POV: you just tried another moisturizer and once again you experience that unpleasant stinging or burning sensation…
You may be worried about why your skin burns with every moisturizer you try (or your favorite one suddenly started to irritate your skin), confused about whether this means that moisturizers are bad, if there is something wrong with your skin, or if this just means that the moisturizer is “working”.
In this article I’m going to give you a clear answer and deny the rumors surrounding why lotions or moisturizers can make your skin burn.
It can be so incredibly annoying to constantly have this skin problem, change your lotion or moisturizer again and again, and still be afraid that you could be allergic to your skincare products or that they could damage your skin barrier.
If this problem occurs frequently, you may be desperate to find out what are the causes and what to do – how to avoid this burning sensation and soothe irritated skin.
Keep reading for some straightforward answers, lots of helpful tips and tricks, explanations and solutions to this common problem!
Why Is My Skin Burning After Applying Lotion?
What causes moisturizer to burn?
This symptom can be especially frightening, making you wonder if your moisturizer might be causing permanent damage.
Have no fear, however – in most cases, this isn’t likely. Several varying situations might be responsible for the sensations you’re feeling, and while some are warning signs, irreversible damage won’t be the end result (most of the time).
There are many different reasons why your moisturizer may be irritating your skin.
Keep reading to learn about six of the most common causes of this burning sensation and what can be done to minimize or prevent these undesired and unpleasant effects1.
Reason #1 You Have Sensitive Skin
Some people simply have naturally sensitive skin2, and that’s completely okay!
What’s important is to be aware of this and to steer clear of products that can exacerbate or irritate sensitive skin3.
Skin conditions like eczema or rosacea are even more easily aggravated, making sensitivities even worse.
Certain ingredients are just more likely to cause a burning sensation when applied to sensitive skin. This can vary from person to person, so be patient with yourself when trying out different active ingredients!
Choose products that are designed and formulated specifically for sensitive skin.
Stick to gentle cleansers and fragrance free skincare products that won’t be irritating or strip away your skin’s natural oils.
Be gentle when applying moisturizer. Try to keep from rubbing or pulling on your skin, as this can increase irritation.
If your product does still cause a burning sensation, try a new moisturizer.
Typically, the fewer and easier to pronounce items there are on the ingredients list, the less likely a product is to cause skin irritation.
Harsh chemicals, artificial fragrances, alcohol can burn already sensitive skin, so make sure you double check what’s going onto your face or body!
It may also be helpful to speak with a dermatologist if you experience continued negative effects due to hyper-sensitive skin.
A qualified physician could refer you to an allergist to test for specific substances that might be causing an extreme reaction.
Reason #2 Your Skin Barrier Is Damaged
But what is the skin barrier? The skin barrier is the outermost layer of your skin, also called the epidermis.
This layer is composed mostly of dead or dying skin cells that protect the tissues underneath from exposure to dirt, germs, impurities, and other toxins.
While it may seem morbid or gross to think of a bunch of dead cellular tissue as your skin’s protective coating, this is a good thing!
Of course, you don’t want the dead cells to build up and block your pores from absorbing all the good things, though – that’s why we exfoliate.
Go back to the basics – use a gentle cleanser designed for repairing the damaged skin barrier and providing relief from irritated skin.
It may be helpful to consult a dermatologist for scientifically backed recommendations of products and ingredients to try.
Aloe vera is almost universally touted for its anti inflammatory properties. It can provide great relief for burning skin or skin that’s healing from an allergic reaction.
If you’re a big fan of exfoliating, it may be time to cut back for a bit.
While regular and gentle exfoliation is good to detoxify and cleanse the skin, too much or frequent exfoliating can strip away the protective part of your epidermis and damage the layers of your skin underneath.
Reason #3 Your Skincare Routine Doesn’t Match Your Skin Type
Knowing your skin type is very important to consider when choosing a skincare routine that works for you.
If you have combination skin, you may not want to only use heavy, oily moisturizers exclusively, etc.
Moisturizers designed for oily skin can make dry skin burn, and vice versa.
The key to healthy looking skin is choosing a moisturizer (and other cosmetics) that meets your skin’s unique needs6.
There are quizzes you can take online to help you determine your skin type, or a beauty counter associate at a department store or beauty outlet could also help you find the products best suited to your particular skin type.
In many stores, skincare products are organized by skin concern or the skin type they are created for, which can take some of the guesswork out of picking products.
It’s always important to double check before you buy, however!
Look for products specifically designed for your skin type.
Many skincare brands have questionnaires available on their websites that can help you identify the products that are most suitable for your unique skin concerns.
For example, your best friend’s skin may love hyaluronic acid, but you might have an undesirable reaction to it.
That doesn’t make hyaluronic acid bad completely, but it would be something you’d want to stay away from if it doesn’t work well for you.
If you struggle with dry skin, choose powerful moisturizing ingredients like shea butter and heavier creams to nourish your skin.
For oily skin, look for lighter products and be careful with exfoliation to ensure you aren’t stripping away your skin’s natural oils to cause irritation.
Reason #4 You’re Washing Too Much
Excessive washing can be really irritating to your skin and increase skin sensitivity. Itching, burning, redness and irritation can all be signs that your skin needs a break!
Your skin has a natural acidity that it likes to stay at in order to remain healthy.
Certain ingredients, products, or even just plain water can disrupt this balance when used incorrectly or too often, messing up the skin’s natural barrier and rendering it prone to burning and pain.
Frequent or excessive washing of the face can also strip away the oils that your skin naturally produces in order to keep itself moisturized and lubricated.
This can leave skin feeling dry or tight after washing and render it more prone to discomfort.
Sometimes, washing your face too often can even make it more oily.
Stripping away the skin’s natural oils tricks your skin into “thinking” it’s dry and then increasing oil production even higher than before. Talk about counter-productive!
Try to only wash your face once a day (definitely when it’s visibly soiled or greasy!).
You could also try products with more hydrating ingredients, or rinsing with cool distilled water which is way better than tap water for your skin.
Try applying moisturizer more frequently than you wash it off.
When you dry your face, be sure to pat the skin dry with a clean, soft towel instead of rubbing it.
Rubbing the skin can also damage its outer layer and make skin even more dry and sensitive.
Reason #5 You Have Overexfoliated Your Skin
If your face (or other parts of your body) burns or stings after applying moisturizer, overexfoliation can be the cause.
Have you been using exfoliating cleansers and toner frequently lately?
There is a possibility you have overexfoliated your facial skin which means you removed too many dead cells.
The result? Damaged skin barrier, as well as red and dry skin.
And then when you apply lotion to your face, you feel burning sensation or stinging – this is one of the common symptoms of overexfoliation.
You feel like you exfoliated your skin too much? Now it’s time to give your face a break so it can recover.
Most likely, you will need to stop using any exfoliants for a few weeks.
This means no alpha hydroxy acid (glycolic acid), no salicylic acid or retinol. Stay away from any chemical exfoliators, as well as physical face scrubs.
When your overexfoliated skin is recovering, try to stick with gentle products that are packed with repairing ingredients: hyaluronic acid can be very helpful; ceramides, fatty acids and cholesterol are good choices too.
Reason #6 It’s Not You, It’s The Product
If all else fails, it might just be that you’re using the wrong moisturizer (or specific ingredient)7.
Many cheap skincare products tout themselves as having great moisturizing benefits, but are secretly hiding harsh ingredients that can cause moisturizer burn or even allergic reactions8!
But even with products that contain primarily nourishing or “safe” ingredients, your skin may still not like something in your current moisturizer.
This doesn’t mean that there’s something necessarily wrong with your skin, though!
Everyone’s skin is different, and there are many different factors that play into how each individual’s skin responds to different substances.
Things like where you live, what you eat, what you wash your clothes with, air quality, pets in your home, the weather, the water quality can all affect how your skin responds to your skincare routine and the different products you introduce to it.
Potentially irritating ingredients9 that your skin may not like:
- AHAs and BHAs
- Surfactants and emulsifiers
- Essential oils
Check labels to see if there are harsh chemicals or fragrances in your current moisturizer that may not be good for your skin hiding among the ingredients.
Unfortunately, if it’s not working for you, the best approach may be to throw out the product your skin doesn’t like and try a new moisturizer.
Good ingredients to look for in moisturizers include squalane, niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, and other fatty acids that dissolve dead skin cells while hydrating dry skin.
Natural oils, aloe vera, and pH-balanced cleansers can also be good alternatives.
Why Does My Face Burn When I Put Moisturizer On?
But why really does my moisturizer burn?
Any of the above reasons could be why your moisturizer burns your skin all of a sudden.
That uncomfortable sensation you experience while applying moisturizer could be due to anything from too highly concentrated essential oils, to dry skin, to a sensitivity you didn’t know about.
If you go fragrance-free, have tried numerous moisturizers, completely revamped your skincare routine, and still experience a burning sensation when applying moisturizer, it may be time to make an appointment with a physician for further testing and treatment.
Why Does Moisturizer Burn After Shaving?
Shaving closely with a razor can cause tiny micro-tears in the skin surface where the hair is cut away from the follicle.
When a moisturizer is applied to these areas, it sinks in to these microscopic cuts and can cause burning, just like getting lemon juice in a paper cut.
Why Do My Eyelids Burn When I Apply Moisturizer?
Chances are, the pH balance of your skin has been thrown off.
The skin of your eye area is an especially delicate and fragile area, so it may be one of the first places that you start to experience burning or stinging.
This is an important warning sign to pay attention to, so you can switch to a product that doesn’t cause irritation, pain or discomfort.
In general, it’s prudent to be especially cautious when applying moisturizer or other products to the eye area.
Your eyes are very sensitive, and the vast majority of skin care products can be harmful if they get into the eyes. If this does happen, rinse your eyes right away.
Why Do Lotions Burn My Dry Hands?
It’s winter time, and your hands are feeling especially dry.
You pull out a tube of your favorite hand cream, squeeze out a generous dollop – and instead of feeling relief when you apply it, you’re suddenly in intense pain. What’s going on?!
Chapped, cracked, dry or flaky skin indicates that you’ve got a compromised skin barrier10.
Even if you can’t see cracks or scratches on your skin, there can be microscopic tears in the top skin layer that are easily penetrated by hand creams.
When the ingredients in your hand cream penetrate the exposed layers under your epidermis, it causes pain – because your lower layers of skin weren’t designed to come in contact with these substances.
In addition to this, some cheaper hand creams or lotions can contain artificial fragrances, harsh chemical preservatives, or even alcohol, which has a drying effect on the skin.
Putting these products on already dried out hands can end up merely worsening the original problem.
If you’re experiencing this side effect of dry hands, try not to over-wash them.
Should I Stop Using Moisturizer If It Burns?
If any skin care product you’re using starts to cause a burning sensation or any kind of irritation, it’s best to stop using it right away.
Applying moisturizer, or really any step in your beauty or skincare routine, shouldn’t be painful.
We’ve heard that “beauty is pain” for so long, but is this really true? I for one don’t think it should be!
In most cases, the irritation should go away once the offending cosmetic is removed from the equation.
If it persists, however, speak to your doctor or ask for a referral to a dermatologist for more specialized treatment.
Does Lotion Burning Mean It’s Working?
You may be wondering: “Is moisturizer supposed to burn?”.
This is a common myth about skincare products. A moisturizer burning does not mean that it is “working”! If anything, the burning or stinging sensation likely indicates that the product is doing the exact opposite of what it’s supposed to do.
With a select few exfoliating products, a light, (not unpleasant) tingling sensation may be normal. But unless a skin care professional or esthetician tells you to expect this effect, it’s probably not normal!
How Does The Skin Barrier Work?
Skin barriers are uniquely composed in each of us, but the basic concepts underlying how they function are the same.
The skin barrier is the outermost layer of the skin – in medical circles called the epidermis.
It acts as a layer of protection that prevents irritants from reaching the delicate under-layers of the skin that are filled with sensitive nerve endings and pain receptors.
The skin barrier is composed of both live and dead cells, fatty acids, and other natural substances.
Its health depends on a number of factors, including skin hydration, collagen production, and even your overall physical health.
In healthy skin, the epidermal skin cells are always growing and shedding. This means that some amount of dead skin cells will always be present.
It’s important to avoid over-exfoliation in order to maintain this layer and prevent inflammation or skin damage.
Burning Sensation – What Does It Mean & Which Ingredients Cause It
A burning sensation during or after applying a cosmetic product or moisturizer is not normal11!
Many different ingredients can cause a burning sensation when applying moisturizer – improperly diluted essential oils, fragrances, chemical preservatives, alcohol and more can all cause irritation and burning of sensitive skin.
It could also be possible that you are having an allergic reaction to a specific ingredient. This doesn’t mean that this ingredient is bad in general, just that it may not be a good fit for your skin’s unique needs.
Signs That Your Skin Is Irritated From Your Moisturizer
Here’s how to tell that your moisturizer is the culprit causing the irritation, and not something else (like your diet, an allergy, etc.), and how to tell if your skin simply doesn’t “like” that lotion versus truly being allergic to it.
These are all symptoms that your moisturizer is irritating your skin12:
- Burning sensation
- Dry skin (peeling off)
- Allergic reaction: irritation, burning, and inflamed skin
If the symptoms you’ve been experiencing go away after you stop using a particular product, chances are you’ll be in the clear moving forward.
If the problem persists, however, there might be a more serious allergic reaction or sensitivity condition at play.
How Should Skin Feel After Moisturizing?
After applying moisturizer, your skin should feel, well, moisturized. It shouldn’t feel tight, itchy, sting, burn, or turn red – these are all warning signs of impending skin damage.
Ideally your skin should feel soft and supple. Using a moisturizer is something that should be pleasant and enjoyable, not painful or bothersome.
What To Do If Your Moisturizer Burns Your Skin
The first and best thing to do if your moisturizer stings your skin is to stop using it right away.
If the unpleasant side effects are immediate and severe, you should wash the offending product off of your skin right away to avoid further damage or discomfort.
To help ease the stinging sensations of inflamed skin, you can use simple products with natural soothing ingredients like aloe vera gel, allantoin (a moisturizing emollient), or coconut oil to alleviate the symptoms you’re dealing with and get some relief from the stinging.
Don’t stop using moisturizer entirely, however! Consider switching to a moisturizer designed specifically for sensitive skin for a while.
Avoid known irritants, fragrances, over-washing or anything that may irritate a damaged skin barrier.
How To Avoid Burning Or Stinging Sensation From Moisturizer
Here’s a few tips to help prevent irritation, burning, redness, and inflammation from moisturizers and skin care products:
- Any time you try out a new product, test it out on a small, inconspicuous area of your skin to see how your skin reacts to its ingredients.
- Apply lotion or moisturizer to a clean and dry face or damp skin, unless otherwise instructed.
- Don’t apply moisturizers over broken, raw or abraded skin. Ouch!
- In general, less is more! Stick with tried and true products that give you great results rather than slathering on numerous different products that may end up counteracting each other.
- Avoid harsh ingredients that are known to damage skin: parabens, preservatives, fragrances, etc.
- Try to stay away from physical exfoliants where possible. Sharp pieces present in some scrubs (even if they’re tiny) can rip through the first layer of your skin, causing cuts and tears that disrupt the skin barrier and make irritation even more likely.
I hope this article was helpful to you!
Whenever you need to, come back to this list of tips and tricks to keep your skin moisturized, get rid of that unpleasant burning sensation for good, and get back to that healthy looking skin you deserve!
The purpose of this article is informative and entertaining. It’s not a substitute for medical consultation or medical care. The author of this article does not accept any responsibility for any liability, loss or risk, personal or otherwise, incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, from any information or advice contained here. Safety should be your priority.