Chances are, you’ve had this happen to you: you use a skin care product for the first time and all of a sudden your previously calm skin is covered in big red blotches. Suddenly, your skin itches and your eyes feel like they’ve been stung by bees. Red bumps start forming everywhere and your skin feels like it’s burning. Although these symptoms may be a bit dramatic, they illustrate what can happen when you use a skincare product without doing a patch test first.
Patch tests are a great way to test a new skincare product in a small, inconspicuous spot to see if you’re allergic to it (or just plain irritated by it) before you put it all over your face--or in some cases, before you invest in a product for your skin care routine. Most people, even those with sensitive skin, aren’t aware what patch tests are or how to do them, which is why we’re going to look at both in this article.
IN A NUTSHELL
Main Takeaways: A patch test is an easy way to see if your skin will react adversely to a product before you spend money on it or use it all over your face.
Good to Know: Before you do a patch test, make sure your skin is completely free of any other product, otherwise, you might not be able to tell which product irritated your skin.
Recommended Products: So Clean! Facial Cleanser.
What is a Patch Test?
For those not familiar with it, a patch test is a way to test a skin care product (or make-up, fragrances, or other potentially irritating products that come in contact with the skin), on just a small patch of skin to see if it will cause an adverse reaction. That reaction can range from contact dermatitis, a rash-like condition that occurs when someone is allergic to a product or ingredient, to breakouts to redness or even flakiness. A patch test is usually done on a less noticeable part of the skin so that it won’t be seen should irritation occur.
Who Should Do a Patch Test?
Intuition might tell you that only those with sensitive skins need to think about patch tests, but that’s far from the truth. Even if your skin rarely experiences irritation or you’ve never had a breakout from skincare products, a patch test is never a bad idea as any skin care product or ingredient that you’re not used to can make your skin react, no matter what your skin type. And by skin care product, we don’t just mean products you use on your face. Just about anything from body creams to sunscreen can cause irritation and/or breakout so if you want to be on the safe side, do a patch test before applying anything on your person.
How to Patch Test New Face Products
For starters, don’t test every new product or ingredient on your skin at once. Imagine how awful it would be if every product you tested irritated your skin! For that reason alone, we recommend doing patch tests one at a time.
Before you do anything, make sure the area where you’re doing the patch test is clean, dry, and has no other product on it, otherwise it could be hard to tell what’s actually causing irritation if there is any.
Choose an inconspicuous spot like your neck just in case you do experience a break out so it won’t be obvious. If you’re testing for a body product, use a place like your inner arm to test.
Apply just a small amount of the product on a small patch of skin (putting it over a wide area in a large amount will just defeat the purpose and won’t give you different results). Some people like to cover the spot with a bandage but it’s not really necessary unless you think you won’t remember where you did the test. Check it within 24 hours and if there’s no reaction, apply a bit more about 72 hours later. If it’s still OK, apply again in the same spot another 72 hours later. If you still haven’t experienced a breakout or allergic reaction, you’re probably not in danger of experiencing a reaction on your face or body from that product.
Of course if you do experience a reaction at any point, stop using the product and, if your reaction is really bad, you might want to see a dermatologist who can not only treat the irritation but conduct more extensive tests to see what you’re really allergic to. That said, you want to make sure you’re not mixing up an allergic reaction with a product just doing its job. For example, exfoliants are meant to slough off dead skin so if you find that after 24 hours the patch test of your exfoliant looks a little irritated, don’t immediately assume you’re allergic to it.
Keep in mind that you might not experience just redness or even a breakout. Check to see if the product has made your skin particularly dry or even if it just makes it itch. If your skin dries out because of the patch test, it will probably dry out if you apply the product to your whole face.
What Kind of Ingredients Might Cause Irritation?
The truth is that even some of the most gentle ingredients can sometimes cause irritation as some of this is just down to body chemistry, but there are, in fact, some ingredients which are more likely than others to cause irritation.
Among them, artificial fragrances. While we usually think of artificial fragrances as causing sinus or even headache issues, in fact, they can also really irritate skin.
Parabens can also irritate skin, although generally speaking, it irritates skin that’s already experiencing issues. If you have conditions like psoriasis or eczema, you might want to stay away from products with parabens.
Artificial dyes can also cause irritation which is exactly why, like parabens, we don’t use them ! For the same reason, we don’t use sulfates which can cause pretty severe irritation in some people.
We hope this has clarified what a patch test is and exactly how to conduct one yourself. It’s really a pretty simple process that’s well worth the time and effort given the headache it can save you in the long run!