When we humans notice a problem, it often becomes all we can think about. Common sense goes out the window, and the only goal is to eliminate that issue. Sometimes, that comes at the cost of creating a brand new issue, upsetting a balance that you previously took for granted. There’s one issue in the case of skin that can be cause when you’re trying to treat just about any other problem: irritation.
It’s easy to throw all the anti-acne creams, scrubs and peels in the world at your face and expect it to start looking better than ever. After all, you’re fixing the issue, right? But skin is far more delicate than you might consider. We regularly underestimate the importance that skin integrity plays in its health and appearance. You can do huge damage by mistreating your skin in being rough, overzealous with active products, or forgetting to protect it from the elements.
I’m as guilty as the next person of forgetting that my skin is fragile and it might not bounce back from that kind of treatment. In the past, I’ve experienced breakouts and rashes that built up over years of being way too harsh. The solution was to stop trying to fight it and just let me skin relax and rehydrate for a while. Then, and only then, did the acne products starts to work. Calm skin is happy skin! If you’re aware of the risks of irritation and keep it in mind, you can do a lot to avoid the pitfalls and balance your skin goals with what your skin wants itself.
What counts as being rough with your skin?
You can damage, irritate and anger your skin in a couple of ways.
Overwashing, usually done out of ignorance or in an effort to combat oily skin, can counterintuitively make oil production worse, as well as dry out your skin, leaving you in the tough position of having dehydrated and irritated skin.
In my case, I over-exfoliated. I used a physical washcloth to scrub at my face in an attempt to remove minor flaky skin. Maybe worst of all, using harsh actives too often or on highly receptive damp skin will also cause irritation, redness and peeling.
Overexposure to the sun
Though the sun improves skin conditions like acne, seb derm and psoriasis, unprotected sun exposure not only causes dryness and redness but much more serious long term consequences.
A misguided and often compulsive attempt to smooth out your skin and remove acne is really just causing 10 times more problems than it solves. The major one being severe inflammation and irritation as your skin attempts to heal.
The latest developments in skin care technology have allowed stronger products to come to market and made it easier than ever to accidentally go overboard. Think high-strength acids and retinoids, all marketed in fancy packaging with big results promised. We forget that these ingredients are powerful and have the potential to damage the skin if used carelessly. Even great, mild products simply used too often are just as problematic.
What’s the big deal with inflammation?
Damaging your skin by treating it harshly in any of these ways will cause inflammation. While at first, minor inflammation is hard to detect, it’s actually the root cause of redness, sensitivity, dehydration, acne, and even ageing. Inflammation creates free radicals, which delays healing and prevents healthy skin function. Worse yet, the inflammation cycle is self-perpetuating, continually becoming worse and worse until it’s stopped.
How to change your attitude towards overzealous skin care
The key to avoiding creating or exacerbating skin issues is to put your skin’s integrity first. Stop the damaging behaviours and start to treat your skin with care, and only then incorporate treatments, within reason.
Think of your skin like a precious object antique! Use a light touch – that means no harsh physical scrubbing on a regular basis. Don’t use products that aren’t compatible with healthy skin pH. Rather, choose things like ceramides that nourish and soothe the skin, encouraging it to heal on its own. Ease into using high-strength actives. You’ll start to see glowier, smoother, calmer and clearer skin, and skip over the irritation and redness.
I love extensive skin care – it’s fun to me. But even I have weeks where I just have to ease off and have a breather. So take this as a sign to take a break, step back and give your skin a rest. If you treat your skin with respect it will respect you back!