One of the budding categories in the “soothing” skincare realm is dedicated to tackling skin redness (aka. erythema). However, tackling redness isn’t very straightforward because the external culprit for causing redness can be incredibly diverse. In this guide, we’ll help explain what is erythema, the causes of erythema, and what skincare ingredients to target for your skin redness scenario.
Let’s Breakdown Erythema
The most stripped-down definition of skin erythema is the temporary reddening reaction in skin that is typically caused by an external stimulus. Erythema is also described as an immunological reaction that could be the result of hypersensitivity to an allergen (not a foolproof indicator). This reaction has also been described as the result of an inflammatory response that’s associated with a skin condition such as acne, eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, etc.
This is all to say that erythema can be the result of many issues. From getting too much sun, the fabric your skin touches, to a more chronic skin condition. Sadly this does mean that translating this understanding to actual skincare/topical solutions becomes infinitely more challenging, but lets see if we can put some order to the madness.
Are there any skincare ingredients that tackle redness?
When you browse this category, you typically run into these main ingredients. We did the research (so you didn’t have to) on whether or not these actually help reduce erythema.
This ingredient is more well known as an anti-microbial with some anti-inflammation potential. This doesn’t mean that it specifically helps tackle erythema, but could be helpful for skin conditions such as rosacea or acne as a supplemental topical. This is a really roundabout way of saying that this hasn’t been proven to reduce redness specifically, but could help with specific skin issues that could be the cause of your erythema.
You’ll find azelaic acid in this realm because of it’s benefits in treating papulopustular rosacea (one of four categorized types of rosacea) at 15-20% concentration. Azelaic acid has also been clinically tested at that same 15% to 20% level to target acne. The takeaway here is if your skin redness isn’t caused by papulopustular rosacea or acne, this may not be the ingredient for you.
Centella Asiatica (AKA “Cica” stuff)
Centella asiatica and its constituents (madecassoside, asiaticoside, etc.) has some research on its benefits as a wound healing ingredient. This is most likely what has given way to its potential as a soothing and erythema reducing agent. But even better than that, we found a small study that looked at specifically erythema caused by laser treatments for acne scarring! A lab in Thailand, tested a 0.05% centella asiatica blend (madecassoside and asiaticoside) post laser treatment on 30 subjects. Subjects applied the product 4 times a day for the first seven days and then twice daily for 3 months. We should also note that at night, subject also applied petrolatum after the centella asiatica topical. The treatment was found to significantly reduce erythema at day 7 vs. placebo which reduced erythema by day 28. And there’s more! Another lab looked at 5% centella asiatica extract (containing madecassic acid, asiatic acid, and asiaticoside) in a microinflammation model and found that the treatment was able to significantly reduce erythema in 4 weeks.
You always hear that petrolatum is the wonder salve for skin irritation, but there are a few relevant data points that might warrant its use for erythema. One study looked at various emollients and ointments including petrolatum and found that petrolatum significantly reduced erythema that was induced by low doses of UVB radiation. There’s another realm of erythema you probably haven’t thought of, diaper rashes! Surprisingly there’s a relatively robust amount of data on petrolatum’s benefits reducing skin erythema from diaper rash. In two independent studies that involved a total of 391 children from 8-24 months of age, they found that the use of a petrolatum coated diaper showed significant reductions in severity of erythema and diaper rash compared to the control.
NOTE: There are some experts who have concerns around the use of petrolatum for rosacea (specifically erythematotelangiectatic rosacea and papulopustular rosacea) because of petrolatum’s ability to interfere with barrier recovery.
Hopefully the takeaway from these ingredients is that the right ingredient for the right cause of erythema would be the most beneficial for your skin scenario. Sadly, the actual state of anti-redness skincare involves a lot more ingredients than just these four, and many come with little to no data in this realm. Instead, let’s see if there’s any other clues we can look for in skincare claims to guide us in finding our next anti-redness solution.
Decoding Claims to Find Your Next The “Anti-Redness” Skincare Solution
If you search for anti-redness skincare, you’re met with quite the spectrum of products. Finding a truly relevant product to stave off redness takes some reading between the lines. Decoding the claim and testing may be the easiest to find what is most relevant to your skin needs even more than finding the right active. Here are a few good examples of claims to look for:
- The “Instant” Redness Reducing Makeup Claim: This one typically means the formula will come with a green pigment to “neutralize” the redness. Think of this as more of a makeup claim than providing any long term benefits.
- The Consumer Perception Claim: This claim is made when subjects test the product for a given amount of time and fill out a questionnaire on their experience. An example of this type of claim is Dr. Jart’s Cicapair Color Correcting Treatment: “92% said skin looked less red after 1 use.” Think of this claim as the most objective assessment of the user’s personal experience using the product.
- The Less Than 24hr Redness Clinical Claim: This test claim can be really helpful for those that are easily prone to temporary erythema flare ups. Typically the test set up involves a more aggressive procedure or peel and then the subject uses the anti-redness treatment a couple hours after and then assessed for results. An example of this is Estee Lauder’s Advanced Night Repair Rescue Solution: “81% redness reduction one hour after a 50% glycolic acid peel”
- The Long Term Redness Clinical Claim: These clinical tests have subjects testing the product for a few weeks and usually assessed through instrumental measurement. There are very few that fall into this category and we find products with these claims typically involve reducing redness from acne lesions.
On that note, the following are a group of products we've found to have relevant redness testing behind it or/and we recommend to trial to help keep that redness at bay.
Top Chemist Tip! If you’re wondering how to level up your skincare sleuthing skills , we recommend going to the brand’s actual product page, not Sephora’s or Ulta’s page, to read the claims. You’ll often get the most information on their testing details there.
Other Scenarios to Consider for Redness
In our erythema research, one of the big takeaways was that diagnosing the cause of erythema is surprisingly challenging. Most people that deal with erythema typically consider themselves as having sensitive skin, however that’s not always the case. Here’s a quote from an actual study:
“If, upon clinical examination, erythema is observed, the diagnosis of sensitive skin is made more difficult to separate from other numerous skin diseases.”
We’re sharing this because at the end of the day, it’s completely normal to feel like you haven’t been able to make heads or tails of what’s causing your skin redness. If you find yourself at this point, it’s definitely time to talk to your dermatologist.
Takeaways & FAQs
Why does my skin get red?
Erythema is the temporary reddening of skin due to external stimuli. This phenomenon in skin can be triggered by a wide range of culprits including allergens, UV exposure, or a secondary reaction from skin conditions such as rosacea and acne.
What skincare ingredients can I use to tackle redness?
It really depends on the cause of erythema however isolated compounds from centella asiatica such as madecassoside & asiaticoside and petrolatum have semi-robust data on treating some types of erythema.
What should I look for when shopping for “anti-redness” skincare?
We always look to any sort of clinical data as the best indicator of how the product will perform. For the redness reduction category, the type of testing scenario (post-procedure vs. acne redness reduction) will give you a much better idea of the type of redness the product is intended to tackle.
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