Help me combat redness on my face
October 17, 2016 8:00 AM   Subscribe

Over the last 6 to 8 months, I've been taking better care of my skin, and the efforts (and, sigh, money) are paying off with fewer blemishes and better texture. The one thing that hasn't been affected, though, is uneven skin tone -- specifically, redness. What can I try next to help even out the redness? More details about my specific skincare routine below the fold.

For the last 8 months, my skincare routine has consisted of the following:

  • Cleanse with Cerave Hydrating Cleanser
  • Tone with Paula's Choice Enriched Calming Toner (not every day - 2 to 4 times a week)
  • Exfoliate with Paula's Choice 2% BHA Liquid (though not at all lately, since I ran out)
  • Treat with a Vitamin C serum (this one, that has hyaluronic acid)
  • Moisturize with Paula's Choice Super Lightweight Wrinkle Defense with SPF 30

  • Cleanse with Cerave Hydrating Moisturizer OR Pond's Cold Cream OR use a Simple Cleaning Facial Wipe
  • Tone with Paula's Choice Enriched Calming Toner (rarely in the evening, only if my skin feels particularly irritated)
  • Exfoliate with Paula's Choice Daily Smoothing Treatment With 5% AHA OR use Paula's Choice 1% Retinol Treatment. Once a week I use Paula's Choice Weekly Resurfacing Treatment With 10% AHA instead of either of those, and some nights I skip the exfoliant because I use Philosophy Renewed Hope in a Jar (which contains AHA) as my moisturizer.
  • Moisturize with Cerave Facial Moisturizing Lotion PM (I often use this over the Renewed Hope in a Jar also)

    As I said, the quality and texture of my skin has really improved - no more blackheads, my skin is softer and smoother, it's not dry OR oily (I used to have big problems with combination skin). But my cheeks and chin are often red and splotchy, and I hate it.

    What can I add to my routine (daily, weekly, monthly) that will combat the redness?
  • posted by devinemissk to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (26 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
    Try hydrocortisone cream for a couple days. I wouldn't use it regularly, but it can help reduce redness and depending on the cause of the redness sometimes it goes away permanently. If you're having an allergic reaction to something in your regime, it may come back.

    Also, and this may sound odd, but what do you use to wash your pillowcases? You might try switching to a fragrance-free laundry detergent.
    posted by GuyZero at 8:04 AM on October 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

    Is it possible you have rosacea?
    posted by Secret Sparrow at 8:21 AM on October 17, 2016 [7 favorites]

    Rosehip oil reduces my redness considerably. I apply it in the evening under my regular moisturiser and I use the one from Trilogy (it's possible to find out cheaper non-branded but I've had problems with counterfeit oil). I do have rosacea.
    posted by hazyjane at 8:24 AM on October 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

    Benton Snail Bee Essence, maybe their Steam Cream too, and Mizon Black All-in-One Cream, etc. The ingredients that do the most for me as far as skin tone (redness, blotchiness) are Snail Mucin and Niacinamide. There are other brands people like (CosRX, etc.), but I've been using those three daily for about three years and they haven't let me down. Also, things improved when I started using a gentle, low-PH cleanser.
    posted by thegreatfleecircus at 8:27 AM on October 17, 2016

    Rosacea is irritated by scrubs and exfoliants. Even if you don't have rosacea, cutting back on the scrubbing might help.

    Rosacea blemishes are tiny compared to real pimples, more like a rash than a blackhead. Here's the kicker, though - steroid creams like hydrocortisone often make it worse. It's a great quick fix, eg use it for a couple of days if you are going to an event that you need to look good for. But if your daily routine uses steroid for weeks, you'll define a new normal just as red as before, and as soon as you stop, it will be 1000x worse, irritation, rash, peeling, visible red capillaries, and it will take a long time to get back to as healthy as your skin is now.
    posted by aimedwander at 8:30 AM on October 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

    Response by poster: I meant to mention in my post that I don't believe I have rosacea. This redness seems to be purely skin tone -- no blemishes, no visible capillaries, no roughness. One reason I'm asking this question is because I so much of the information online about reducing facial redness is directed at rosacea.

    Second, I only use chemical exfoliants (e.g., BHA and AHA) - I'm not physically exfoliating. The roughest thing I use o my face is an aesthetic wipe, to remove the cold cream when I cleanse with that.
    posted by devinemissk at 8:50 AM on October 17, 2016

    Have you tried addressing what you eat, cutting out sugar and dairy or otherwise following an anti-inflammatory diet?
    posted by alusru at 8:53 AM on October 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

    Best answer: Yes, first of all rule out rosacea. Once you've done that, my first thought is you might be overly exfoliating. Chemical exfoliants are way, way better than physical exfoliants as far as redness is concerned, but still possible to overdo. I would first either try alternating exfoliants (so Monday you use the BHA in the morning and no exfoliant at night, Tuesday you don't use a BHA in the morning but the AHA at night, etc) or giving yourself exfoliant days off (so you only use the BHA and AHA on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.)

    Other things you might try:
    - Skip the morning cleanser and just splash your face with water in the shower.
    - The Cerave lotion already has both, but try adding additional niacinimide and/or hyaluronic acid to help shore up your skin's moisture barrier. Since you like Paula's Choice, she has serum booster versions of each that are very nice. Hado Labo makes a hyaluronic acid "lotion" (more like a gel/serum consistency) that is inexpensive and really great. You can use this after a toner and exfoliant or retinol, before your moisturizer.
    - Use the calming toner 2x/day, every day.
    posted by superfluousm at 8:56 AM on October 17, 2016

    Best answer: Looks like you're exfoliating twice a day though? It's a bit much – once a day would be better, depending on skin type. Some people can only exfoliate every couple of days.

    Also, have you tried the simplest exfoliation there is? If you take a hot shower, after about five minutes your skin will be nice and soft. Rub it with your fingertips. If there's dead skin that needs exfoliated, you'll feel it rub off under your fingers. Exfoliating this way helped my redness immensely. Using anything else at all makes my skin sensitive again. (On preview: cutting out dairy was the second big one for that. Those two together improved my skin vastly.)
    posted by fraula at 8:56 AM on October 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

    Best answer: When I looked at your routine I immediately thought you were exfoliating too much. I would first cut back on the exfoliating to see if that helps. Since you've already cut out the morning step, see how that goes and then try removing it from a couple of evening routines. From a cursory look online, it seems that using it every other night should still give you the same benefits, the more important thing is regular usage.

    I also came in to suggest a low-PH cleanser but I see that you are using Cerave, which I believe is pretty low (5.5-6, I think).

    According to this 2 year old Reddit thread, the Simple products are anywhere from 5.5 to a 7.5 - which is pretty high! So I would ditch those wipes. Wipes are generally not great either as they are rough on the skin and I only use them in awkward situations like camping or on a flight.

    One last point is that I believe the exfoliation makes your skin more sensitive to the sun and maybe it's that? Are you using a daily SPF? It is tricky to find the right one for you (especially so as not to re-introduce the issues you have just cleared up and I'm on the search myself) but I think it's a really important step too few people take. You should be aiming for SPF 50 coverage. As you are using Paula's Choice, it looks like they also carry an SPF50 moisturiser in trial size you could try.
    posted by like_neon at 8:59 AM on October 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

    Oops sorry I see that you are using SPF 30 - still, I think it would be worth considering bumping that to SPF 50 with all the exfoliating going on.
    posted by like_neon at 9:02 AM on October 17, 2016

    Best answer: You ask what you can add, but I think you need to cut way back. Your face after your PM routine is not getting appreciably dirty overnight. So rinse it in the shower in the morning, put on your moisturizer/spf and call it a day. And I agree with the responses that you're using too much chemical exfoliation. Cleansing away the makeup once a day, moisturizing, and an SPF should suffice for daily stuff. Many twice a week consider layering in some of the other stuff.
    posted by cecic at 9:08 AM on October 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

    It may not be something you can address with a skin care routine and might be something that can only be addressed with make up. I like this powder, which is very very light and very much tones down redness in my face with just a quick swipe across my cheeks.

    I had been using this Origins lotion, but found that really only makeup evened and un-redded my skin. But I dislike foundation and can't be bothered with color-correction primers and stuff like that. So the powder has been great for me.
    posted by crush-onastick at 9:12 AM on October 17, 2016

    Actually to be fair, what is not clear from your post is when the redness started. Have you always had redness or is it a thing that's appeared (or gotten more obvious) in the last 6 months?
    posted by like_neon at 9:15 AM on October 17, 2016

    Response by poster: Actually to be fair, what is not clear from your post is when the redness started. Have you always had redness or is it a thing that's appeared (or gotten more obvious) in the last 6 months?

    You're right, I didn't specify! So: the redness has been an issue for a few years. I thought it might be partially hormonal -- I was TTC, then pregnant, then breastfeeding for a lot of that time -- but the baby is now a toddler and fully weaned, and I still have redness, and the redness hasn't really been affected one way or the other by my improved skincare regime. (In some respects, the redness is more obvious now, but I think that's just because it's the only real issue with my skin now.)

    For some context, before I started this routine, I was removing makeup at night, but not moisturizing; I was washing in the morning in the shower, though perhaps with a harsher cleanser than I needed; I only exfoliated with physical exfoliants; and I was using a daytime moisturizer/SPF that was OK but not great. Cleansing more frequently, moisturizing a lot more, and switching from physical exfoliation to chemical exfoliation has had great results for my skin texture, though it's possible I need to now be in a maintenance phase with my skin and start doing less.
    posted by devinemissk at 9:28 AM on October 17, 2016

    Best answer: Try using either AHAs OR retinoids - the combination can be really irritating. See what happens if you cut one of them out for a few weeks.
    If the redness persists, you might want to try Paula's Choice Redness Relief moisturizer and serum - I use them and they cut down on the redness a fair amount. (I have rosacea, though.)
    posted by Lycaste at 9:29 AM on October 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

    As everyone has said, I would cut waaaaay down on messing with your face. Wash, moisturise/sunscreen and leave it alone. I do find it interesting that it was birth and breastfeeding that seemed to kick it off which could indicate it is hormonal. I've yet to see any mention of diet here. Have you considered taking evening primrose oil? It's great for regulating hormones and helps with skin conditions. It's supposedly an all round miracle.

    Now, apparently the actual research is out on whether or not it works for skin. Having said that, my three year old had terrible eczema. I have tried every cream known to man and in desperation, starting putting an oil capsule along with probiotic once a day in her food. The difference has been remarkable, it basically vanished. Once I get complacent and think it's gone for good and stop with the regimen, it comes back. So there's at least one anecdote. You can also apply it directly to the skin.

    For myself, I ingest evening primrose oil and have just started using rose hip oil on my face. I haven't been doing it long enough to see results, but everyone I know who uses rose hip oil raves about it for clearing up skin issues. As with anything, research first. Report back and tell us what has worked!
    posted by Jubey at 9:50 AM on October 17, 2016

    I found that the redness on my face improved significantly when I stopped using moisturizing lotions, and instead started using 100% pure jojoba oil. I only need to use a tiny amount to cover the entire face. It really calms my skin.
    posted by barnoley at 10:00 AM on October 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

    For what it's worth, I have dermatologist-diagnosed rosacea and it only presents as redness on the cheeks. No pimples, roughness or visible capillaries. I also have developed quite sensitive skin and cannot use exfoliants or retinol at all. I agree with others that you should try simplifying your routine by reducing the amount of cleansing and exfoliating you do.

    Another thing that has really helped me is to change the way I remove makeup in the evening. Makeup removal (both products and technique) can be really irritating to skin. I have recently become a fan of Lisa Eldridge's makeup removal technique which involves soaking cotton pads in micellar water (like Bioderma Sensibio) and gently holding them on my eyes for a few minutes to remove eye makeup without much rubbing around the eye and upper cheek area needed. Then I massage an unscented cleansing balm that is quite heavy/kind of greasy (Clinique take the day away) on the rest of my face to remove makeup. Then wipe gently with a tissue and use a gentle cleanser to remove residue.
    posted by joan_holloway at 10:25 AM on October 17, 2016

    I don't have rosacea, but I do have a lot of redness. Vitamin C serum makes it a little worse because it's acidic. There's also increased redness if I use exfoliating liquids more than once a week. Exfoliating is great for removing dead skin cells that can clog pores, but I suggest you experiment to see how little of it you can get away with and still have clear skin.

    I was acne-prone with lots of blackheads, but both of those problems go away when I use oil on my face at night. The one I'm using now is Jason vitamin E oil, but there are plenty of other any jojoba oil. I put it on my face, massage a little, and then wipe it off very gently with a damp cloth. I know everybody says that oil is bad for acne, but for some reason the opposite is true for me.

    You might want to ask your question at Makeup Alley. The members on those forums are welcoming to newcomers and can be really helpful. They have a skincare board, but the makeup board has more activity and it's okay to ask there about any skin issue if you can relate it in some way to cosmetics. Like, "How can I reduce skin redness...I don't want to just mask it with foundation." At MA you have to sign up with your email address, but they don't send spam or sell your address.
    posted by wryly at 11:11 AM on October 17, 2016

    Best answer: Use the calming face toner reliably and lose the aha and the vitamin c serum. Bha daily should be plenty exfoliation and Retinol is also intended to support skin renewal. Both are also more important for the longterm treatment of skin that is prone to impurities than aha and vit c.

    Where are you based, ie how much sunlight are you exposed to? Spf30 should go a long way unless you're outside in sunny parts for hrs every day.

    If, having reduced potential irritants, you are still too red are you averse to make up? Not foundation but the merest tint/colour correcting product. That would probably do enough to reduce the appearance of redness and even out the colour. Lots of products exist which offer very sheer tints and optical blurreres that would achieve this. They should be so sheer that they do not register as make up, you just catch a glimpse of your reflection and go - nice, radiant not blotchy. You could mix these with your moisturiser to sheer out even more.
    posted by koahiatamadl at 2:43 PM on October 17, 2016

    Best answer: I do think your redness could be very mild rosacea - that's what I have, and it looks like what you describe. You're using some good sensitivity-attuned products that work well for me too (though like others here, I cleanse only once a day and exfoliate rarely). I treat my redness with an anti-redness serum before I apply moisturizer and sunscreen, which helps (my skin likes La Roche Posay Rosaliac AR Intense).

    Like others, I suspect less exfoliation/cleansing will help a lot. The one other thing I'd add, from my own product trial-and-error experience, is that it's possible that something in one of your products is just not playing well with your skin. I've never gone so far as to nail down exact culprits in my case (though I do know that witch hazel and alcohol do me no good), but certain sensitive skin products that seem like they should cause no reaction whatsoever make me red nonetheless. Something to keep an eye out for if you do decide to scale back or test out different configurations of your current routine.
    posted by marlys at 3:04 PM on October 17, 2016

    I'm a vote for the cause being what you put IN your body, not what you put ON it. I had red patches for years, and cut out lactose and gluten and immediately felt and looked better. Drink more water and try a Whole 30.
    posted by raisingsand at 4:04 PM on October 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

    Response by poster: Thank you, everyone, for the thoughtful advice! It seems like there's a general consensus that I may be over-exfoliating and/or over cleansing -- which is certainly possible. This regime really helped get my skin looking good after a long period of benign neglect (as well as the more pernicious neglect of the postpartum period, which isn't known for good sleep and eating habits, much less adherence to any kind of skincare regime), but it may be too much for my skin now.

    Starting today (well, last night), I'm cutting back on the AHA. I had also just ordered more BHA, but I will use that and the retinol sparingly. I'll also stop using the Vitamin C -- which I started in an attempt to lighten up a couple of spots of melasma on my face that never faded after the baby was born, but those have faded now as much as I think they ever will.

    I've also ordered some jojoba oil for boosting moisture - it's probably a good idea to add in some additional moisture anyway, since winter is coming, which historically makes my face a lot more dry and prone to irritation.

    And finally, I recalled that I had a sample of niacinimide booster from Paula's Choice, so I'm going to try working a couple of drops of that into my evening moisturizer every other day or so as well, at least until I run out.

    I'll report back!
    posted by devinemissk at 6:16 AM on October 18, 2016

    I subscribe to Curology and part of the service is access to a Dermatologist Physician Assistant. Mine recommended using this anti-fungal soap with zinc once a week or so as redness can often be caused by a mild fungal infection. When I've used mine up I'll try a different brand; this one is to gritty for me to recommend myself.

    btw - I really like Curology. MeMail me if you'd like a referral code for a free month (full disclosure: I get $10 credit if you redeem it)
    posted by Coffeemate at 6:51 PM on October 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

    I encourage you to go to a dermatologist you like to ask about this. Some treatments for otherwise red or blemished skin can be detrimental if you have rosacea, and a dermatologist can diagnose you properly. Also, prescription retinoid treatments are much more powerful and usually (with insurance) less expensive than non-prescription retinol.
    posted by nicebookrack at 11:59 AM on October 23, 2016

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