How to Deal with a Skin Allergy Outbreak Stat

Here’s how to keep your skin cool, calm and under control

In partnership with La Roche Posay

If you have allergy-prone skin, you know the struggle is real when irritants get in the way. An allergic reaction occurs when something triggers an immune system response in your body, prompting it to send distress signals, which can show up in the form of redness, swelling, itching, burning or bumps. The most common types of allergic skin conditions are hives (which appear as itchy, pinkish bumps), atopic dermatitis—also known as eczema, a chronic skin condition—and contact dermatitis, an inflamed itchy rash.

“Skin allergies are triggered by re-exposure to the allergen causing the skin reaction,” explains Dr. Monica Li, a clinical instructor at the Department of Dermatology and Skin Science at the University of British Columbia. “However, there are many factors that may make the skin more susceptible to skin reactions, including hot water temperatures, harsh or irritating skincare products and UV damage.”

FYI, not all skin freak-outs are an allergic reaction. If you have sensitive skin, the symptoms are often similar. “A skin allergy refers to skin reactions following exposure to a specific allergen or irritant in the environment, whereas reactive or sensitive skin tends to be more intrinsically driven,” says Dr. Li. “For instance, those with an impaired skin barrier or underlying inflammatory skin conditions such as rosacea.”

Whether you’re dealing with skin allergies or straight-up sensitivity, here are some ways to keep your skin calm so you can carry on.

Avoid contact with the allergen if possible

The most important way to manage allergic skin is to avoid further contact with the culprit allergen—if you know what triggered the reaction, adds Dr. Li. Hives, for example, can be caused by certain foods, insect bites or stings, medication or even exercise and sun exposure. If you have no clue what the trigger is, you can find out whether you have a skin allergy with a patch test, which will expose the skin to common allergens to see if a reaction occurs.

Maintain a healthy skin barrier

Whether you have allergic skin or sensitive skin, maintaining a healthy skin barrier is crucial. Think of your skin barrier as a wall that keeps the bad stuff (like bacteria and pollution) out, and the good stuff (moisture) in. “A breakdown of it can lead to reduced ability of the skin to protect you from the outside world,” says Dr. Li. That’s where the right skincare products can help. Even your basic staples like your cleanser and moisturizer can have anti-inflammatory effects and reduce the unpleasant signs and symptoms of compromised skin, she adds. Seek out products with gentle, skin-soothing ingredients to hydrate and help maintain the skin barrier. For example, La Roche-Posay’s Toleriane Ultra Cream and Dermallergo Serum are specifically formulated to relieve and protect reactive and allergy-prone skin with ingredients like soothing neurosensine.

Press pause on potentially irritating products 

You may love slathering on that retinol oil or using a brightening exfoliant, but these products with active ingredients can irritate your skin. If you’re experiencing a flare-up, hold off on using potent and potentially irritating ingredients like retinoids or salicylic acid until your skin heals completely, advises Dr. Li. Then slowly reintroduce them into your routine, beginning with once or twice a week, and remember to follow-up with moisturizer to reduce potential dryness. Experts also suggest skipping products that contain fragrance or alcohol that can aggravate sensitive skin.

Mind the temperature

Temperature fluctuations can trigger sensitive or allergy-prone skin, whether it’s freezing cold or scorching hot. It’s important to avoid further damaging allergic skin that is already inflamed and compromised, says Dr. Li. If you’re spending more time outdoors, “safe sun behaviours, including clothing protection, shade and wearing sunscreen, all help to protect the skin from burns, premature aging and skin cancers.”

Consult a dermatologist

If your skin is frequently reactive, it could be indicative of an underlying condition, so see a dermatologist to check if there are other issues at play, or if signs of allergic skin persist or get worse. “A professional will provide strategies and medications to calm the skin and get symptomatic relief, but also review ways to try to avoid future possible recurrences,” says Dr. Li.