Stinging Skin

Dark hair girl scratching stinging skin on face

Stinging skin is a type of sensitive skin. (1) You may notice that your skin stings but nothing is there, because stinging skin often occurs without any skin redness or visible irritation. 

Causes of Stinging Skin

Why does water sting my face?


When you have skin inflammation, rosacea, are over exfoliated or are starting a retinoid (or increasing the strength of a retinoid), everything will make your face sting- even water.  Friction from the towel used to dry you face can also sting.  When this happens, try a soothing oil such as argan oil.

Here are some of our favorite soothing oils that can reduce skin stinging (I personally use the PAORR Oil because I have very sensitive skin):

Why Skin Stings

Skin stings when nerve endings in the skin are stimulated. There are special nerves and receptors in the skin that make you feel stinging on the skin.  The skin stinging sensation is very common on the back, neck and face.

Why Skin Stings Around the Mouth and Cheeks

The parentheses areas around the mouth- called the nasolabial folds, and the cheeks are the most common areas on the face to sting. The increase in sensitivity in this part of the face is thought to be caused by a thin stratum corneum in the upper layer of the epidermis,  a high density of sweat glands and hair follicles in this around, and an elaborate network of specialized sensory nerves that detect stinging.(2) 

List of Ingredients in Skin Care Products that Cause Stinging

Certain skin care product ingredient are more likely to cause skin stinging. However, if one of these cosmetic ingredients causes your face to sting, it does not mean that all of these ingredients will make you sting.  There is specificity of the stinging response. You may sting to lactic acid, but not with benzoic acid and azelaic acid. One study showed that there was no correlation between patients who stung from lactic acid and those who stung from azelaic acid. (2) This suggests that there is some sort of stinging specificity involved that has not been figured out by scientists.

These are the skin care product ingredients most likely to make your skin sting

Tips to treat stinging skin

Starting a new skin care routine can result in skin stinging.  This will occur if you use more than 3 types of exfoliating products at the same time.  So- it your skin stings- stop all hydroxy acids, retinoids and Vitamin C for 4 days.  Then slowly re-add each one. We recommend starting the retinoid first and closely follow the retinoid instructions.

Do not add in the hydroxyacid or the Vitamin C until you can tolerate the retinoid without stinging.

Of course- ALWAYS make sure you are using the right skin care products for your Baumann Skin Type.

Using the wrong skin care products or the wrong skin care routine or products in the wrong order can cause skin stinging.

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  1. Baumann L. Ch 18 Stinging and Burning Skin (Type 3 Sensitive Skin)  in Baumann's Cosmetic Dermatology Ed. 3 (McGraw Hill 2022)
  2. Basketter DA, Griffiths HA. A study of the relationship between susceptibility to skin stinging and skin irritation. Contact Dermatitis. 1993;29:185.
  3. Marriott M, Whittle E, Basketter DA. Facial variations in sensory responses. Contact Dermatitis. 2003;49:227.
  4. LaMotte RH, Lundberg LE, Torebjörk HE. Pain, hyperalgesia and activity in nociceptive C units in humans after intradermal injection of capsaicin. J Physiol. 1992;448:749.
  5. Schmelz M, Schmid R, Handwerker HO, et al. Encoding of burning pain from capsaicin-treated human skin in two categories of unmyelinated nerve fibres. Brain. 2000;123:560.
  6. Morrow JD, Minton TA, Awad JA. Release of markedly increased quantities of prostaglandin D2 from the skin in vivo in humans following the application of sorbic acid. Arch Dermatol. 1994;130:1408.

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