skinsperiments update: irritated, reactive, distressed

My skin is currently not happy. It hasn’t been for about a week. Symptoms:

  • Itchiness
  • Pain when touched by anything
  • Stinging when touched by liquids, including water
  • Constant itchiness, etc., 
  • Tenderness to the touch, and, visually, swelling, blotchiness, a rash of red pimply-looking things, and dry flaky sore patches

This started with the area around my eyes (and my eyes themselves) and may be linked to / a contributing cause may be when I rubbed my eyes and face with my scarf. Long story, not for here, as to why the bleeding suffering heck I did such a stupid thing in the first place.

Other contributing factors, bearing in mind that the reactions may result from a Perfect Storm of several factors, and this Perfect Storm is at least as likely as just one single cause:

  • The usual seasonal allergies. Or, the dark side of our beautiful cherry blossom.
  • Work stress
  • Poor quality sleep 
  • A couple of days when I was less than dutiful about drinking lots of water regularly throughout the day
  • Maybe something I ate?
  • Changing my usual multi-purpose oil blend to include avocado oil?
  • Tried krill oil omega-3 capsules (I usually get omega-3 from food, or that Norwegian Gold fish-oil capsule: it’s one of the few omega-3 caps that uses fish rather than beef gelatin in the coating, uses sustainable fish sources, is regularly available in normal shops, and is not a stupid price)
  • Experimenting, before this episode, with Andalou Organics Turmeric + C Enlighten Serum: I had been patch-testing it then moved to small-area patch-testing on face, had immediate mild irritation, and stopped using it. Possible culprits: turmeric, flax seed oil, orange essential oil. This might have moved skin into Upset Mode, into being more prone to over-reaction at the slightest provocation.
  • On Monday last week and through part of Tuesday, in the port of Vancouver, there was a chemical fire. Shipping containers of trichloroisocyanuric acid burned and released toxic fumes (including chlorine gas) into the local atmosphere; I was at the outer limits of the affected area.

It’s not just a matter of perception and self-perception. Though of course that’s always going to be a factor with skin; combined with the effects of hormones on mood, attitude, view of the world and of the self; and the weird wonderful relationship between humans and their mirrors. 

You know things are a bit different when you experience physical pain.

It’s been settling down somewhat over the last three days. My face doesn’t feel comstantly itchy and isn’t doing the hypersensitive thing of going bonkers and hurting whenever anything touches it. 

What I’ve been doing:

  • Antihistamines
  • Careful about food
  • “Skin Elimination Diet”: reducing products used to a minimum, first using only the blandest most basic stuff, and once skin is settling, reintroducing ingredients and products one at a time
  • No makeup for the first 3 days, then just mascara, then back to the usual eyeliner + mascara + eye-concealer + tinted lip-balm
  • Topical corticosteroid cream (except near the eyes) for the first two days; NB this stuff is ONLY for dire emergencies and short-term use (doctors usually say 3 days, 5 days absolute maximum)
  • Sunglasses

So here’s what I’ve been using on skin:


  • Clean it using unscented mineral oil and tepid tap-water, using cotton pads for face, neck, and eyes
  • Rinse with tepid water and another cotton pad
  • Moisturise with mineral oil
  • Drier skin–eye area (but not undereye), dry flaky patches on cheeks: Prevex cream (petrolatum + silicone)


  • Clean with Aveeno oaty cleansing bar
    or (as of this morning’s progress) fine-ground oats mixed to a smooth creamy paste with warm water
  • Rinse with warm water
  • Moisturise with mineral oil
  • Drier skin, eye area: Prevex cream
  • Sunscreen: EltaMD pure physical SPF 47 (ZnO + TiO2). I’m using this in preference to the equally bland Vanicream SPF 50 because it’s runnier and more easily spreadable just by patting on gently. The thicker Vanicream needs more rubbing, and that’s just not going to happen with sore skin…


  • EDIT (2015-03-14), forgot to say: unscented bland shampoo & conditioner (Cliniderm Free & Clear


  • replaced mineral oil with a 50/50 mix of safflower + meadowfoam seed oils
  • replaced Prevex cream with DIY multi-purpose balm
    = 50% refined shea butter + 50% beeswax & olive oil
  • EDIT (2015-03-14) replaced Cliniderm hair stuff with EarthSafe, also unscented 
  • EDIT (2015-03-15) replaced sunscreen with one that just has ZnO (no TiO2) and no silicones: Derma E SPF 30; skin happier. Still not back to normal, but there had been a turn for the worse when the previous (super-bland) sunscreen stung on application and the rash became redder and bumpier. I experimented on skin on my forehead and neck: irritated but less so than middle of face: 

  1. Testing to see if the silicone base, and specifically cyclopentasiloxane, might be a factor contributing to reaction: EltaMD vs the less-siliconey Vanicream SPF 50: no cyclopentasiloxane (which can clog and/or irritate on my skin, though not always), though heavier and less easily spreadable. The Vanicream side was as itchy and bumpy. 
  2.  Testing to see if TiO2 might be a factor: EltaMD vs Replenix sheer physical spray SPF 50 which is also bland, silicone-based, includes cyclops, but is ZnO-only (no TiO2). Skin felt better on the ZnO-only side. 
  3. Working hypothesis: ZnO combined with a non-silicone base might alleviate reaction. So I tested Replenix vs Derma E which is also ZnO-only, some other ingredients in common, but with a non-silicone base. The Derma E side is calmer. It is also cooler to the touch. 
  4.  I am therefore now using the Derma E all over, on irritated skin. (I may return to the other sunscreens under other circumstances and would certainly use them up on non-irritated skin such as hands). 
    Caveat: these are short-term sketchy experiments, not properly double-blind, etc.

  • ADDED (2015-03-14): reasons for substitutions: preference for using more environmentally-sustainable stuff. Products in the skin elimination diet emergency kit aren’t, but their super-stable ingredients and minimal formulations mean they can sit around in the emergency / first aid supplies for a very long time, used like any other medical supplies only when needed, sparingly


  • Tightliner in brown: Laura Mercier cake eyeliner: no change, but I wiped the surface with alcohol, cleaned my brush with alcohol, and clean it daily between uses; I’d been somewhat lax/lazy about proper tool hygiene
  • Tubing mascara in black: Clinique Lash Power or Bobbi Brown Intensifying . The latter applies better, especially on lower lashes. I also cleaned and disinfected my lash brush/comb.
  • Silk Naturals HD cream concealer in #20
  • Burt’s Bees tinted lip balm in Red Dahlia


  1. croeyre

    I feel your pain! I know all skins are very different but there are a few things which you are using which can be sensitising, especially after skin has become enflamed. The Aveeno cleansing bar although full of helpful oats contains fragrance, and essential (fragranced oil) will also irritate your skin if it is already ‘having a moment’. What is in the Prevex and multi-purpose balm? Also beeswax can be an issue. I know you probably know all this but as a fellow sufferer I always want to see if I can help! Have you tried plain rosehip seed or jojoba oil? Both are unscented and have similar properties to the skin’s natural oils so are easily absorbed? Just an idea. I hope you feel better soon!

    • gingerama

      Hi there,

      Many thanks!

      There might be some misunderstanding on the Aveeno bar: they have two, one of which I’ve never used because it includes a bunch of stuff I can’t use on my skin even at the best of times. That might be the one you meant. The one I’d been using is the plain simple unscented (I’ve known about avoiding fragrance in skincare for 40+ years) moisturising bar.

      INGREDIENTS: Oat Flour (Avena Sativa), Cetearyl Alcohol, Stearic Acid, Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate, Water, Disodium Lauryl Sulfosuccinate, Glycerin, Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil, Titanium Dioxide, Citric Acid, Sodium Trideceth Sulfate, Hydrogenated Castor Oil

      Prevex Protectant Cream (Stiefel Laboratories) = a very simple anhydrous (thus also no preservatives, minimum of ingredients, minimising risks of irritation) emollient barrier / barrier repair cream.
      INGREDIENTS: 67% petrolatum (aka Vaseline), dimethicone, microcrystalline wax, trisiloxane.
      There are other similar things you can have made up by compounding pharmacists on prescription, and some sell their own OTC. The thick Aquaphor ointments can be somewhat similar, but not as simply-formulated. When I was a kid our local pharmacies (Europe) did this, and recognising the ingredients and formula was one reason I spotted and used Prevex in the first place, when I first met it in Canada.

      My skin is cool with beeswax, always has been. The problem with it is almost always with people who have oily acne-prone skin or other conditions that have skin getting clogged up easily. Or people with extreme honey allergies, the anaphylactic shock threat-of-death sort.

      DIY multi-purpose balm: see notepad / “morosophical beautification.” 50% refined shea butter + 50% beeswax and olive oil, melted together to boiling point (further refines etc. which on irritable skin is a good thing), poured into old (sterilised) containers, chilled till set; the result looks rather like Vaseline. Only used on lips for the most part. I’ve been using a variation on this stuff off and on for years, including with worse skin issues than this, it’s in my “known safe stable” (this gets done in cooperation with GP). I’m only using it on lips right now. I’d used it and Prevex on similar-looking dry zones (not active red blistering rashy areas) and observed no differences in skin; that was the stage at which I moved to reintroduce it, as part of the moves out of the Skin Elimination Diet.

      Rosehip seed oil: my skin is irritated by it when in irritable mode. I tested that out in about 2008 or so I think, when I was first using it; that included using it in different ways, for different things. When my skin’s been in normal mode, RHO has been fine (see elsewhere on this blog for reports on it), though I’d mainly used it as a serum rather than a moisturiser as used alone I found it insufficiently moisturising. (My skin is drier, not just dehydrated.)

      The same goes for many other plant-derived oils, for a number of biochemical reasons.

      Jojoba oil: hahah, oh yes, I tried this out in two of its fashion-fads (it goes in and out of fashion regularly), in the late 1980s and around 2003-4. Used alone on my skin, I get zits and my skin dries. I can use it as one ingredient in a more complex formula, when skin is stable: ex. the ShiKai dry skin remedy moisturisers.

      It’s really interesting, though, the way an ingredient like that looks fabulous on paper, and in research data, but all of that can still only ever offer any individual a probability of the stuff being OK (let alone beneficial) on their individual skin. The same is true of ceramides, glycerin, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, peptides (little data on them though, disproportionate to the marketeering hype); and of course the less-sensitive-friendly actives l-ascorbic acid, glycolic acid, and various other chemical exfoliants / peels…

      The blandest oils on my skin, from my own trial and error over the years and from experimentation as a human test-subject, are:
      Mineral oil
      High-polyunsaturate safflower and sunflower seed oil
      Meadowfoam seed oil
      Heat-treated protein-denatured peanut oil
      Sweet almond oil

      Right now would be the perfect time to test out loads of other oils to see how they jive with hypersensitivity–argan would be high on the list of those I’d not yet tested on skin under these conditions–but right now is also the perfectly wrong time, as I just want my skin to calm the heck down and get back to normal.


      Closing note: hugs to your skin, and to anyone else reading this whose skin has ever suffered or is suffering right now!

  2. jmayvil

    And I thought I had sensitive skin!! I’ve always had issues with acne & will get hives from some fragrances, but I’ve never had the irritation last for more than a few days! I’m interested to hear what you think was the main cause!!

    • gingerama

      Thanks 🙂

      Alas, sorry, I don’t know what the main cause was, or if there was one single main cause, and I don’t think there would be any way to know these things. The best I can do and the closest I can get to determining and declaring causes is what I’d said in the original post.

      To do or say otherwise, to speculate any further, would be impossible, unfair, untrue, and (intellectually and otherwise) dishonest 😦

  3. lol

    Gingerrama I was wondering if you have tried the ShaiKai Borage Syndet bar ? I need something super mild so I can maintain the last few precious drops of moisture in my elderly skin.

    • gingerama

      Hi there! No, I haven’t but it’s on the list of things to try. Not seen in shops here and last time I looked the usual (Canadian) online suspects weren’t selling it either. Thanks for the reminder, it’s time for me to look again. It sometimes takes 3-6 months for a new product to be available this side of the border.

      I love their moisturisers, especially the comparatively-cheap and readily-available hand cream. I often use it as an eye cream, and was using it over the winter as the main extra layer of moisturiser. Winter here in Vancouver was pretty mild, though. Would barely count as spring in the rest of the country.

      Do keep me posted if you get a chance to try it before I do: it sounds lovely.

        • lol

          I got a Borage Bar today and have just tried it….”natural fragrance” is the last ingredient and it has a slight coconut smell so that must be the natural fragrance.
          I have been using Everyday Shea Moisturizing Body Wash, unscented for hair, body and face. I think its starting to be too drying for my “mature” skin even though its super gentle…anyway on the hunt for something more gentle plus hydrating.
          I will let you know how it goes with my testing out the Borage Bar in a few days……so far my skin feels nice and soft after 1 face wash. LoLo

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