When I think back at the graveyard of products I've tossed because my skin freaked out upon first using them, it's hard not to feel a little teary-eyed (mainly because of the serum-shaped hole in my bank account, but still). So just imagine how overcome with emotion I was when I learned that I actually probably shouldn't have dumped those products so quickly, because—surprise!—a reaction to a new formula is actually quite normal and not necessarily an indication of a mismatch with one's complexion. Oh. Good.
I was first enlightened by this information while visiting Clarisonic's HQ earlier this year. Dr. Robb Akridge, one of the brand's co-founders, noted that some people dismiss their new Clarisonics without giving themselves enough of an adjustment period, which is necessary with any new device or product. This was news to me, but also kind of a "duh" moment: Our skin (and hair) can "get used" to a product over an extended period of time, so it makes sense that introducing something foreign would induce a reaction.
But what did this mean? Did I need to give every product I tried an extended trial period (not easy when you have an ever-growing bin of beauty items labeled "MUST-TRY FOR WORK")? Or was there a way of telling that something wasn't for me right off the bat? Moreover, what denoted an "adjustment blemish" from a big old pimple? Should I be looking for distinguishing colors or markings? So many questions.
"It depends if it’s really a breakout of acne or just a few bumps from irritation," clarifies Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, founder of Capital Laser & Skin Care dermatology practice and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at George Washington University. If the bumps or blemishes you're seeing are small and painless to touch, she recommends waiting it out for about two weeks to see if they disappear. If the pimples are large, painful, and/or cystic, however, she says to go ahead and stop using the product—it's probably not for you.
This being said, your approach is important too: You're less likely to have a reaction if you introduce the product slowly and carefully. Dr. Tanzi recommends starting by using the new formula every other day, which can prove less irritating to skin. And before you choose a new product, always (ALWAYS) take a good look at the ingredients and compare notes with other products that haven't worked so well for you in the past—your complexion just might not be compatible with a certain chemical or component. "There are a few active ingredients that can be an issue for some people, like chemical sunscreens, benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, that will always be a problem for them, no matter the formulation," she says. "Otherwise, trial and error."
And if you did break out, and it's not of the adjustment-period variety? Stop using the product immediately, and rely on very basic products for a few days—the fewer ingredients and higher percentage of plant-based ones, the better. When my face is in protest, I personally swear by pure clay powder and Thayer's Alcohol-Free Toner with Witch Hazel ($8) for a speedy recovery.
Did you know that products require an adjustment period? Have you ever waited out a breakout only to learn that a product was amazing? Sound off below!