How to Fix Common Skin Screw-Ups

Hilary Sheinbaum
Skin screw-ups

Photo: Getty Images

Oops! The label instructed you to follow steps one, two and three, but you didn’t quite use as directed — and instead of glowing skin, you ended up with with a dry, red complexion. Don’t panic! Here’s how to fix these common skin snafus.

You overdid it with your anti-aging regimen.

“Some ingredients are not meant to be mixed,” says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, MD, FAAD, a board certified dermatologist. “Individually, anti-aging ingredients – retinol, Vitamin C, and alpha/beta hydroxy acids— may help the skin, but in combination may be too much for you to tolerate.”

How to fix it: Stop using these products, and apply over the counter hydrocortisone 1% cream twice daily until the skin inflammation improves. A gentle skin cleanser and moisturizer, like Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser ($5.50) and Cetaphil Moisturizing Lotion ($8), will soothe irritated skin.

Recovery time: Less than a week.

How to avoid it in the future: Start out with only one new product at a time, says Dr. Zeichner. He adds that it’s important to get acclimated for two weeks before adding another new product to your regimen. “When you do add on the second product, do it at a different time of the day,” he advises. “Always avoid other potentially irritating products like harsh soaps or fragranced creams.”

You exfoliated past the point of no return.

How it happened: “Whether it’s using a scrub with sandpaper-like beads or granules or chemical peels, over exfoliating will damage healthy cells,” says Cecilia Wong of Cecilia Wong Skincare. “Your skin is not a washboard! Scrubbing too hard can be very traumatic for your skin.” In addition to scrubs, chemical peels and potent gels, acids can facilitate this problem.

How to fix it: First, stop exfoliating. Give your skin a week or two to heal and repair itself. Then resume with a lighter exfoliant two to three times a week. Second, opt for exfoliators with round beads, not apricot kernels or other natural grains. They have sharp edges and can scratch/lacerate the skin causing irritation.

Recovery time: Between one and two weeks. If skin is sensitive and delicate, the healing process could take a month.

How to avoid it in the future: Look for exfoliators with ingredients like borage, carrots, aloe or rose hips. These ingredients assist in skin strengthening. It’s important to avoid cleansers with acids, which will further dry and irritate skin. Instead, use botanical based washes containing vitamin C, says Wong.

You slipped up with your self-tanner.

Missed a spot! Rough patches of dead skin can cause self-tanner to apply unevenly, leaving you streaky and spotty.

How to fix it: Use a daily exfoliant, like First Aid Facial Radiance Polish ($24), to slough off the spottiness, says Dr. Francesca Fusco, a board certified dermatologist.

Recovery time: A few days.

How to avoid it in the future: Once the pseudo-tan fades, there’s always an opportunity to try another system or product (and practice!). In the meantime, Dr. Fusco suggests utilizing a BB cream, like Vichy ProEVEN Mineral BB Cream with SPF 20 ($33) to help to camouflage dark spots and prevent further damage.

You overdosed on acne cream; now your skin is flaky and broken out.

In an attempt to zap a breakout, you went overboard with your acne medication. “This can lead to increased inflammation which actually can worsen acne,” says Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, Co-director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery in Washington, DC.

How to fix it: Use the topicals as directed. If irritation still occurs, cut down to fewer applications (such as every other day instead of daily).

Recovery time: A few days.

How to avoid it in the future: For sensitive skin, Dr Tanzi recommends testing the cream in front of the ear or on the jawline, right under the earlobe, for two weeks, which is enough time to determine if the skin will react badly to the new product.

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