Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
We live in a more is better culture. So if you’re piling on skin care at the same rate that Kim Kardashian goes through contouring cream, we don’t blame you. As long as what you’re using is benign, like gentle cleansers, hydrating masks, and lotions, go for it. This urge to amass goes awry when you’re assaulting skin with too many active, irritating ingredients. (Lobster face, we are on to you.) Your thinking may go something like this: “If a little stinging means it’s working, then a straight-out burn means it’s working extra well, right?” Wrong.
“No pain, no gain is a terrible motto when dealing with your face,” says Lucile White, MD, a dermatologist in Houston, Texas. Skin care should not sting, tingle, or burn on a daily basis. If it does, you’ll get redness, peeling, and flaking. “Those are signs of chronic inflammation,” says Karyn Grossman, MD, a dermatologist who practices in New York and Santa Monica. In other words, your skin ain’t happy, and inflamed skin will develop a cascade of other issues — dryness, tightness, and increased sensitivity.
But here is what’s confusing: Many proven skin care ingredients, like acids and retinoids, might in fact sting, and in that particular case, they’re supposed to. For products like those, tingling can be okay if it is short (three seconds or less) and intermittent (not daily).
So, how do you know if feeling the burn is the good kind or the bad? Ahead, the pros explain how to keep from getting burned by your skin care.