If you thought your dermatologist recommending that you patch test before trying new skin-care products was just standard-variety, overly-cautious advice, a recent experience shared by one Redditor underlined how much it matters.
If this is the first you’re hearing of the patch test, it can be as simple as applying a small amount of the product to a localized, discreet area, like behind your ear or the inside of your wrist, to try to determine if you have an adverse reaction to it.
A more sophisticated form of the patch test is administered by dermatologists to patients with a skin condition. In that instance, the test can help find out whether the condition may be caused or aggravated by a contact allergy. It’s not the same as a skin-prick test, which is used to diagnose hay fever (dust mites, grass pollens, cat dander).
It’s natural to want to apply your new serum as soon as you’ve torn open the packaging, but it could easily result in a painful-looking reaction. One Redditor, who goes by Ifoundfivedollars, shared a selfie of her inflamed face with the caption, “Just a friendly reminder to always patch test.”
Her redness came on only 10 minutes after she used a citrus-infused sheet mask for the first time. Fortunately, “the redness is calming down already,” she replied to the supportive messages that immediately streamed in, “but it was totally scary when I first took the mask off.”
When you do a patch test, follow the directions, of course. Just as importantly, don’t wipe it off after only a few minutes. Wait 24 hours so you can look for signs of redness or irritation. Why so long? Certain ingredients, like retinol, glycolic acid, and hydroquinone (a bleaching agent used to lighten dark spots), can irritate even normal skin types.
And while patch-testing new skin-care products is especially important if you have sensitive or reactive skin—consider even seeing a dermatologist before trying something new—it shouldn’t be an occasional thing if you don’t, either. Just because you don’t think you have sensitive skin—or have had a reaction yet—doesn’t mean you’re immune to strong active ingredients.
The possibility is always there. We develop allergies throughout all stages of our lives. So, even if you’ve never experienced a reaction, be on the lookout for redness, swelling, and itching. A little caution now will keep you from being the next Reddit sensation (for the wrong reasons).