This is probably one of the most common problems that pop up when you switch products. According to Dr Calvin Chan, medical director of Calvin Chan Aesthetic & Laser Clinic, skin often needs two to three weeks to adapt to the new product, giving rise to minor breakouts that clear up after the adjustment period. “However, if the breakouts are moderate to severe, meaning you get more than just one or two pimples at a time, then the product is probably not for you. Switch to a different product and look out for ingredients that are non-comedogenic or have lighter oil-in-water formulations,” he says.
#2: Bumps and swelling
Getting tiny, red or white bumps on the skin, possibly accompanied by itching? Dr Vanessa Phua, a general practitioner and partner at David Loh Surgery, attributes it to a delayed sensitivity reaction to the ingredients, or a sign the product is too rich in emollients or high in mineral oil content, thereby congesting pores and causing comedones. “Stop using the product and apply a kaolin- or charcoal-based cleansing mask to clear the skin. And when it has settled down, try using an AHA- or BHA-based product to reduce congestion,” she advises.
Dr Chan adds: “While this can happen with any ingredient, some patients have reported that yeast extracts or derivatives tend to trigger such reactions. If you have this symptom, make it a point to look for other active ingredients in your next product.”
#3: Dryness and flaking
Overly harsh or intensive products – such as those based on ingredients like retinols or alpha-hydroxy acids – can result in dehydration, fine lines or even cracking and flaking. However, Dr Chan says you shouldn’t write them off altogether, as these active ingredients do have proven benefits.
“I usually advise patients to use them once a week first, working up to every three days and then alternate days before using them daily. Depending on the severity of the reaction and your level of tolerance, you can also ‘buffer’ your skin’s reaction by applying a neutral moisturiser beforehand,” he says.
Dr Phua explains further: “Different people react to skin formulas differently. A bit of skin exfoliation is ideal but if skin is peeling and dry, it loses its natural barrier and can be vulnerable to bacterial infections.” Her advice is to stop the product till skin heals completely, using emollients or even a prescription antibiotic ointment to soothe and treat it in the meantime.
#4: Burning and stinging
Depending on the severity of these sensations, Dr Chan says you can either stop using the product or dilute it by mixing it with an emollient moisturiser. Alternatively, try applying another product first before finishing off with the stronger one. If it leaches into eyes and causes stinging, then either give peepers a wide berth during application or put a protective layer of eye cream first to prevent irritation.
#5: No improvements in skin
We always start a new product with high hopes that it will be ‘the one’ that gets the job done and deliver our dream complexion. But then a week goes by and another, and still, nada. How long should you wait before judging its effectiveness? Dr Low Chai Ling, medical director of The Sloane Clinic, says, “When trying any new product, I would advise patients to stick with it for a month to give it time to show its benefits. Those with sensitive skin should test out products on skin areas such as the wrist for a day to see if they are sensitive to it before using it on their faces.”
As a general rule, products that tackle gradual or longstanding problems like wrinkles, sagging and dark spots require more time to repair the damage. Whereas treatments for issues that come and go such as pimples or dullness should work fast, usually in a matter of days.
#6: Skin feels tight and hot
According to Dr Phua, this is a sign of a sensitive reaction to one of the ingredients, usually a fragrance or preservative, causing your body to mount an immediate response. “Usually, you’d see redness and sometimes skin swelling. The thing to do would be to stop using the product immediately and rinse it off, then apply a soothing moisturiser on your skin,” she says.
#7: Excessive oiliness
Ironically, strong oil-control products or washing with hot water can actually dehydrate skin’s superficial layers, stripping away skin’s natural oils and stimulating it to produce even more oil. If you find your skin greasing up way more than it normally does, Dr Chan suggests switching to a light hydrator with water-boosting ingredients like hyaluronic acid to increase water content in the epidermis without occluding the skin with a heavy cream formulation. This would help to keep skin soft and supple while regulating sebum production at the same time.
#8: Sensitivity to the sun
“Some ingredients cause a chemical-induced change in the skin, making it more sensitive to the sun. Common examples include AHA and benzoyl peroxide which is often found in acne treatment products,” says Dr Low.
Apart from loading up on sunscreen or, if the sensitivity is severe, dropping the product, you may want to try using it during PM hours instead, as Dr Chan says that certain products breakdown under sunlight and may be better tolerated when used at night.
#9: Allergic rash
“This is a sign of an allergy to one or some of the ingredients in the skin care. Discontinue use of the product immediately and if skin is very itchy, see a doctor for an antihistamines prescription,” advises Dr Phua.