No one wakes up and thinks “Today I shall attempt to both annoy and irritate my skin in equal measure” Sometimes it just happens.
Taking a risk with irritating your skin is a bold move especially if you have sensitive skin. I know you want to try the latest ‘make me young and beautiful serum”. But is risking red, inflamed skin or an unwelcome breakout worth it?
Well, there is a way to side step irritation and it is to do a skincare patch test.
What Is A Skin Patch Test?
A skincare patch test involves applying a product to a small area of skin to see if causes a reaction. Reactions can vary from none to severe. Patch testing is advisable if you are introducing a new skincare product, or have reacted to skincare products previously.
There are some ingredients that are likely to cause a skin reaction. For example retinoids, essential oils, glycolic acid and vitamin C serums.
Although any ingredient can cause a skin sensitivity in some people. This is why if you are at all worried about using a product you can do a patch test.
Redness is the most common irritant reaction, with a rash, dry and itchy skin or breaking out in acne another sign your skin doesn’t like this product.
Some products such as retinoids, the irritation is actually purging and this is something you might want to persevere with because there are benefits on the other side of the skin irritation.
While vitamin C serums can also cause irritation until your skin gets used to the product. Sometimes your looking for a reaction.
The point of a skin patch test is to know if a new product is going to cause an unwanted reaction.
Why Do I Need To Do A Patch Test?
If you know your skin is hardy and your have been using active ingredients for a while and nothing breaks you out then you don’t need to patch test skincare.
Also you probably don’t need to patch test if you’re changing from one brand to another but its the same header company.
For example going from La Roche Posay to CeraVe products. These brands are both owned by L’Oreal so the raw ingredient suppliers will be the same.
Most of the time you should be fine switching brands under the same header company.
If your switching to a different company and it is the same type of product like going from SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic to Mad Hippie vitamin C serum – then you might want to patch test the new product.
The way one company formulates a product and the raw ingredients can be very different. Even if the label says the contain the same ingredients.
Patch testing is a choice and not compulsory. Most companies will do tester size samples of there most popular products and often they are free.
Before investing a lot of your cash in an expensive serum that ends up irritating your skin or breaking you out ask for a sample.
What Do I Need To Look For When I Patch Test A Product?
Good question. You’re looking for any unwanted reaction.
For example if you are patch testing a retinoid product it’s likely to cause a reaction because retinoids are ‘active ingredients‘ .
Retinoic acid speeds up skin cell turn over. This process rapidly exfoliates your skin and causes a reaction also known as purging or the retinol uglies.
You might want this reaction because it means in a weird way your skin is improving.
You might be patch testing a product because you breakout easily and want to make sure a product is not going to cause acne flare ups.
You might have sensitive skin or rosacea and want to make sure that the product is not going to make your skin inflammed or red.
If you have any concerns of the potential of a product to cause an unwanted reaction with your skin then your should patch test it.
How Do You Do A Patch Test At Home?
This is a very simple process that anyone can do at home. This is not an allergy test that would normally be conducted in a medical setting. This is a simple test that you do to make sure a skincare product is not going to cause a reaction.
The Two Steps To Doing A Home Skin Patch Test
There are 2 spots that I recommend doing a patch test on. One is the inside wrist or in front of your ear down to your jaw.
If a product contains active ingredients and you are prone to skin reactions then do your wrist.
If you want to test a product to see if it will make you breakout in acne then test it on the side of your face.
The reason for this is if a product is comedogenic to your skin it won’t usually cause acne on the inside of your wrist. We don’t have as many sebaceous glands on our wrists as we do on our face. This means that you might test a product on your wrist get no reaction and put it on you face only to find yourself in breakout city.
How To Do A Patch Test
1. Apply a layer of the product to the inside of your wrist a few hours before going to bed. It is sometimes recommended to cover the area with a band-aid.
I don’t recommend doing this. A patch test is to see how a product will react under ‘normal’ circumstance that you will be applying a skincare product. Of course, if you apply band-aids to your face after skincare then that is how you should do your patch test.
2. Leave the product on for as long as possible. If you don’t notice any reaction and your skin is totally normal then you could apply the new product to your face.
If your not sure or if you have had a reaction to products in the past then apply the product again in the morning. If after 2 applications there is no the reaction you are probably fine to apply it your face.
In some cases, you can get a delayed reaction to a product. This, as the term implies means that you can happily be using a product in your skincare routine for a few days or even weeks before it starts to react.
In the case of ‘purging’ this type of reaction is to be expected. If you are using a product that doesn’t normally cause purging like a basic moisturizer, cold cream or oil cleanser then it might not be a irritation effect.
It could be that the product is causing clogged pores. Sometimes a product is comedogenic, meaning that it cloggs up your pores and you may get an acne breakout.
Allergic reactions to products are also possible and these can be more serious than just redness and breaking out.
When Patch Testing Turns Bad
If you apply a product to your skin and your immediately have burning, stinging, blisters, swelling and/or itching – wash the product off with lots of running cool water and a mild cleanser immediately.
Seek medical advice, especially if your are in pain or the swelling is excessive.
While a serious allergic reaction to a product is very rare it can happen.
If you have food allergies, asthma, or eczema you will need to be cautious with some products that are particularly triggering for an allergic reaction.
If you have nut allergies do not use any oil based products without first checking with your doctor. If you are in any doubts. do not use the product.
The ingredients that are most often responsible for an allergic reaction are often ‘Natural Botanicals’ and perfuming ingredients.
Essential oils are some of the worst as well as synthetic chemical added for fragrancing and preservative purposes.
I know there is something lovely about the smell of some products but my advice and the advice of most dermatologists is to steer clear of perfumed products. Especially in relation to skincare.
Perfume in most cases adds nothing but an irritating smell to a formula. Unfortunately companies can just blanket these ingredients under the heading fragrance so knowing what exactly is in the product can be difficult.
Save fragrance for shampoo and hair masks, where they cause less irritation. Body lotion and hand cream can often be tolerated with mild added fragrance. But where possible keep perfumed products off your skin.
If you wear perfume spray it on your clothes rather than your skin.
Bottom Line With Patch Testing Skincare
If you have sensitive skin, are prone to acne, are switching brands, or are concerned that a product may not work for you then you should do a patch test.
It is much easy to test a product in a small area and avoid having to treat a bad acne breakout or hide inflamed angry skin from the world for a week.
I know you might want to just jump on the latest and greatest band wagon – but trust me and learn from my experience – patch testing can be your best friend.