when is it ok for skincare products to tingle?

Uh oh, there it goes again.

Your’s skin tingling. Just after applying that new serum.

Is it meant to do that? It must be, right? If it tingles, it works. Beauty magazines have repeated that a dozen times.

But then…

Why is my skin turning redder? What’s going on? Is this normal?!

Not really. Sometimes the tingling is a sign that the product is working. Other times, it’s a warning you need to get that nasty bugger off your face before it gives you a bad rash.

Here’s how to tell the difference:

drunk elephant tlc framboos glycolic night serum

When Is It OK For Skincare Products To Tingle?

Sometimes, the tingling’s normal. That’s the case with chemical exfoliants (don’t let the “chemical” name fool you, these exfoliants rock – safely!).

Chemical exfoliants can be divided into two big families.

Alpha hydroxy acids include:

  • Glycolic acid
  • Lactic acid
  • Malic acid
  • Tartaric acid

Beta Hydroxy Acid includes:

  • Salicylic acid

All these acids can make your skin tingle slightly when you apply them. It feels like tiny needles gently pricking your skin. Sometimes, there’s some heat too. But the tingling only lasts for a few seconds.

That gentle tingling means the product is penetrating the skin, and there’s nothing to worry about.

By the way, not everyone experiences this tingling when they use these acids. It usually depends on how sensitive your skin is and how high the concentration you’re using is. The higher it is, the more likely it’ll tingle your skin.

WARNING! If your skin is very sensitive, the tingling sensation may turn into stinging or burning. If that happens, wash the exfoliant off your face and never use it again.

Related: How To Choose The Best Exfoliator For Your Skin Type?


When Is It Not OK For Skincare Products To Tingle?

There are some other things lurking in your cosmetics that can make your skin tingle. They are:

  • Camphor
  • Menthol
  • Mint
  • Peppermint

With these, it’s a different story entirely. Their tingling is bad news for the skin. 

These ingredients are counter-irritants. That means they cause local inflammation (that’s the tingling feeling, by the way) to reduce the inflammation in deeper tissues. Basically, they substitute one type of inflammation for another. 

But inflammation is NEVER good for the skin. It’s one of the main causes of premature aging. So, the less you use these ingredients, the better. If you don’t use them at all, great. It’s not like they’re doing anything important in cosmetics, anyway.

Want to know what ingredients you really need to avoid in your skincare products? Sign up to the newsletter below to receive the “Skincare Ingredients To Avoid” cheatsheet:

Can Anything Else Make Your Skin Tingle?

It’s very rare that other ingredients make skin tingle. But if you have sensitive skin or are allergic to something, that can happen.

If the tingling sensation is very, very gentle, then it is probably ok. But if the tingling:

  • Increases by the minute
  • Turns into stinging or burning
  • Lasts more than a minute
  • Goes hand in hand with redness or peeling

then throw the product away. Your skin obviously doesn’t like what you’re using.

The Bottom Line

If an exfoliant make your skin slightly tingle, it’s probably ok. But if anything else tingles or stings, throw the product away. It’s not suitable for you.