Used a new product on your skin? Experienced a sour reaction? You are not alone. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing beforehand if a product is 100% foolproof and will work for your skin. This is where a patch test comes into the picture, because it is better to be safe than sorry! Just like applying moisturiser and SPF everyday conducting a patch test must go into the holy Bible of skincare habits, to minimise the risk, and help you get the most out of your products!
What is a patch test?
A patch test is a simple procedure that must be conducted before introducing a new product into your skincare routine. This includes both facial and body care products. It is a simple yet effective method to test if the product works for your skin, and suits your skin type.
As we all know, precaution is better than cure, so taking this simple test can prevent you from experiencing irritation, allergic reactions, breakouts or a host of other problems that can do a whole lot of damage to your skin's barrier.
While it is important for everyone to do a patch test for a new product, it is especially important for those of us who have very sensitive skin, skin conditions such as rosacea, eczema, severe acne or have experienced a bad reaction to new products in the past.
Why is it important to do a patch test before trying a new product?
While conducting a patch test, there are three major components that you test for.
- Allergic reactions: Sometimes, there may be a number of allergens in a product, which upon contact with your skin, can lead to 'allergic contact dermatitis', i.e. the itchy rash. This can be very uncomfortable because it can dry out your skin or make it very oily or even trigger nasty breakouts.
- Irritation: Sometimes, if your skin does not like a particular ingredient (like essential oils), then it may lead to irritation, sensations, flakiness or even a tingling feeling. These are all signs that your skin is simply not responding well to the product’s formulation.
- Comedogenicity: Sometimes, heavy emollients or products with a thick consistency such as Coconut Oil, Shea Butter, Cocoa Butter, etc can clog your pores, prompting angry acne to form. People with oily or acne-prone skin must be especially careful while using such products.
How to conduct a patch test?
When choosing an area to conduct the patch test on, it is recommended to pick an area that has not been exposed to UV rays or any medicated creams recently. We recommend trying it either behind your ear, on an invisible portion of your arm such as inside your elbow or behind your knee. Ensure that the section is clean, dry and not prone to excessive sweat. Use only a tiny amount, and if possible, avoid wetting the area for more accurate results,
Upon application, if you experience no reaction post 72 hours, it is then time to assess how the product is going to perform on your face. It is best to choose a small area of your face that can be covered easily, such as your forehead or on the underside of your jaw. If there is no reaction there either, then the product can be declared as safe, and you can slather away!
How to do a patch test for a new product on a baby?
Ensure that when you are doing a patch test, you are introducing only one new product at a time. To conduct the patch test, apply a small amount of the product on the forearm of the baby and leave it on for approximately 24 hours before you wash it off. If your baby's skin is sensitive, then you may see signs of redness, bumps, blotches, scaling or in extreme cases vomiting. If any of these signs are observed, immediately discontinue using the product, and contact your pediatrician for more information is the reaction is severe.
It is best to use mild and toxin-free formulas on your baby that are safe, as their skin can be very gentle and sensitive.
How long do I need to observe the patch test results?
When it comes to the duration, this varies from person to person depending on how reactive your skin is. Some people are prone to acne, and break out almost immediately. Others may take a while before they experience a reaction. Normally, the effects of a new product can be noticed within a 24 hour window, but this may take up to 72 hours too sometimes. It is best to wait for 72 hours to pass to be on the safer side.
What the results of a patch test may reveal
Major reactions: Sometimes, the skin can experience major reactions that are awfully severe and very noticeable. Your skin can get inflamed, red, blotchy, bumpy or even feel itchy. These can all be very painful and you must immediately discontinue using the product. If there has been a drastic reaction, then you can treat the area using some Aloe Vera gel or ice, which help to soothe it.
Mild reactions: These occur due to one of the two possibilities: either the ingredient does not suit your skin, which means you must avoid using it, or that the product is intended to cause a certain reaction. For example, certain exfoliating acids such as Glycolic Acid, Lactic Acid, Salicylic Acid may lead to a reaction almost immediately, but it may not last longer than 30-60 minutes. However, if you feel like your reaction is worsening over time, then it may be time to bid adieu to this new product after all!
No reaction: If there is no reaction (other than the product serving its purpose, of course), then the product is good to go! You have officially found the perfect match for your skin, which is going to perform effectively on it.
What are all the products you can do a patch test for?
Patch testing must ideally be done for every single new product that you are adding into your daily regime. This includes skin care products such as cleansers, toners, serums, moisturisers, face oils, masks or even exfoliants.
You can carry out this test for products you use on your body such as deodorants, body washes, body creams, butters or oils if you have experienced reactions in the past, or simply wish to be extra cautious and safe!
What are some common sources of irritation?
When it comes to triggers, there are several ingredients that can cause these, which differ from person to person. Patch testing unfortunately does not tell you what it is that you are reacting to. You may have to thoroughly scan the ingredient labels of every product that may have caused a reaction to try and decipher a common pattern or find recurring ingredients amongst them.
However, there are certain common allergens that you can look out for in your products, such as:
1) Nickel: The body has a natural immune response mechanism, that defends itself from harmful substances such as nickel. This in turn often results in rashes, bumps, redness, dry patches, itching or even severe blisters.
2 ) Fragrances: There are two kinds of fragrances in products:
- Natural fragrances: These are fragrances that are found in plant extracts and essential oils such as Lemongrass Oil, Rosemary Oil, Lavender Oil, etc. Some people may be extremely sensitive to these and are unable to tolerate them on their skin.
- Synthetic fragrances: On the other hand, there are artificial fragrances that are commonly found under the names of Hydroxycitronellal, Coumarin, Eugenol, Isoeugenol, Hexyl Cinnamal, Farnesol, Cinnamal, Cinnamyl Alcohol, Geraniol or the extract of Evernia prunastri.
3) Toxins: Toxins such as Parabens, Sulphates, Pthlatates are used as preservatives in skincare to prolong the shelf life of the product, and can be detrimental to our skin health, as they are frequent allergy triggers. This is why Sublime Life has a strict ‘Exclusion List’, where none of our products contain nasty toxins that can be deleterious to human health.
Read more about the toxins you should avoid in your beauty products.
4) Artificial colours and dyes: Certain artificial colourants can spark off allergies upon absorption, as they block your pores and cause acne, as well as increase your risk of sensitivity and irritation towards other products.
5) Alcohols: This includes Isopropyl Alcohol, Ethanol, Methanol, Benzyl Alcohol etc that deteriorate your skin’s protective barrier, do not allow it to retain moisture, stimulate excess oil production and prompt breakouts.
What are the things to keep in mind while conducting a patch test?
Always remember the following when conducting a test:
1) Never test more than one new product out at a time on your skin on the same patch. Not only will this give you inaccurate results, but also make it harder to decipher which product caused a reaction if any.
2) The skin on the face is more sensitive than the skin on the body, so the results may differ sometimes. Something that may have worked on your knee without causing a reaction, may not be 100% irritation free on your face.
3) Taking a patch test is not something that must be limited to those having sensitive skin. Normal skin can react badly to products too, including the best and cleanest formulations.
4) A product that may have worked for someone you know, may not always work for you. Everyone has a different skin composition and different levels of sensitivity when it comes to skincare products.
5) Sometimes your skin may not be immune to certain ingredients that may be strong or concentrated. For example, if you are trying out a new Vitamin C product and have never used Vitamin C on your skin before, it is best to opt for a lower concentration and then eventually up its dosage. While starting out, choose a product with 5% Vitamin C before jumping to a whopping 15% level, allowing your skin to gradually get used to it over time.
6) Try and look out for hypoallergenic formulas that are a safer choice, since they are free of frequently found skin irritants. However, this doesn't mean that you can blindly trust them and use them on your skin without caution. It simply means that they have a lower chance of clogging your pores or irritating your skin than other formulas.
7) There is a difference between purging and experiencing a bad reaction when it comes to a new product. Purging is the process that accelerates the rate of cell turnover, and therefore speeds up the life cycle of acne, making your skin worse before it gets better. This commonly occurs with products containing AHAs, BHAs, PHAs, Retinoids, Vitamin C, etc. If your product does not contain any of these ingredients, then it is not purging, but a bad reaction to a product, and you must immediately discontinue its usage.
The Bottom Line:
Practising a little caution can go a long way in ensuring that you prevent horrid reactions and problems in the long run. Healthy skin requires a little commitment and is not a miracle. Make patch testing an integral part of your holy skincare practices, and have fun with your skincare products with no risk whatsoever, for healthier, happier and glowing skin!
- By Krisha Jhaveri