Does your face hurt? How to calm/heal dry and damaged skin

*sings* She’s just a girl but she’s on fire~~~~~~

Girl on Fire by Alicia Key was on replay in my head this past week, because that is me, literally. Maybe it’s a terrible combination of reaction to skincare products, too harsh peel, dry and below freezing weather, but my face has been red, cracked, blotchy and painful this week. When I yawn I feel like the skin around my mouth is cracking and my cheeks hurt. Forget about makeup, my cheeks feel as if they are on fire even when I apply skincare products intending to calm it. This is seriously what my skin looks like, scaly, cracked, flaky/peeling but not ready to come off….

Since redness and irritation are from damaged skin, via external cause, rather than sensitive skin or internal inflammation, some of the calming and soothing products end up hurting my skin, too. There are several important things to remember when getting your scaly, cracked, peeling and painful skin back to normal:

  • It takes time. Yes we can use products to help it heal faster and heal better, but it’s going to take a few days. No matter how you exfoliate and dose the skin with moisture, you will have to go a day or two of flaky/terrible looking skin before it heals, is ready to shed and show the new skin underneath. It took almost a week to go from cracked/peeling skin that hurt to normal, hydrated skin that is smooth and capable of producing oil again.
  • Don’t just slap on a thick cream. There are two important things your skin need, hydration that penetrate deep into the skin, and a protective layer on top of the skin to prevent moisture loss from the environment. You need both to help heal your skin, and a thicker cream may prevent moisture loss but might not get past the crackly top layer of dead skin to provide hydration. Then you end up with a greasy layer, clogged pores and skin that still feel dry.e.
  • Exfoliate regularly but as gentle as you can. The peeling and scaly skin may prevent your products from penetrating into the skin, but because the skin is damaged, scrubs may cause abrasions to add onto the damage and peels may irritate it further.

Those tips (and the products I will recommend below) apply to sunburned skin as well as wind chapped skin, basically dry and damaged skin, or if you want to winterize your skincare regimen. Alright, time for some (a lot) of name dropping! Here are the products that helped to get my skin back to normal…..

Cleansers – you want something hydrating and gentle but does NOT leave any residue! I would recommend an oil cleanser. I like Shu Uemura cleansing oil or Dior cleansing oil. If you want something more traditional, Clarins Gentle Foamy cleanser and Boscia Purifying cleansing gel are both wonderfully gentle, somewhat hydrating but leaves your face feeling clean.

Exfoliators – you want to exfoliate regularly so the products sink in better, but go as gentle as you can to prevent hurting the skin better. Since the focus is flaky skin rather than discoloration/bumps or deep pore unclogging, a gentle physical exfoliant is better than chemical peels that may irritate. You can use a konjac sponge with your cleanser every other day or try a powder exfoliant. I’m a big fan of Tatcha Rice enzyme powder and Dr. Brandt Microdermabrasion.

Masks – gel masks or anything with tingling, cooling sensation tend to give me a burning sensation and a cream or sheet mask work much better. You also want to avoid the resurfacing or brightening ones, just focus on hydration, healing and calming. Fresh Black Tea and Origins Drink Up are too thick to be absorbed for my combination skin. I like cream masks such as Origins Mega-mushroom, First Aid Beauty Oatmeal and Chantecaille Jasmine and Lily Healing mask all feels nice on (or hurt the least when applied) and help to heal. Sheet masks with key words like “deep hydration”, “nourishing” or “calming” are also great. Look for ingredients like ceramide, hydraluronic acid, olive or shea butter etc. Sheet masks stay wet for a long time so it helps to soften the scaly skin and make sure the serum gets through/in before it evaporates/dries up.

Toner – I like toners, but you don’t necessarily need them. If you use toners, AVOID ALCOHOL or the exfoliating type! Look for an alcohol-free toner that is hydrating and maybe for sensitive skin etc. Often times the toner for dry skin are a bit thick or leaves a residue, but I love Dior Gentle Toning Lotion with Velvet Peony Extract. It hydrates, it leaves your skin incredibly soft, it does not hurt on irritated/damaged skin and leaves no residue. Also, use super soft cotton applicators like Shiseido Facial Cotton instead of any scratchy cotton ball.

Serum – Most multi-purpose serum tries to spread out and something that is suppose to be anti-aging and hydrating probably won’t be as effective at hydration as something that focuses purely on hydrating. While moisturizer protect your skin, this is great for deep hydration. DDG Clinical Concentrate Hydration booster, Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Liquid or Dermalogica Skin Hydrating booster. DDG booster and Dermalogica are very thin liquid while Dr. Jart+ liquid is more of a serum texture.

Moisturizer – I find that oil don’t hurt as much as cream on irritated skin! You don’t want anything too thick, and try to avoid fragrance since those may also irritate. In terms of oil I like Tarte Maracuja or Kate Somerville Dilo, both are great for combination skin and drier skin types might want to use a moisturizer over it to help seal everything in. Murad Hydro-Dynamic Ultimate Moisture and L’occitane Ultra Rich Face Cream are both rich cream that nourish but does not irritate.

Makeup/remover – I try not to wear makeup to let my skin heal but if you have to…..most of the makeup removing wipes are pretty harsh so I stay away from those. I like KGD cleansing water or Clinique Take the Day Off cleansing balm to remove makeup without irritating the skin (the fact they are hydrating is a bonus). As for makeup, use those that are hydrating, or use a hydrating eye cream or primer underneath. I like Hourglass no.28 the best for hydrating serum.

NOTE: you don’t want to overdose! You may only need to change one or two product depending on how dry/irritated/damaged your skin is and your skin type. For example, oily/combo skin may not need to use serum/moisturizer after a sheet mask, but dry skin may want to apply moisturizer over it. If your current cleanser is gentle enough and does not dry you out, then keep it. Don’t overexfoliate, even if it feels gentle. Also don’t overdose with using mask twice a day or something, since you might get clogged pores etc.

It takes time for damaged skin to heal, but as long as you are gentle with it, you should see improvements in a few days and skin back to normal within a week or two. I hope some of the products above also works for your skin. Let’s get through this winter with no more bad skin, fingers crossed!

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