Patchwork: Why Patch Testing Beauty Products Is Essential

Please do some patch work before you commit!

If you’ve never had a reaction to a beauty product, you really haven’t lived. (Kidding.) Even if you don’t have any known ingredient allergies or aren’t generally sensitive to products, chances are you’ve met a product or two–or will in the future–that your skin is just not that into. That can cause breakouts, redness, itchiness, a burning sensation or other types of irritation. Not exactly what you want on your face, right?

There is a way you can stave off a bad reaction though: patch testing. Patch testing means applying a small amount of product to the skin to see if you have a reaction. This is an important thing to do with any product that’s going to be on your face for a while (so basically anything other than cleansers, although the super sensitives may want to patch test cleansers too).

I do a multi-phase patch test and overall test because, girlfriend, I’m nothing if not thorough. I first test a small amount of product behind my earlobe so that I can see if my skin reacts but it’s also mostly hidden. I leave the product on for as long as I would if I was actually using it on my face. So if it’s a moisturizer, I leave it on all day then wash it off at night. If it’s a treatment that you’re supposed to leave on for 15 minutes then wash off, I do that. If it’s a sleeping mask, I leave it on overnight. If I don’t see any irritation after that test, I move onto Phase 2. But if I do see or feel irritation at any point, I stop using the product.

For Phase 2, I put a small amount of the product on the back of my jawline on the left side of my face. I do the second patch test on my face, because that skin is different–and generally more sensitive–than the area behind my ear. I choose the left side of my jaw because I wear my hair parted on the right, so it covers or shadows the left side of my face. If you wear your hair down or if you have bangs, you can find your own hiding spot! I once again leave the product on for the directed amount of time. If I’m irritation-free after Phase 2, it’s onto the final phase.

Here’s where shit gets real. In Phase 3, I apply the product to my entire face (or whatever the full area you’re supposed to apply it to is). That’s technically not a patch test, but it’s part of my process, so I’m including it. But here’s the catch–I don’t leave it on for the full amount of time. For example, with a sleeping mask, I’ll leave it on for 15 minutes instead of overnight. I did this with a sleeping mask yesterday, and even though I had no issues in Phase 1 or Phase 2, in Phase 3, I ended up with two angry red welts on my face. With moisturizer or serum that’s supposed to be left on all day, in Phase 3, I leave it on for an hour.

If a product gets through the first three phases without issue, I use it regularly for a full week (or for a few weeks if it’s not meant to be used daily), but I make sure not to introduce any new products during that time. Because if I do introduce another new product and I get a reaction that’s anything other than immediate, how will I know which product my skin doesn’t like?

Occasionally, a product will cause no irritation for me during the three phases, but once I start using it regularly, it causes a breakout or even just one blemish. Breakouts can be a sign of sensitivity to a product, so when that happens, I stop using it.

80% of the products I try don’t irritate my skin, and with the 20% that do, I catch the irritation early on before I experience any widespread bad reactions. That’s why when someone tells me they had a bad reaction to a product, I ask them if they patch tested first or went full force into using it. Guess what I hear most of the time? They didn’t even do a Phase 1! It can much harder to calm down skin or clear a breakout when a product has been used as directed right from the start without testing. Why put yourself through that?

If you want to save your skin from potential bad reactions, you now have a tried and true system to follow. Your dermis will thank you for it.

Have a beautiful day 🙂

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