If you’ve ever been embarrassed or used a product your skin didn’t like, you’re probably familiar with facial redness. Those with sensitive skin might have even experienced facial flush without actually knowing the exact products that caused redness. The skin condition can be annoying (and pop up at the worst times!), but it is both preventable and treatable. Dr. David Lortscher, board-certified dermatologist and CEO of Curology broke down what exactly causes skin redness, how to prevent it, products to try, and products to avoid.
What causes skin redness?
The combination of too many chemical exfoliants like AHAs (Alpha Hydroxy Acids) and BHA (beta hydroxy acid) and/or physical exfoliants (e.g. cleansing brushes and scrubs) can cause redness as well as a feeling of tightness, sensitivity, and soreness.
Overuse of retinoids (vitamin A derivatives)
The concentration of this active ingredient can cause irritation in skin if overused. “If applied at too high of a concentration or used more than as directed, you may experience a burning sensation, redness, and sensitivity,” says Lortscher. “In general, it is important to ease into topical retinoids and start at a lower strength, gradually working your way up to higher strengths.”
Inflammation of the skin
According to Lortscher, the four cardinal signs of inflammation are redness, heat, swelling, and pain. Additionally, inflamed acne blemishes may be red, warm to the touch, swollen, and sore.
Your skin is prone to redness if…
You suffer from rosacea
Rosacea causes facial redness, dilated blood vessels, and acne-type bumps, but not blackheads or whiteheads. “Medically known as acne rosacea, rosacea is not exactly acne, although at times, rosacea may be accompanied by ordinary acne, called acne vulgaris,” explains Lortscher.
What are preventative steps you can take to stop redness from occurring?
Avoid hot showers or baths.
If you have a tendency to suffer from facial redness due to conditions like rosacea, Lortscher advises reducing factors that cause facial flushing like hot showers and baths. “Hot showers/baths cause vasodilation, or enlargement of the capillaries (tiny blood vessels near the surface of your skin),” says Lortscher. “When you have inflamed active acne lesions or skin redness, capillaries are already more dilated in these areas.”
While regular exfoliation can be beneficial to the skin, exfoliation is easy to over-do, and that can cause redness as well as a feeling of “tightness,” sensitivity and soreness.
What products do you recommend for redness?
Products with azelaic acid
According to Lortscher, Azelaic acid can reduce redness in addition to unclogging pores and fighting dark spots, bacteria and fungi.
Products with hydrocortisone cream
“Over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone, which is a low-potency topical steroid, can reduce inflammation, thus temporarily reducing the redness of acne blemishes somewhat,” says Lortscher. However, topical steroid creams generally shouldn’t be used on the face daily for more than two weeks at a time. “There are side effects of using topical steroids on the face, including thinning of the skin and acne-like lesions!,” warns Lortscher.
Products with niacinamide can help
Studies have shown that niacinamide can decrease redness and blotchiness, act as an antioxidant, improve epidermal barrier function, decrease skin hyperpigmentation, reduce fine lines and wrinkles, decrease skin yellowness, and improve skin elasticity.
Hydrocolloid bandages (aka blister bandages) help draw out an acne lesion to speed healing. By applying this patch on your skin, it can also help reduce your propensity to pick at your skin, thus helping to reduce any subsequent irritation and redness. Lortscher advises to apply overnight or for 24-48 hours.
Time (and sun protection) is the best healer for post-acne red spots
Azelaic acid, zinc pyrithione, niacinamide and clindamycin may reduce inflammation and general redness while you are waiting for time to work its magic.
What steps can you take in your routine to reduce redness?
Use mineral-based foundations
“If you’re going to use makeup, use a mineral-based foundations contain powdered formulas of silica, titanium dioxide, and zinc oxide, which both absorb oil and hide redness without irritating skin and causing pimples,” advises Lortscher.
Give it time
“Redness left behind by old acne lesions can take months to resolve; the average is about 6 months after the lesion first appeared,” explains Dr. Lortscher. The good news is that most of these spots will eventually resolve. Let time work its magic.
A few products to avoid…
Lortscher says to look out for benzoyl peroxide, sodium lauryl sulfate, and ammonium lauryl sulfate, and denatured alcohol, which can all cause irritation or skin sensitivity.