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What Is Irritated Skin?

Soothe Irritated Skin With These Must-Haves

Itchiness, redness, discomfort: These are all signs of an irritated complexion. The term “irritated skin” isn’t a diagnosis, but rather, a catch-all term to describe visible and physical signs that indicate skin damage. The causes of irritated skin vary, and may include anything from allergies to inflammation brought on by using harsh products on a sensitive complexion. Extreme weather—both hot and cold—can also cause the complexion to become dry, itchy, or red.

If your skin feels irritated, don’t stress: There are plenty of gentle skincare products and soothing ingredients that can provide relief from the discomfort. Read on to discover what may be causing your skin woes and learn how to calm irritated skin for a healthy-looking complexion.

What Causes Skin Irritation?

There are numerous factors, both internal and external, that can irritate the skin, but irritation is often closely related to the health of your natural moisture barrier. The skin barrier has many purposes: It maintains moisture within the skin, helps protect against environmental stressors, and acts as a defense against harmful bacteria and other pathogens.I

Healthy skin will generally perform all these functions well. But if the skin barrier is weakened, it becomes more susceptible to damage from environmental stressors, such as weather conditions, harsh topical ingredients, chemicals, and pollution. The resulting effects—redness, itchiness, tightness, discomfort—are the symptoms of irritation.II

Unfortunately, since irritation is often the result of several factors, it’s not always easy to pinpoint what’s causing your skin to act up. This is especially true if you naturally have reactive or sensitive skin. On the other hand, most irritation can be calmed, if not resolved, by using topical treatments to repair and protect the weakened skin barrier.III Keep reading to learn how to soothe irritated skin for a visibly healthier and more comfortable complexion.

How To Treat Irritated Skin On The Face

1. Remove Buildup With a Gentle Cleanser

The dirt, oil, and pollutants that accumulate on your skin throughout the day can cause irritation and other visible complexion concerns, such as premature aging and acne.IV As such, no matter your skin type, it’s crucial to cleanse your skin thoroughly twice a day to protect your complexion from the damaging effects of these stressors. If you have sensitive, red skin, reach for a mild face wash that will cleanse your complexion without stripping it of its natural protective oils.

We recommend Centella Sensitive Facial Cleanser, our gentlest cleanser for sensitive skin. This pH-balanced formula features hydrating glycerin, vitamin E, and Centella asiatica extract, which work together to cleanse the complexion while providing lasting hydration. It’s completely free of common irritants, such as alcohol and soap, and is dermatologist-tested for safety. Use it daily to cleanse, soothe, and comfort your skin.

Kiehl's Expert Tip: Apply the light formula directly to dry skin and rinse with lukewarm water to remove dirt and oil. For an extra-gentle cleanse, you can also remove rinse-free with a dry cotton pad.


2. Use a Toner To Replenish Your Complexion

There are many reasons to use toner, but it’s especially useful for those with sensitive, reactive skin. Any residue left behind after cleansing can cause irritation to worsen and result in discomfort and itchiness. Toner can help remove any leftover product or buildup on the skin. Depending on the formula, it can also help calm symptoms of irritation, such as dryness or redness.

To quell irritation, try our iconic Calendula Herbal-Extract Toner, a Kiehl’s staple since the 1960s. This gentle formula contains a unique blend of calming botanical ingredients, including soothing calendula and allantoin. Swipe it on with a dry cotton pad after cleansing your skin for a soothed, refreshed complexion.

Cannibas Sativa Seed Oil

3. Soothe Redness With a Calming Treatment

One of the most common (and apparent) symptoms of skin irritation is having a tight-feeling, red face, often referred to as contact dermatitis.V Red skin remedies generally revolve around removing whatever the cause of the irritation is. However, several plant ingredients can help calm problem skin, such as cannabis sativa seed oil and calendula.IV

To calm an irritated complexion, we recommend the best-selling Cannabis Sativa Seed Oil Herbal Concentrate Face Oil. It’s formulated with 100% naturally-derived ingredients, including hemp-derived cannabis sativa seed oil and green oregano oil.* Together, these powerful yet gentle non-comedogenic oils help strengthen the skin barrier, visibly reduce redness, and balance hydration. Apply two to three drops of this lightweight treatment to problem areas daily for soothed, comforted skin.


4. Moisturize To Lock In Hydration

Since irritation is often caused, at least in part, by a damaged skin barrier, moisturizing is crucial for keeping skin hydrated and healthy-looking. Research indicates that emollients are particularly useful for calming itchiness due to irritation since they help the skin retain moisture.I Look for moisturizers with as few additives as possible, since harsh ingredients like fragrances, soap, and alcohol can worsen irritation.VI

Instead, look for a mild yet deeply hydrating moisturizer, such as Centella Sensitive Cica-Cream. This hypoallergenic treatment stars vitamin B5 and Centella asiatica extract to moisturize and visibly reduce redness and irritation. It also contains several powerful emollients, including cocoa butter, shea butter, and sesame seed oil, to provide deep, 48-hour hydration. With regular use, this ultra-gentle facial cream is clinically-demonstrated to repair the moisture barrier of compromised skin.**

Kiehl's Expert Tip: Instead of rubbing—which can be irritating for damaged skin—gently press this moisturizer onto your face with your fingertips. Apply it twice daily or as needed to visibly soothe problem skin.

What is Irritated skin Calendula Mask Image

5. Mask Weekly To Pamper Your Skin

If your skin feels uncomfortable, there’s no better way to give it a little TLC than with a facial mask. Though there’s a mask for nearly every conceivable complexion concern, you’ll want to reach for one made specifically for dry or sensitive skin. If your skin is reactive, it’s also best to use a gel formula that rinses off easily to minimize rubbing or pulling at delicate skin.

Our pick for irritated skin is our top-rated Calendula & Aloe Soothing Hydration Mask. This gentle mask contains calendula extract, aloe vera, and antioxidants to hydrate and refresh the skin for a healthier-looking complexion. It’s suitable for all skin types, and the lightweight texture and revitalizing cooling sensation of this mask make it ideal for soothing irritated skin on the face.


Next: Find The Best Moisturizer For Your Skin

*We consider ingredients to be naturally derived if they retain more than 50% of their molecular structure after being processed from a natural source.
**Based on an instrumental test of the skin barrier and clinical grading in an 8-week study. Tested for tolerance on subjects with self-perceived sensitive skin.

I.Elias, Peter M. “Skin barrier function.” Current allergy and asthma reports vol. 8,4 (2008): 299-305. doi:10.1007/s11882-008-0048-0
II.Yosipovitch, Gil, et al. ”Skin Barrier Damage and Itch: Review of Mechanisms, Topical Management, and Future Directions.” Advances in Dermatology and Venereology vol. 99,13 (2019):1201-1209. doi:10.2340/00015555-3296
III.Dawid-Pać, Renata. “Medicinal plants used in treatment of inflammatory skin diseases.” Postepy dermatologii i alergologii vol. 30,3 (2013): 170-7. doi:10.5114/pdia.2013.35620
IV.Tabassum, Nahida, and Mariya Hamdani. “Plants used to treat skin diseases.” Pharmacognosy reviews vol. 8,15 (2014): 52-60. doi:10.4103/0973-7847.125531
V.Mayo Clinic Staff. “Dermatitis.” Mayo Clinic. 11 July 2019.
VI.“How To Relieve Itchy Skin.” American Academy of Dermatology. 2020.

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