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The truth about why your skincare is ‘burning’

An intense tingle doesn’t mean it’s working harder…

Over the past year many of us have been embracing powerful skincare formulas in a bid to get salon-like results at home. Cue at home peels formulated with powerful exfoliating acids that often leave skin tingling, or with a mild heating or burning sensation.  That just means it's working, right? Sadly, this couldn’t be further from the truth. ‘The bottom line is that products or peels shouldn’t be causing you pain,’ says EV expert and Ashley Aesthetics Founder, Dr Emmaline Ashley.

Why do some products tingle?

While it’s true that at-home exfoliants aren’t as strong as those used during in-clinic treatments, that’s not to say they don’t pack a punch. Acids, such as glycolic, lactic and citric work to rejuvenate the skin by breaking bonds between dead, dull cells on the surface of the skin and stimulate cell turnover.

As acids work their magic, it is considered normal to feel a tingling sensation on the skin - so much so that many bestselling products preface the side effect on the packaging. However, experts are becoming increasingly concerned by this messaging. ‘A slight tingling when you apply a new exfoliant product for the first time can be expected, but it should not linger or cause discomfort. If it lasts for more than a few seconds and gets worse, it’s a warning sign you’ve gone from an efficacious “tingle” to a damaging “burn”,’ warns Ashley.

How is it damaging the skin?

It’s natural to think that the more intense the burn, the harder your exfoliant is working, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, according to Ashley, it’s a signal that things are going wrong. ‘The intensity of the tingle could be due to damage to your skin barrier, meaning the skin is being harmed.’

Whether or not a product causes an intense tingle or burn will depend on its strength and how long you leave it on, in relation to your skin type. Signs of a stripped skin barrier through over-exfoliation (which leaves skin sore and vulnerable) include redness, tightness and discomfort. Plus, products that wouldn’t usually cause tingling might start stinging when you apply them.

More seriously, Ashley warns if you’re overusing exfoliants or using products that are too strong for your skin like high doses of vitamins A and C, you are at risk of major irritation and even 'a chemical burn, as in-clinic peels are controlled chemical burns – controlled being the key word.’  So, that burning sensation could be exactly what it feels like, aka an actual burn.

What can be done to treat damage?

First and foremost, the moment you sense a product has moved from tingle to burn, wash it off immediately. Then, look for barrier-restoring products. Ashley recommends products containing urea, glycerol, ceramides and hyaluronic acid as these all have calming and protective capabilities.

However, Ashley advises that preventative action is key. ‘At-home peel, pads or exfoliants should be discussed with your doctor or skincare specialist, as a professional who has analysed your skin will be the ideal person to  help guide you through the best products and practices for your skin.’

Emmaline Ashley, Aesthetic Doctor

I'm Dr Emmaline Ashley, the founder of Ashley Aesthetics. I'm passionate about beauty, wellness and science. I wanted...

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