Skincare Myth: “The Burn Means It’s Working!”

If you feel the burn, you’re doing it wrong.

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Curology Team
May 03, 2018 · 4 min read

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We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Go to the usual places to find acne products and you may think you have limitless options — but not quite. Many products contain the same ingredients: salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. These two ingredients can certainly help, but they can also easily irritate your skin. Yikes.

Some brands even sell entire lines where every product contains salicylic acid or other potentially harsh ingredients. This can be serious overkill for your skin! If your skin ever gets red, dry, squeaky/shiny, or your acne gets more inflamed, you may be feeling the burn.

Irritated skin = more acne

When you feel the burn, that means your skin is irritated, and irritated skin is more prone to acne. If you spot rough, dull, or dry patches on your face, that’s a good sign your skin is dehydrated from over-cleansing or using harsh products, which can strip your skin of its natural protective oils and may aggravate acne.

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How to stop your skin from burning or irritation

If any of the symptoms have already appeared, the first and most important thing is to stop using irritating skincare products. Send your Curology skincare provider a message to share your experience and get follow-up advice, or try the following tips:

1. Check your products for any irritating and pore-clogging ingredients.

We highly recommend reviewing the comedogenicity — potential for blocking pores — of the ingredients in your current skincare products. Use our handy guide to see Curology's list of common pore-clogging ingredients to get started.

2. Temporarily ditch the active ingredients.

If you’ve been feeling the burn, it’s best to give your skin a break so it can recover. And if you’re using a topical treatment like your Curology cream, you may not need other actives like salicylic acid anyway!

3. Don’t wash your face more than twice a day.

Cleanse with a truly gentle cleanser made for sensitive skin—like the Curology cleanser, which is made to be safe for sensitive and acne-prone skin. To remove makeup, use a micellar water such as Bioderma Sensibio H2O.

4. Don’t scrub your skin when it’s irritated.

Avoid physical exfoliation and chemical exfoliation until your skin has had enough time to recover. This includes rotating cleansing brushes!

5. Ditch the toner.

Avoid toners that contain alcohol in the ingredients list! It’s a common culprit in skin irritation. (By the way, we should say that toner isn’t even a necessary step in your everyday skincare routine.) But if you still enjoy toners, try a gentler one like Thayers Rose Petal Alcohol-Free Witch Hazel with Aloe Vera.

6. Beware even “gentle” products.

Yep, you’ve got to do your research. Even with products labeled “soothing” or “for sensitive skin,” it’s a good idea to check the ingredients.

Counterintuitive though it may seem (especially if you’re acne-prone or oily), you really want to go easy on your skin. Give the gentler, less-is-more approach a try for a few months, and you should notice your skin looking much happier and healthier.

Custom skincare from Curology

As always, if you’re using Curology, you can chat one-on-one with your personal skincare expert to get advice for what products to use (or stop using!) for your particular situation. Not a Curology member? If over-the-counter acne treatments aren’t cutting it, it may be time to call in dermatology experts to help clear your skin.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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You can start a prescription skincare consultation online for free when you sign up for Curology. Just take a quick skin quiz and send us some selfies—one of our in-house dermatology providers will evaluate your specific skin concerns. If Curology is right for you, we’ll send you a Custom Formula with a mix of active ingredients for your unique skin, plus any of our recommended skincare products, for just $4.95 (plus tax) to cover shipping and handling. 

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

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