sun exposure, sharing makeup with other people without sanitizing it and skincare products that contain irritating ingredients are all things that can irritate and inflame skin. And this causes a lot of damage: when skin is inflamed, there is a breakdown in collagen production, the skin’s natural protective barrier is disrupted causing dryness and flakiness and androgen production (the hormone that stimulates excess sebum production) is activated, making oily skin oilier and pores to appear bigger.

How can you tell when your skin is irritated?

You probably think that the answer to this question is easy: whenever skin gets red, itchy, flaking and stinging, you know it is irritated. But irritations and inflammations can also occur in the deeper layers of the skin and thus, they don’t show up on the surface. Yes, your skin can be irritated without you knowing it. If you’ve haven’t been wearing sunscreen for years and think that your skin is fine because you don’t get sunburned, think again. All those years of unprotected sun exposure have damaged your skin even if you can’t see it. YET.

Same thing if you regularly use skincare products with irritating ingredients. You may think they work well for you because they don’t give you a visible negative reaction, but they still cause havoc on your skin. You just can’t see it now. And all this damage, although silent and hidden now, will show up overtime as it causes us to age prematurely. But how can we stop something that we don’t see?

How to prevent irritation and inflammation

The best thing to do to have radiant and healthy skin is to treat it gently and avoid beauty habits and harsh ingredients that can cause irritations. When you wash your face or have a bath/shower, use lukewarm water. If the water is too hot or too cold, it can damage the skin’s natural protective barrier. Another important thing you can do is to avoid harsh scrubs that scratch skin and can too disrupt its protective barrier. Also, we need to learn to read the ingredient lists to avoid purchasing and using products with irritating substances.

Skincare ingredients to avoid

Reading ingredients lists can be pretty daunting so I thought I’d compile a short list (which is by no means comprehensive) of the most common irritants found in skincare products. One really bad ingredient that everyone should avoid is Alcohol Denat. Often used in astringents to absorb excess oil and in sunscreens to make their consistency lighter, it is very irritating, drying and just problematic for all skin types.

Menthol is another culprit. Very used in lip plumping products, it works by irritating skin to make it swell so that your pout looks plumper. Menthol (like peppermint, camphor, and mint which should be avoided too) are counter-irritants. This means that they are used to induce local inflammation to soothe inflammation in the deeper layers of the skin. Simply put, they substitute one type of irritation for another, but no type of irritation is ever good for skin.

Other irritating ingredients include cinnamon, citrus fruits and oils (lemon, orange and lime), coriander, ethanol, eugenol, fragrance, lavender, linalool, sodium lauryl sulfate, tea lauryl sulfate, witch hazel (which contains high concentrations of alcohol) and even some essential oils: they all contain some fragrant compounds that can be problematic for skin. Now, before you run to your stash to throw away products that contain these ingredients, please keep in mind that their concentration and frequency of use are important factors to take into consideration.

Products that contain these ingredients in small concentrations aren’t likely to cause much damage. Also, using a product with one of these substances every now and then is not as bad as using them daily. For instance, I love anything citrus, so I sometimes use a body wash or body cream with lemon or orange. And while I don’t use lip products with Menthol every day, every now and then I like to apply a lip balm that contains it.

Do you have any more tips on how to avoid skin irritation and inflammation?

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    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Vonnie, thank you! I’m glad you found it interesting and hope this info helps you and your skin. :)

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Trisha, that’s awful! Fragrances can be very irritating indeed. But at least you know what to avoid.

  1. says

    Very informative, gio! When I have any form of skin irritation which thankfully, is extremely rare, I will stop using any skincare or cosmetic. And I clean my face with warm water only, and spritz on loads of Avene Thermal Water. Normally it would go away in 2-3 days. But occasionally I do pop an antihistamine tablet if I find the rash is not subsiding.
    Vonvon´s last blog post ..A-Blush-A-Day- No 1- MAC Mineralize Skinfinish – By Candlelight – Swatches &amp ReviewMy Profile

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Vonvon, thanks. And I’m glad to hear your skin is rarely irritated. Stop wearing makeup and using skincare is always good when you have a reaction and I’m pleased the Avene Thermal Water helps your skin heal too. I have heard several people recommend it to soothe irritated skin, I’ll have to try it one day. :)

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Makeup Morsels, because even if witch hazel contains alcohol, it isn’t alcohol. It is just a technicality really. Most of the claims companies make are nonsense really. It’s appalling to know what they can get away with.

  2. says

    I try to avoid most of the things on your list (although I haven’t heard about coriander being bad, or even being in skin care products). I have a list of ingredients on my site that I try to reference before I buy new products. I rarely get any irritation from products (just acne) but I try to avoid irritating ingredients just in case. Lately I’ve been having problems with hair dye irritating me, so I’m nervous about that if the problem gets worse!
    Jeni´s last blog post ..DHC Deep Cleansing Oil ReviewMy Profile

  3. beautifulwithbrains says

    Jeni, that’s good that you try to avoid irritating ingredients. Even if they seem to work well, they can still damage the deeper layers of the skin and sadly we don’t notice that until it is too late. So prevention is the key. Hair dyes can be very irritating too and I’m sorry to hear you have problems with them. I hope it won’t get worse.

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