Is There A Difference Between Inflammation and Irritation? Our Editors Explain

November 17, 2021
Sarah Ferguson
By: Sarah Ferguson | by L'Oréal
Is There A Difference Between Inflammation and Irritation? Our Editors Explain

Inflammation and irritation are two terms that are often used interchangeably. Both can result in visible redness, itchiness, and general sensitivity. But in reality, the two are not one in the same. Here, consulting dermatologist, Dr. Julie Russak, a New York City-based board-certified dermatologist, explains some of the key differences between skin inflammation and irritation

What’s the Difference Between Skin Inflammation and Skin Irritation? 

“Usually, inflammation comes from the inside and then shows up on the skin, and irritation is usually from external sources, like something that has been applied on the skin or comes in contact with the skin from the air,” says Dr. Russak. 

While the causes of each may be different, your skin can be both inflamed and irritated at the same time. “Sometimes the problem starts as inflammation, and people try to calm it down with the wrong products that then irritate the skin from the outside in,” she says. “And when the skin is inflamed on the inside, it can be extra sensitive, so it’s more easily irritated from the outside.” 

What Are Some Common Causes of Skin Inflammation? 

According to Dr. Russak, inflammation happens when “the skin cells that create the protective barrier cannot function properly, causing the skin to become weaker and lose water.” This is commonly diet-related. “Anything that creates inflammation in your gut, like diets that are high in sugar, gluten and dairy, will show up on the skin,” she says, adding that rosacea is one of the most common inflammation-related conditions. If you think you’re experiencing inflammation, consult with a doctor for next steps. 

What Are Some Common Causes of Skin Irritation? 

Harsh skincare products are often the culprits behind skin irritation. “For example, overdoing it on chemical peels or mechanical exfoliation or using products that are not compatible with your skin can disrupt and break down the protective barrier of the skin,” says Dr. Russak.  

If sensitivity, irritation or inflammation are a concern for you, consult your dermatologist, who will be able to recommend products that may be good choices for your skin.

At, we recommend that consumers with sensitive skin introduce one new skincare product at a time and do a patch test to help determine if you might experience a skin reaction. You can also try to use fragrance-free products or products that are formulated for sensitive skin, such as the CeraVe Moisturizing Cream.  

cerave moisturizing cream

Photo Credit: Chaunte Vaughn

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