These are the warning signs that your skin isn’t agreeing with your moisturizer

This article originally appeared in Coveteur.

Moisturizers are the bra equivalent of the beauty world. Both are worn daily and designed to sculpt, protect, and support. However, much like the extraordinary stat that approximately 80% of women are wearing the wrong bra size, there are a profuse number of offenders wearing the wrong moisturizer (*guilty as charged*). The main reason: We underestimate how many factors to consider when choosing the perfect fit. You can’t just throw on the one you bought 10 years ago or borrow a friend’s. Moisturizers need to be updated and tailored to your skin’s current needs.

“Your skin either loves your moisturizer or, when it’s wrong, really hates it – there really is no in-between,” chuckles Dr. Ellen Marmur, president/founder of Marmur Medical. So, to save you from further damage, we asked Marmur to outline the clear warning signs you and your moisturizer are not meant to be.

Problem: Offensive smell

Why: “If you don’t like the smell of a moisturizer for any reason—it might remind you of Granny’s perfume, algae, or [smell] too chemically—the chances are your skin will hate it, too,” explains Dr. Marmur. “Smell is a warning sign, and it’s a big clue that it won’t suit your skin.”

Solution: Follow your nose. Just because a supersmelly cream is supposed to be amazing, that doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Shop at a store where you can try before you buy and, if you tend to be picky about scents, pick a fragrance-free formula to be safe.


Problem: Burning or stinging

Why: There are few things more terrifying than a building burning sensation after applying a beauty product. While a product may claim to answer all your skin’s problems and more, you should wash it off immediately if you feel even the slightest stinging. “When skin burns, it’s a pH issue,” explains Dr Marmur. “Skin is naturally acidic, so if a moisturizer stings, it has thrown the pH balance off, which is a sign it’s not compatible.”

Solution: Before slathering a new moisturizer all over your face, try testing on areas of your skin that are similar to your face (inside of your arms, collarbone, back of hand, behind the ear). Dr Marmur also encourages: “Don’t feel bad about taking it back if it stings. It’s worth looking into the exchange policy before you buy.”

Related article: The skin condition you may not know you’re suffering from

Problem: Breakouts

Why: You might not realize it straight away, but an unusual breakout could be due to a moisturizer to which your skin is reacting negatively. “Inflamed skin won’t turn over cells quick enough, and so keratin [AKA dead skin cells] collects in the follicle or pores and makes a pimple,” explains Dr. Marmur. “This isn’t ‘acne,’ but a passing breakout and warning sign to stop using the formulation.”

Solution: Don’t stop using moisturizers completely. “When you have a breakout, you need to switch gears into wound healing, to repair the damage the breakout has caused,” Dr. Marmur continues. “The most common mistake is to over-manage spots and throw on toothpaste or apple cider vinegar and squeeze it to death. The best thing is to apply a thin layer of oil-free moisturizer on cleansed skin and leave it be, and after a good night’s sleep, it should go down in a day or two.”

Related article: How to treat a sunburn according to dermatologists

Problem: Millia

Why: Millia are teeny white pimples that cluster under skin. Annoyingly, you won’t notice these until several weeks after using a new moisturizer, as it takes time for clogged pores to seal. “Often this pore clogging will occur to sun damaged or dry skin, as it is old skin that got trapped and didn’t get to shed,” explains Dr. Marmur. As soon as you see it, stop using that formula.

Solution: “The best thing is to either leave millia alone completely and it’ll work its way out over a month or so, or visit a derm to lance it out for you,” advises Marmur. “This is where a professional pierces a hole and squeezes out the clogs. It comes out like a little pearl, but don’t try this at home, as it can lead to infection.” To stop it happening, look for the word “non-comedogenic” on a moisturizer, which means its free of ingredients known to congest skin.

Problem: Dryness persists

Why: If you notice that an hour or so after applying your moisturizer your skin is dry again, it’s a sign the formula you’re using is too watery and evaporates straight away. This means it is actually having the opposite effect it should, as it sucks all the water in skin out.

Solution: Don’t put up with a formula that’s not doing the trick and seek out hydrating ingredients with the best track record. “Look for glycerin or hyaluronic acid, which are humectants and pull moisture into skin and hold it there so the hydration lasts,” says Dr. Marmur.


Related article: We found the solution to your worst acne problems

Problem: Spotty performance

Why: “Most of us have combination skin, so it’s hard to find a moisturizer that suits the oily bits and the dry bits,” explains Dr. Marmur. Uneven conditions on your face could mean your current moisturizer exacerbates either the dry or oily part, depending on which one you cater to in the formula. If you notice some parts of your skin becoming worse than usual, it’s time to rethink.

Solution: Consider using a serum instead. “Serum formulas are thinner and don’t have a ton of fatty-acids, so they tend to feel better on the oily spots, but still hydrate the dry areas,” suggests Dr Marmur.

Problem: Your skin changes color

Why: “Your skin should never, ever, EVER change color,” warns Dr. Marmur. “After moisturizing, skin should be exactly the same color as it was before you put it on, perhaps a little brighter. Any yellowing, redness or blotching means it’s not happy.”

Solution: Again, test it on areas similar to the skin on your face like your collarbone. If you see a change of color there, it’s not compatible. Additionally, look for formulas without synthetic fragrance, as that is the number one irritant your skin hates.

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