Question: Help! My face is red and raw! What should I do?


If your skin is red, raw, and irritated beyond belief, you should:

  1. Give your skin a break.
  2. Apply healing products to help soothe your skin.

Here are some tips and tricks to help your skin heal faster:

Remove the Source of Irritation

If your face is red, peeling, and/or irritated from a new product, stop using the product for a few weeks to give your skin time to recover. Avoid using anything harsh and/or abrasive in the mean time, which means no exfoliating of your skin.

If your face is red and irritated because you keep picking at your skin, then you need to make a strong effort to keep your hands away from your face. Popped pimples don't feel pretty, don't look pretty, and don't heal pretty either.

If your face is red and raw from manually exfoliating or scrubbing, stop scrubbing right away. Don’t over exfoliate your skin because it could cause microscopic tears and make it more prone to infections. They say if it stings it means it's working, but if your skin stings when you splash it with even water, then something is not right.

Also, did your skin turn immediately red after using a new product? If so, you could be experiencing an allergic reaction. If you try something new and feel your skin turn very hot and prickly, wash your skin immediately. If conditions don't improve in a few hours, some hydrocortisone cream or a trip to the dermatologist may be necessary.

Redness, irritation, and sensitivity are common side effects from acne treatments, retinoids in particular. If you have been using acne topicals, give your skin a break for three or four days and resume treatment sparingly after your skin has fully returned to normal.

When your skin is red and raw, whether its from over-exfoliation or new products, stick to a gentle cleanser and basic moisturizer. Cut out all treatment products because your skin is already stressed enough. Healing products like Aquaphor, Polysporin, aloe vera gel, cortisone cream, or raw honey may provide additional relief.

Use Emollients for Skin Healing

Aquaphor, Polysporin (like Neosporin), Egyptian Magic, hydrocortisone cream, and even Vaseline are thick emollients that form a protective shield on your skin. When your skin is feeling red and raw, the above ointments will help soothe your skin and form a barrier against any outside elements.

You might be tempted to slab on a thick layer of, say Aquaphor, but you only need a thin layer of product. A thick layer may feel better at first, but it won't make your skin heal any faster. And sometimes when you apply a really thick layer, it starts to feel greasy and heavy.

You might irritate your skin even more when you go to wash off the healing product because plain water rinses off oils poorly and a normal cleanser might feel too harsh. If this happens to you, the best way to remove an ointment when your skin is feeling irritated is to blot with a paper towel until most of it has come off and then splash with water. Alternatively, gently wipe with a wet paper towel.

If you are worried about oil-based healing products breaking you out (which is a valid concern), it is probably more of a priority to get your skin calmed down. You can deal with any breakouts later, after your skin starts to feel normal. (FYI, I've tried all of the above items and as acne prone as my skin is, using them didn't break out my face the next day.)

Some people recommend using Vitamin E oil to soothe raw and irritated skin. I used Vitamin E oil when I over-scrubbed with baking soda, back when I didn't know any better, but it made the irritation worse. Instead of healing, it gave me itchy, red, little bumps that I had to calm down with cortisone cream. In my experience, Vitamin E oil does not work for everyone. It is a potential irritant itself, so before you slather it all over your face, test it on a small patch of skin.

Using oil-based healing products can soothe your skin, but if your skin feels hot and on fire, it might be better to use something cooling, like aloe vera, because emollients can trap heat inside your skin that needs to dissipate. (Cortisone cream is the exception because its active ingredient is responsible for reducing irritation, itchiness, and redness.)

Apply Cooling Products for Skin Healing

Cooling products like aloe vera gel and hyaluronic acid (great for burns) help to soothe irritated skin. While I have an aloe vera plant in my yard, I prefer aloe vera gel from a bottle. If you use fresh aloe vera, make sure you only use the clear jelly part of the plant. Avoid the green skin and any white bits because they contain potential irritants that may make your skin itchy. Not something you want when your skin is already irritated!

Hyaluronic acid, on the other hand, is superb for healing skin burns. It is actually the product used in hospital wards for burn victims. If you burned your skin with a chemical peel or other kind of harsh acid, a hyaluronic acid serum (a clear liquid or gel) will be the best healing treatment.

Use At-Home Remedies for Skin Healing

As for home healing remedies, slices of fresh cucumber or cold tofu may help your skin feel calmer. An oatmeal mask or a raw honey mask may also further reduce redness. I tried all of those methods when my skin was really irritated from acne treatments, but they did not do much for me. They felt good while on my skin, but after I took them off (I couldn't exactly go to class or work with cucumbers plastered on my face), the irritation came back.

There are some people who claim apple cider vinegar helps with soothing skin, especially sunburns. This seems counter intuitive because vinegar is an acid and an acid should burn, but lots of people say it works. I have tried it as well (what haven't I tried!) and it only made my skin sting. *Shrugs*

Keep Wounds Moist for Faster Healing

Studies have shown that moist wound healing encourages wounds to heal faster and with less scarring. As the name implies, with moist wound healing, the wound is kept is a moist environment, either with moist gauze wraps, hydrocolloid gels, or surgical dressings.

What does this mean for your skin when it's feeling red and raw? Well, keeping your skin moist will not only help it feel better but also heal faster. Emollient healing products, described above, keep your skin moist, but they are not the most comfortable feeling things you can put on your skin.

To keep your skin comfortably moist, I like using Asian paper masks or simply draping a wet paper towel or damp cloth over my face. I re-wet the towel when it dries and continue the process as long as possible, especially if I'm staying home for the day. If I have to go out, I will put on a layer of moisturizer immediately after I remove the mask to help seal in the moisture. This method makes my skin feel calmer immediately, but when I stop using the damp towels, my skin dries and the relief subsides.

The key is to do this as much as you can (to give your skin as much extra moisture as possible) and then to seal in all the hydration with a moisturizer or emollient healing product. You can even use a paper mask, put on a layer of aloe vera, and seal everything together with an ointment. Alternatively, you can spritz your skin throughout the day with thermal water to keep your skin hydrated.

Hydrocolloid gels and surgical dressings also promote moist wound healing, however they are more for spot healing (i.e. a laceration) than overall healing (i.e. irritated facial skin).

How to Spot Heal Individual Injuries

When you need some spot healing (i.e. you picked a pimple and it scabbed and want to know how to make it heal faster), three options are styptic pens, hydrocolloid gels, and synthetic skin dressings.

Styptic pens are used for whenever men cut themselves shaving, but they can also be used for popped pimples and other picked spots. Styptic pens look like white crayons and to use, you just "color" in wherever there is an open wound. It "seals" the wound, protecting it and helping it heal faster.

Hydrocolloid gels are used in the hospital to cover any open wounds. Like styptic pens, hydrocolloid gels form a seal over wounds in order to promote healing. Unlike styptic pens, they are easier to apply and have longer staying power. You can think of them as liquid band-aids.

Like hydrocolloid gels, synthetic skin dressings are also used to cover surgical wounds. Made out of fruit pectin and other ingredients, these skin dressings resemble thick, skin-like band-aids. To use, you cut out a square the size you need, peel off the back, and stick onto a wound. It's similar to putting a piece of fake skin over your wound to help it heal.

Because of their size, styptic pens, hydrocolloid gels, and synthetic skin dressings are not practical to use all over your face. The latter two are also expensive and hard to find. If you have lacerations, cuts, picked pimples, or open lesions that are contributing to your face feeling red and raw, then these products will work wonderfully to help heal your skin. But again, they are more for spot relief than overall relief.


When you feel like you've scrubbed off the top layer of your skin, leave your skin alone for awhile to let it heal and stay out of the sun. You can soothe the irritation with products, but it's still going to take time for your skin to completely heal on its own. It usually takes your skin mantle 6-14 days to recover from any kind of skin "shock."

Check out the recommendations for healing products for some skin-soothing suggestions.

Last updated: September 28, 2012

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