How to Reset and Calm Irritated Skin, According to an Expert

September 23, 2022
Samantha Holender
By: Samantha Holender | by L'Oréal
person touching cheek

Call it an occupational hazard, but I’ve irritated my facial skin many times. I’ve used too many skincare acids in my routine that caused stinging and burning, I’ve tried serums that bring about nasty breakouts, and I’ve set my skin spiraling from using too many new products at once. And every single time, the dermatologist tells me the same thing: Reset your skin. 


To help you understand how to try to bring skin back to baseline, I spoke with board-certified dermatologist Dr. Loretta Ciraldo

STEP 1: Try to Identify the Cause 

When your skin looks irritated (think: red, peeling, puffy) or feels irritated (think: burning, sensitive, breaking out), the first step is identifying the cause. “If you’re using an active ingredient that is potentially irritating — including retinoids, glycolic acid or other exfoliants — stop that product until the irritation subsides,” says Dr. Ciraldo. “If you aren’t using a product with retinol or an acid, the irritation is probably coming from a so-called inactive ingredient, which includes things like artificial fragrance, color, sulfates, ethyl alcohol or other drying alcohols.” 

STEP 2: Discontinue Use of the Offending Products and/or See Your Dermatologist for Guidance

“If you can be sure which product or combination of products caused your irritation, you can generally just stop those and continue with the rest of your regimen,” says Dr. Ciraldo. If that does not quickly help to resolve the issue or you are not able to identify the product or ingredient of concern, consult your dermatologist for next steps.  

STEP 3: Go Back to Basics 

When your skin is over-exfoliated, over-producing oil or flaking, resetting your skin may take a little more TLC than simply removing a single product. Dr. Ciraldo advises starting over from scratch and embracing a minimalist skincare routine. “I suggest just three steps to start: Use a hydrating cleanser, an oil or serum containing ceramides or lipids, and a restorative moisturizer that has a base of jojoba or aloe,” she says. “More isn’t better, so stay away from anything with exfoliating acids, including glycolic acid, salicylic acid and retinol.” 

For a simple, three-step routine, we suggest CeraVe Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser, Inkey List Ceramide Hydrating Night Treatment and the SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2

cerave acne foaming cream cleanser

STEP 4: Cautiously Reintroduce Products — If Needed 

After a couple weeks, irritation should subside. But that doesn’t mean it’s best to go right back to your old ways. If discontinuing usage of a particular product (or products) addresses the redness, dryness or breakouts you were trying to resolve to begin with, stay with a simplified routine, says Dr. Ciraldo. 


“If your issues are hyperpigmentation or lines, you’ll likely need to restart the retinol or exfoliating alpha-hydroxy-acids (AHAs) that may have set off your irritation.” 


To reintroduce acids or exfoliants, make sure to start off slowly. Only add one new product at a time and use it only once or twice a week (or less, as advised by your doctor) as opposed to every day. “Be sure you’re also following package directions,” adds Dr. Ciraldo. “For example, some AHA products say to wash off after a certain amount of time. Make sure you’re not applying too much product either — you shouldn’t see any product residue on the skin.” 


Photo Credit: Chaunte Vaughn

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