Chemistry ruined my face - somehow?
April 3, 2015 7:02 AM   Subscribe

Despite using mostly products on my face that I've used before, I have a horrid red blotchy rash all over my face. Is it a particular combination of ingredients that's made this happen? And how should I make it better?

So here's what I used on Wednesday night. I'll try and link to INCI lists as best as I can on a tablet!

- Shu Uemura cleansing oil to remove make-up. I've been using this for years without any issue.
- Astalift Moisture Foam Cleanser. Not had a problem with this before.
- Apple cider vinegar diluted 50/50 with filtered water. Tried this as the whole interweb seems to recommend this as a toner, and I've been OK with AHA exfoliators before and found them more gentle than physical scrubs. I'd used it a couple of days before for the first time and noticed a very small amount of redness and a couple of extra spots, but nothing too unusual. I felt a bit of stinging in application but assumed that was just the couple of spots I had.Applied on a cotton pad to face and not washed off.
- Olay Regenerist night serum. Again, used this a few times before and not had any reaction at all.
- If relevant, the previous evening, I cleansed the same way and used a sample of Kate Somerville Retasphere - no ACV toner, no serum. I haven't tried a retinol product before and wanted to see if I was one of the people who struggle with it. No reaction when I woke up on Wednesday. I believe this contains 0.7 retinol!

So on Thursday morning, I nipped out quickly to get milk - it was overcast - and spent the rest of the day indoors. No sun. My face was red as though I was sunburnt, and I had a mask like redness all over my face that felt warm to the touch. Washing it carefully made it feel hotter. This morning, I noticed I'm covered in tiny whiteheads and my face looks like cheese on toast that's been left under the grill to bubble up. I've put on a little bit of sunscreen just to protect it, and even that made things hot and stingy. I look like I have severe acne. I'm a quite pale Caucasian so it looks very obvious.

Any idea what's happened? I know the standard answer is 'see a derm!' but a) I'm in the UK, we have to see our GP to get referred to any kind of specialist person, and this takes time and is rare b) it's a four-day bank holiday weekend. Sigh.
posted by mippy to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Photos (sorry for quality but can only manage my front-facing camera without glasses!)
posted by mippy at 7:10 AM on April 3, 2015

If you can possibly go to a doctor, go. This sounds like potentially more than just a rash.
posted by mai at 7:11 AM on April 3, 2015

What happens if you wash it with something extremely mild and leave it alone? I mean, you have a few days at home to monitor it, at least, and if it gets worse over the day then maybe you should see someone. I've had weird rashes like that from skincare, that felt really stingy and burny, and it eased over a day or so, with no other things added to it. From memory, the product that did it, didn't have any red flag ingredients, so I can't suggest what might have made my skin so upset (or might be bothering yours). I think the reaction you describe to the vinegar sounds less than ok, though. Do you feel comfortable just waiting to see if it improves or worsens?
posted by mythical anthropomorphic amphibian at 7:20 AM on April 3, 2015

Maybe the retinol and vinegar were too much together. I can't use any kind of exfoliant for a few days after using a retinol product, the effects double up and I have red burn skin, and it is terrible. Not as bad as this, though.

You might also add a sunscreen to your routine after your skin improves, if you continue to use a retinol product, as they do make you more susceptible to sun.

The retinol alone might be an issue, they can have delayed effects. If you feel brave after you recover, you could try a small amount on your chin, no vinegar, and see if it does the same thing all by itself. You might want a lower concentration product.

For now, I'd only put lukewarm water on it, gently, and that's it. No makeup, sunscreen, face wash, anything. Maybe pick up some cetaphil to cleanse if you absolutely feel you must. Once my skin gets irritated anything put on it just makes it worse.

I do agree about seeing a gp, though, even if not a dermatologist. This sounds really bad even to me, and I get rashes all the time.

Good luck!
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:23 AM on April 3, 2015

My sympathies. I understand the impulse to find something to fix this, but your skin is feeling deeply insulted (like cats, skin is weird) and needs to sulk and heal on its own.

I would NOT recommend putting any sort of product on top of it unless it's strictly necessary. Don't even wash your face. If the itch gets bad, gently splash your face with tepid water. Take an antihistamine and see if that helps, but avoid all topical products unless a dermatologist recommends otherwise.

I would suggest just relaxing and staying home over the holiday weekend. As you will not be going outside, you won't need sunscreen or makeup. This also means that you will have no need to wash your face at all. No moisturizer. Nothing but tepid water if and when needed.

When you skin feels better, start with very simple skin care -- mild cleanser and moisturizer, sunscreen when you go out -- and consult a derm about adding anything else step by step.
posted by maudlin at 7:23 AM on April 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

Ouch! I've had that problem before too, when I burned my (sensitive skin) face with an acidic product after retinol. I'm guessing in your case it's the ACV - vinegar is acetic acid.

Get the soothingest, creamiest moisturizer you can. I got a product called "First Aid Beauty" moisturizer that was magic on my burn at Sephora, but in the UK I'm not sure if it's available. Burn gel will probably help if nothing else.

Leave your face alone for a day or two and it'll start feeling way better.
posted by bookdragoness at 7:26 AM on April 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you absolutely insist on putting something on it, maybe try cortisone cream.
By I nth the recommendation to give it a rest.
posted by Neekee at 7:27 AM on April 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also, are you sure you need this amount of products? Try cutting back, like way back, for a few weeks. You might just need a mild cleanser like a bar or cream (foaming cleanser can be harsher) and a moisturizer.
posted by Neekee at 7:30 AM on April 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I too would guess it's the retinol and vinegar together. I'd use nothing but aqueous cream for cleansing and splash rinse with warm water (i.e. no abrasion or exfoliation at all, not even hot cloth cleansing) and moisturise with a few drops of non-perfumed oil (e.g. culinary almond or olive oil) until your skin's back to normal.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 7:37 AM on April 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think the combo of vinegar and retinal did you in. You look like you might be allergic to one or both of them. If you haven't already, take Benadryl. Drink plenty of water and avoid touching your face with anything for a few days. If it gets worse or you start to feel breathless, go to the emergency room. If your face hurts enough that you can't sleep, go to the emergency room. Stay out of the sun.
posted by myselfasme at 7:38 AM on April 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Unless your skin has makeup, sunscreen or axle grease on it right now, you do NOT need to wash it right now. I agree with the suggestions about some alternate cleansing routines for you, but that's best kept for when your skin recovers.
posted by maudlin at 7:40 AM on April 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I just checked and Olay regenerist is a chemical exfoliation product, too. It contains glycolic acid. I think that plus a retinol plus another exfoliator is most likely to be the problem.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:43 AM on April 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

Adding to myselfasme's cautions, please also get medical attention if you develop a fever, if any painful boils/cysts/whiteheads appear, if there's swelling in your lymph nodes (neck, armpits, groin), or if the rash spreads anywhere other than your face.

(That said, I agree that it's likely a temporary bad reaction to the retinol and that you should be as gentle as possible with your face until it clears... and probably thereafter! Do stay well-hydrated as well. I hope it calms down quickly for you.)
posted by argonauta at 8:04 AM on April 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's most likely the new product causing a reaction, but it's also worth mentioning that it's entirely possible to develop allergies to things you've used a long time. So even if something hasn't given you problems in the past, you can just suddenly be allergic to it at some point.

Right now you should probably just stop putting anything on your skin at all and give it time to recover. If you want to wash it, I'd use something really really mild like Cetaphil (don't know if it's available in the UK though). If it doesn't seem to improve at all, definitely see a doctor. A GP can usually handle something like a skin rash so a referral might not even be necessary.

If you're worried about narrowing down the culprit, you can always try adding products back to your routine one at a time to see if you have a reaction to anything in particular. Once your skin has recovered of course.

Should add that I'm not a doctor, just someone who has sensitive skin that's allergic to a lot of stuff. :)
posted by Kimmalah at 8:14 AM on April 3, 2015

I've had this reaction before a few times, and I don't believe it was because of any product I used, since I only use 1 thing on my face and there was nothing new applied to my face. So maybe it's unrelated to product and has something to do with what you ate or another allergy type response. In my case, it went away on its own after a day, so watch it closely. If it decreases, you're fine. If it gets worse, then seek a doctor. In the meantime, stop putting stuff on your face and irritating it! Maybe try some hydrocortisone on a small-ish section of the face to see if it helps.

But also, why are you using so much stuff on your face?? Does your face really need all those serums and cleansers and oils and rinses and toners? I highly doubt it. I hate how the beauty industry convinces women to buy all this crap and put all these chemicals on their face, when there is usually no benefit from any of these, health-wise, or aesthetic-wise. Just keep your face clean and leave it alone. I promise you, no one but you notices any slight effect that these products might potentially have on your skin, because no one buy you scrutinizes your face so close.
posted by at 8:19 AM on April 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

Oh yikes, that looks uncomfortable, and resembles hives a.k.a. allergic urticaria. In any case, your skin said enough, to what you were using on it (which sounds like way too many things at the same time, and you can also at any time develop an allergy to things you have used previously). If I were you, I would definitely try taking an antihistamine like Zyrtec/cetirizine or loratadine (Claritin), or fexofenadine (Allegra) asap. You could also test a spot with a bit of hydrocortisone cream and see if it helps at all.

If you go out, no sunscreen on your face till it heals, just a big hat. (If you have to be in the sun, you could try using a barrier screen like zinc oxide, but I strongly urge you to keep your face out of the sun till it has completely healed and be very careful even then).

This advice is good: I'd use nothing but aqueous cream for cleansing and splash rinse with warm water (i.e. no abrasion or exfoliation at all, not even hot cloth cleansing). I would use Cetaphil or Dove Pure & Sensitive Beauty Cream Bar soap (if using bar soap, lather up your hands and then gently pat lather on your face, then splash rinse with warm water.)

See the advice here on hives management, which sounds helpful.

Strongly second this: If it gets worse or you start to feel breathless, go to the emergency room. If your face hurts enough that you can't sleep, go to the emergency room. And I will add, if your face starts to really swell, or if any of the blisters open up and get really crusty/weepy see a doctor.

(I have eczema, had a breakout with rash on my hand (not dissimilar to your rash), some of the little blisters broke open, and despite my efforts to keep it clean I wound up with a secondary infection, and had to go to the doctor for antibiotics when the skin began to get really weepy and my hand started to get swollen.)

Finally, strongly agreeing you are putting too much stuff on your face, particularly at the same time. After things heal, the only "exfoliating" you really need to is to wash your face with Cetaphil or Dove and a wash cloth like this (and wash gently, not scrub). I admittedly have good genes in that line, but have never used anything but wash cloth and gentle soap and gentle moisturizers (and barrier sunscreen) on my face, and routinely get mistaken for someone ten or fifteen years younger.
posted by gudrun at 8:41 AM on April 3, 2015

I've had a similar reaction when I tried a retinol product on my face - in my case I'd applied it after cleansing my face, with no additional products. I know my mother also got a rash and swelling when she tried a retinol cream. In both cases, no exfoliators of any kind were used after application of the retinol products.

I would stop using the retinol, and follow other people's advice to not put anything on your skin for now, except maybe cool water. I remember it took several days before my skin calmed down enough to look presentable.
posted by needled at 8:48 AM on April 3, 2015

it's definitely the acv reacting to the retinol and other chemical exfoliant AND your double cleansing. and 50:50 ratio was still too strong considering the rest of your regime. having acv as a toner when you double cleanse is a clash of two beauty cultures with different cleansing philosophies. western regime prefers astringent toners as it helps to further remove the dirt and the remains of the foam cleanser. asian regime stops any more cleansing after the double cleansing because your face is now too clean to take anything astringent. from this point on it's hydration and treatment. everything else in your routine is fine. recovery would probably mean laying off every exfoliant and astringent in the short term and treat the rash with something emollient and moisturising. gentle cleanser might have to do for now. once the redness subsides you can resume the chemical exfoliants etc to address the bumps. good luck!
posted by cendawanita at 9:32 AM on April 3, 2015

and when i say emollient i mean medical or pharma-grade products like aqueous cream. not natural oils. at this stage, unless you've used them before with no effects, they will not be either sufficiently moisturising and/or further contribute to blocked pores. if this skincare routine has been yours for years then your skin would mind having to suffer another shock of not being pampered at all as suggested by others ie soap and water only. esp in the uk at this season. you can try transitioning later. now you definitely need to maintain the moisture level at least.
posted by cendawanita at 9:42 AM on April 3, 2015

Cosmetics in general are complex chemical mixtures with no legal requirement to stand up to labeling claims. Europe generally is going through something of a revolution in terms of how cosmetic safety is tested in a human-relevant way--for the better--but that's still just testing for safety, not for which combinations of products will cause your body to react adversely.

I still can't believe retinol products are out there just for casual, over-the-counter use (I'm a toxicologist if that makes any difference). It's restricted as an ingredient in cosmetics in some places (Canada springs to mind) and will likely be banned in other countries in the near future. I'd drop that from use, for sure!

If you can muster any degree of paring down the number of products you use routinely, your skin will very likely improve. You probably should see a general physician before a dermatologist anyway, because even a generalist will be able to diagnose the more common issues. Until then, you'd be well-advised to stop putting any product, sunscreen included, on the affected areas. This will be the first bit of advice any physician will give you. Cosmetics/other topical products and irritated skin are not a good mix.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:52 AM on April 3, 2015

My favorite skin soother is pure aloe vera gel. Sun burns, mild burns, dry skin all love aloe.
posted by carrioncomfort at 10:01 AM on April 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm with internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 -- BHAs and retinol will cause a reaction. The apple cider may have caused your skin PH to change too, which can cause reactions.

I suggest posting this on reddit's asian beauty since you're using quite a few asian beauty products.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 10:13 AM on April 3, 2015

Until it's been ruled out, I'd suspect the vinegar toner. It sounds good on paper as an acidifying toner can help to return the skin's acid mantle pH to the correct level, but you're likely hammering your skin with something that's way too strong. If you want an acidifying toner, try Pixi's Glow Tonic or consider ditching the toner and switching to a lower pH foaming cleanser like Hada Labo's for your double cleanse 2nd step. I have very sensitive skin and Olay's Regenerist line has always given me problems. I also don't use retinols for the same reason, though with retinol products you can avoid major problems by slowly ramping up and using very, very small amounts.

When my skin freaks like this, I restrict how much I wash and I use skin oils only (currently I use an unscented, unblended argan oil) until things calm down. No serums, acids, or special ingredients.
posted by quince at 10:34 AM on April 3, 2015

Response by poster: Hello!thanks for answers so far.

Some have said that I am using too many products. I have to admit I have been taken in by some 'skincare gurus' who advocate multiple steps, many of which involve as you do fly expensive products. I turned 33 yesterday,and as well as redness from dermatillomania, I have noticed a couple of forehead lines, so that was what made me wonder if retinol was for me. Straight up retired old aren't widely available in the UK! I am still working g out what does and doesn't work for me.

I think dermatologists work differently here. I was referred to one last year after months of flakey psoriasis on my eye, and when I did see them they didn't give any kind of advice on ski care or routines, just gave me a product to treat the condition. On the NHS at least, you would never go to see one just to get suggestions on what .routine to follow or for things like cortisone shots. I had bad eczema on my hands for years and even then I wasn't referred.

I have used Pixi Glow Tonic before with no pro lens - I found my picking scabs healed up a lot faster with it.
posted by mippy at 12:25 PM on April 3, 2015

Response by poster: Oon, I may bookmark that Hada Labo product for when I go to Japan in November.
posted by mippy at 12:26 PM on April 3, 2015

Your skin looks and sounds like mine. I'm very prone to redness and blotchiness. My skin looks the best when I do nothing to it. Like no soap, just spash with water and if its dry pat a little oil or petroleum jelly, or glycerin (mixed with water) on dry areas. Most sunscreens seem to irk my face slightly, even phsyical ones. Try doing nothing and see if it helps.
posted by WeekendJen at 2:30 PM on April 3, 2015

I have had what looks like the same sort rash when I used an old bottle of a product I'd used before with no trouble. It went away after a couple days, during which I didn't put anything on my face. Some Benadryl/diphenhydramine might be helpful with making it go away sooner.

Be careful that whatever you're putting on your skin hasn't gotten contaminated or deteriorated due to age.
posted by asperity at 2:49 PM on April 5, 2015

So having put too many things on my face over the years and had the same reaction, the first thing is to put cold water compresses and aquaphor and repeat until the burning goes away. Your skin will flake off a bit. Don't do any more to it though. You have the same results as if you had gone to a dermatologist and had a strong chemical peel which you did on your own. Good luck.
posted by OhSusannah at 6:06 PM on April 9, 2015

« Older Questions for Elem Teachers in the Tri-Cities, WA   |   Trying to find a Social Security "administrative... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.