Overusing strong acid exfoliants or leaving them on for too long can lead to a chemical burn on the face. Acid exfoliants, like glycolic, lactic, or salicylic acid, are the ones to watch out for. These acids are part of a group called alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). They’re commonly used in skincare, but if you don’t use them correctly, they can harm your skin. Harm can occur due to the acid causing a burn. It could also be from sunlight, especially since AHAs and BHAs make your skin more sensitive to UV light.
The skin becomes more sensitive to the sun, increasing the likelihood of sunburn. Skin that appears burned can also result from irritation or an allergic reaction. These signs may or may not be related to the acids in the product. This article tells you what to do if skincare products give you a chemical burn. We talk about how to treat and stop it from happening again, and we explain when it’s time to get help from a doctor.
First Aid for a Chemical Burns
Chemical burns occur when the skin is damaged by something very acidic or alkaline. Some skincare products can be acidic and might cause this type of burn. If a skincare product makes your skin uncomfortable, remove it immediately. Feeling burning or pain doesn’t mean the product is working as intended. It actually means it’s harming your skin.
The symptoms of a chemical burn include:
- skin discoloration or inflammation
- a burning sensation
If you experience any of these symptoms after using a skincare product, take off any affected clothes right away and wash the skin with clean water for 20 minutes. Make sure not to touch the water that runs off. If the product is on your face, you can rinse it off by leaning over a sink, bath, or shower basin and pouring water from a jug. Another option is to use a showerhead.
After thoroughly cleaning the skin, it’s advisable to consult a doctor. Doctors usually don’t suggest taking medicines inside the body, like antibiotics or steroids, to treat chemical burns. But they might give you a cream to put on the skin to stop infections, like an antibiotic or a mild steroid. If the burn is serious, it’s crucial to go to the emergency department at the nearest hospital.
Healing chemical burns from skincare
After getting treatment for the burn, it’s important to help the skin heal. This might include:
- Keeping the skin clean.
- Avoiding products that might bother the skin.
- Using a skin ointment.
- Apply petroleum jelly to keep the sore area moist.
- Watching the injury for any signs of infection.
- Avoiding the sun.
It’s useful to let the doctor know which product caused the burn. If you can, take the product or the label with ingredients to show the doctor. They can guide you on how to care for your skin as it heals and suggest which products to use or stay away from.
How Might Skin Care Products Cause a Burn?
Some skin care products contain acids, which exfoliate the face by dissolving the outermost layer of skin cells and oil. Most over-the-counter (OTC) products that contain these acids are weak, with a pH of about 4. This is not dissimilar to the skin’s natural pH, which is slightly acidic.
Stronger products, like chemical peels, are available. Normally, only trained professionals should do these strong peels, but some may try them at home. On the other hand, using a mild or medium-strength product too much can also harm the skin.
Here are some skincare ingredients that might lead to burns or burn-like symptoms.
AHAs are acids that smooth the skin. They can:
- Reduce lines and wrinkles
- Improve how the skin looks and feels
- Clear out pores
- Enhance the overall condition of the skin
But they can have negative effects, like:
BHAs are a different kind of acid, a bit different from AHAs. Salicylic acid is a common one, often used in acne treatments because it can clear pores. It’s also found in treatments for:
- Oily skin
- Seborrheic dermatitis
Salicylic acid comes in various strengths, ranging from 0.5% to 30%. Higher amounts might cause stinging, irritation, or burns, leading to:
- Redness or change in skin color
- The Skin feeling unusually warm
Other Causes of Burn-Like Symptoms
Besides chemical burns, certain ingredients in skincare products can also lead to other types of burns or symptoms similar to a burn. These may include:
Retinoids, like retinol, are types of vitamin A found in many skincare products. They might cause what some call “retinol burn.” Unlike burns from acids, retinol burn isn’t a real chemical burn but a kind of skin irritation.
Signs of irritation from retinoids may include:
- Skin changing color or getting red
Starting, using for a long time, or using strong retinoids might cause retinol to burn. Sometimes, the symptoms improve as the skin gets used to the product, but if they don’t get better, it’s important to talk to a skin doctor.
AHAs, BHAs, and retinoids make the skin more sensitive to sunlight and tanning beds. If someone uses these and then goes out in the sun, they could get a burn. To stop this, wearing sunscreen every day during the treatment and for a week after can help. People getting chemical peels might need to stay away from sunlight for a while.
Signs of sunburn may include:
- Skin feeling warm and tender
- Redness, especially in people with light skin
Skincare products and makeup can have things that irritate or cause allergies. Sometimes, this leads to contact dermatitis, a type of eczema. The symptoms might be:
- A rash
- Skin peeling or flaking
- Irritation around the nose, eyes, and mouth
Some things in skincare products that might cause contact dermatitis are:
- Smells (fragrances)
- Colors (dyes)
How to prevent chemical burns from skincare
To prevent burns from skincare products, always follow the instructions on the product or as directed by a dermatologist. Don’t use a product more often than it says on the label unless a doctor tells you to. If you’re trying AHAs, BHAs, or retinoids for the first time, it’s best to start with a mild concentration. Introduce one product at a time and test it on a small area of skin before applying it to your entire face.
To start, use a little bit of the new product once a week. Then, gradually increase the amount or how often it suggests. Usually, it’s better not to use many products with active ingredients, like acids, all at once. Instead, use these products for just one step in your skincare routine. For instance, you can have a toner with acids, but maybe avoid it in your cleanser or moisturizer.
When to Seek Help for Chemical Burns Due to Skincare
If you notice:
- A reaction to a product that doesn’t improve when you stop using it
- Signs of infection like warm skin, swelling, pus, or fever
- Frequently getting rashes or burns without knowing why
Make sure to have a chat with your doctor.
If a skincare product causes:
- intense burning or pain
- A rash that quickly spreads
- Skin getting blisters
- Swelling in the mouth, lips, or throat
- It’s important to get medical help right away.
taking good care of your skin is important, but using skincare products requires caution. Some ingredients, like acids and retinoids, can cause burns or irritation if not used correctly. It’s crucial to follow product instructions and seek medical help if you experience severe reactions. Always start with lower concentrations, test products on a small area, and avoid using too many active ingredients at once. If burns occur, immediate first aid and seeking professional advice are essential for proper healing. Remember, skin health is a delicate balance that requires attention and care.