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.
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:
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:
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.
Usually, the only time I notice tingly–at least LOTS of tingling–is with lip plumpers. I have one, I forget the brand, that is SUPER tingly.
Trisha, lip plumpers are the worst! Most of them contain mint, peppermint or other irritating ingredients. That’s how the work. They swell the lips by irritating them. And sometimes that can be painful too. Not good!
More useful info from you, Gio. Now I know that peppermint oil that prevents me from wearing so many lippies that I wasted money on because I didn’t read the ingredient list is a “counter-irritant”. Interesting. I use a glycolic pad with witch hazel that does tingle but the tingling only lasts for a couple of minutes. I use it only 2-3x per week, and I like it. I guess that’s the acceptable kind of tingle.
Allison, oh yes. If it lasts that little, it’s probably nothing to worry about. And lippies with peppermint oil! Those can really sting, especially if you apply too much!
I remember listening to a Science Friday podcast episode on how 100 years ago Pepsodent used something similar to get people into habit of brushing their teeth. They added irritating ingredients to toothpaste to create the tingling feeling, I think it was menthol. It has no dental benefits but the tingling feeling provides reward (it’s working, my teeth are clean) for people and helps to establish the habit. Without the tingling feeling people felt like the toothpaste wasn’t doing anything.
You can get the details here: npr.org/2012/02/27/147296743/how-you-can-harness-the-power-of-habit
I wonder if skincare companies are doing something similar. Intentionally formulating their products to provide these little rewards and thus make them more habit forming, or to discourage people from switching to another brand.
Seppo, thank you for the link! How interesting! You know, it wouldn’t really surprise me if skincare companies were doing something similar. Consumers want quick results, but skincare products can take a while to work and show the benefits they provide. By doing this, they may very well be trying to tell customers, it’s working so stick with it for a while longer and you’ll see the results. I really wish they didn’t do. Using irritating ingredients, for whatever reason, is never good.
I used a ance wash and then I put some coconut oil .The thing is I din’t notice that the oil went bad.One of my cheeks started getting irritated and ,then I started to feel alot of tingling.
Natalie, oh no! Is your skin ok now?
The only time I experienced something like this was with a face mask, can’t remember the brand but it was a peal-off mask. I applied it to my face and within seconds I had the worst burning of my life! I was younger and stupidly assumed that it was because “that means it’s super good and works fast”….. *facepalm*. I’ll never do that again. After taking it off my whole face would be red and swollen! My skin is better now thank goodness but be careful! Don’t ever force yourself to stick it out!
Jayme, oh no! So sorry this happened to you! Thanks for sharing your experience, I’m sure it’ll help others. I agree, more often that not, the tingling is a sign of irritation and it’s best to remove the offending product straight away.
I’m using a vitamin c serum with hyaluronic acid in it and it tinged as well and after that my face feels sticky and tight but they assured my that this is normal
Carol, vitamin C can tingle, if it’s present in a high dose.
Hi there, I have just started using the La Roche Posay Tolleriane Ultra cream and only have used 3 times.The first time, it had felt alright but then I put the cream on again in the evening and throughout the night for some hours, my face grew hot and a little tingly. I used it in the next morning and it left my skin slightly less tingly but the feeling was there was for a couple of hours. Should I throw it away or just test it the whole week as I just recently switched from my Aveeno cream? many thanks x
Tharanjaa, throw it away!
I tried Benton cacao moist and mild serum and it made my skin warm and tingly every time, especially in the upper lip area. This happened the last 3 times I tried it. It’s a mild tingling sensation which didn’t go away. My skin didn’t go red or anything and the tingling was localised to around the upper lip area. However my whole face went warm.
Then I washed it off and I put on Etude House Soon jung relief 5.5 toner. And it did the same, but I didn’t feel warm. Just the mild tingling on the upper lip. This time the tingling sensation dissipated mostly.
Re the laroche posay toleriane – I felt a stinging sensation when I did a test patch on my neck … using the LRP toleriane light moisturiser. I didn’t use it again.