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Why Does My Skin Sting?

Skin reactions take many different forms, ranging from redness and rashes to dryness and stinging. Stinging can affect many skin types (find out yours here), and especially prevalent in “Sensitive” subtype 3 skins, which I also refer to as “stinging skin.”

As dermatologists, we know the main causes of redness and rashes, but the cause of stinging is a bit more elusive. If your skin stings without redness, we know the reaction isn’t due to an allergy. The discomfort can be prompted by acidic ingredients that cause a burning sensation on contact. Exfoliating agents like glycolic acid, lactic acid and salicylic acid are major sting-inducers. The skin-lightening ingredient azelaic acid and the preservatives sorbic acid and benzoic acid can cause stinging as well. Although this stinging isn’t an allergy per se, it can be very uncomfortable nonetheless.

Individuals with stinging skin (known in the dermatology world as “stingers”) need to be wary of botanicals and essential oils such as capsaicin, eucalyptus oil, menthol and peppermint. Although they are natural, they can be potent and a major cause of skin stinging.

Although I’m a big fan of using vitamin C as an antioxidant, it can cause stinging as well. The most effective vitamin C products have to be acidic in order to penetrate the skin, which is why they can cause minor stinging in some skin types. If you are a stinger, don’t despair, there are many other antioxidants that offer good antioxidant capacity without disturbing sensitive skin, so look for a product free of the sting-causing ingredients we’re talking about here. (Green tea, resveratrol and feverfew are good ones to try.)

It’s possible your sunscreen causes stinging as well. This is most likely due to the ingredient avobenzone (also known as Helioplex or Parsol). Since sunscreen is an integral part of every skincare regimen, the best way to fix this problem is to choose a physical sunscreen containing titanium and zinc oxides. Today there are many wonderful products that give you chemical-free sun protection, without leaving a white or chalky residue. I recommend Skinceuticals Sheer Physical UV Defense, since it won’t clog pores and it’s ideal for wearing under makeup.

While it can take some trial and error to find a skincare regimen that doesn’t leave you feeling the burn, don’t give up! But if you want us to do the legwork for you, take our skin type questionnaire, follow our product recommendations and you should have comfortable, beautiful skin.

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