You might have a compromised skin barrier.
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Whether you're applying products during your daytime or nighttime beauty routine, you expect your skin to feel supple, smooth, and calm after you use them. Some formulas, however, leave a stinging sensation in their wake. According to leading dermatologists, this all stems from the state of your skin's health. Here, the experts break down why you experience burning or stinging during the application process, and how to get your complexion feeling its very best again.

Your skin barrier could be comprised.

According to Dr. Alexis Stephens, the consulting dermatologist for Urban Skin Rx, a stinging sensation is most likely the result of a compromised skin barrier. Your face might have become sensitized, which is often the result of overusing harsh products (like chemical peels and acids or retinoids). In the same vein, your complexion's protective layer might be damaged, notes Dr. Julie Russak of Russak Dermatology in New York City. "Our skin is designed as a protective barrier to protect our underlying tissues from [external stressors]," she explains. "The skin has several layers. The top layer is the stratum corneum, a cornified layer that is basically a collection of dried-up cells that no longer contain cytoplasm."

When this layer is disrupted, stinging will occur. "There are also sensitive skin conditions, such as rosacea and eczema, that commonly experience stinging sensations," Dr. Stephens says. "Occasionally, even someone without a compromised barrier may experience stinging if the product being applied has a particularly low pH, making it very acidic, like certain AHAs (glycolic acid) or even vitamin C."

woman applying face skincare looking in bathroom mirror
Credit: PeopleImages / Getty Images

Restore the balance.

While the stinging you feel might be mild, it could lead to problems if you do not address any underlying causes, especially if you suffer from a skin condition. "When the skin is inflamed from the inside out, it is not going to function as a protective barrier. It won't prevent things from getting into the skin and irritating it," Dr. Russak says. Work with your dermatologist to recalibrate your skin's microbiome, the diverse array of healthy bacteria that live on and in the dermis, and acid mantle (or the pH of you complexion), she says. Both should bring your complexion back up to speed and prevent any post-application pain in the long run.

Turn to soothing ingredients.

To get your skin feeling its best again, turn to soothing ingredients, like aloe and hydrocortisone, which are known for easing irritation and sensitivity, says Dr. Stephens. One of her go-to products? Urban Skin Rx Hydrabalance Instant Moisture Infusion ($34,, which instantly calms and balances; over time, it builds up that necessary protective layer, making stinging sensations a thing of the past. Dr. Russak says to take a long-term approach and focus on healing your skin from the inside out. "Products such as Gladskin's Eczema Cream with Micreobalance ($35, and Redness Relief Cream ($35, mimic your skin's natural defenses to restore the microbiome's balance," she notes. "This calms the skin, reduces the look and feel of redness and stinging, and allows the complexion to heal."


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