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Who really tests beauty products before using them?


Not me. And I have the equivalent of a bad sunburn on the lower half of my face to prove it.

Years ago, a friend of my mom's had a violent reaction to an inocuous beauty product -- lotion or moisturizer or sunscreen -- and ended up in the emergency room with hives and horribleness. My mom told me the story in warning over the phone, and I swear I could feel the whoosh! of her finger waving past me, even from a miles away. 

I've had that stern voice in my head every time I've caught a glance of -- and ignored -- the warnings plastered to the sides of boxes of the many, many products I've slathered on my skin and hair and nails in the years since. 

I really should do that 24-hour patch-test thingy, I tell myself guiltily. 

And then I rip open the seventeen layers of plastic wrapping and glop it all over my parched/sensitive/super-fair/broken-out/petrie dish lab experiment skin.

For the most part, it has been OK. Some products work better than others. Some are worth investing lots of dollars in, and others work worse than their drugstore equivalent. Some products sting my sensitive skin, others soothe it. I jump in, I coat myself, I observe and I either keep using or abandon the products. But what I haven't done is use a pristine Q-tip to daintily apply the tiniest dollop and then wait a full 24 hours to see if any of it eats off my ear or corrodes my retinas before dipping myself in a giant Jessica-sized vat of the stuff. 

The products that have singed my skin (and spirit) the most have actually been prescribed by dermatologists. Once I realized that I did not want a raw face (or arms or scalp), I sought the counsel of an aesthetician who doled out advice, gave me samples of her favorite products and never pushed me to buy anything top-shelf (or even middle- or bottom-shelf) if I didn't love it -- all while she gently and kindly chemically peeled and crystally microdermabrasioned my face.

That kind of rawness worked magic. My skin changed. And healed in many ways the derms were trying to prescribe away. It also opened up the opportunity to use products that met my new skin -- more organic and gentle and lovely smelling products than the Ten-O-Six and witch hazel and Nair I was raised up on. 

Recommendations from the aestethician and my beauty editor friends, I justified, were my version of the patch test. But I wasn't even fooling myself. 

I found that out for good last night, when I slathered on a face mask I picked up in the organic-y-looking section at CVS. I decided to buy one face mask as a little luxury gift for myself. There was a $27 version from brand I love that has expanded its product line into naturals and there was a $5 version from a classic, well-reputed brand. Since I know from previous "research" that the price tag does not necessarily equate efficacy or enjoyment, and since I wanted a little luxury not drugstore-luxe, I opted for the five-bucker. 

That "savings' justified spending $4 more dollars on bargain, glittery Wet 'n Wild nail polish and I went home to pour a glass of wine, give my self a mani=pedi and clear the pores. It felt like a DIY spa on the super-cheap and I was proud of myself for working the aisles with such savvy and cost-conscientiousness. 

At home, I read the directions (no, really, all of them), swept past the patch-test sentences and carefully, evenly coated it on my face. I followed the directions and set the timer on my phone for the amount of time recommended.

In those few minutes, I went to work on my glamming up my toes with two coats of bright, shiny silver lacquer. 

The alarm sounded and I went back...AND READ THE TUBE AGAIN. I felt like such a goody-goody-beauty-product-rule-follower that I was actually smiling as I took a cloth and carefully wiped away a bit of the mask.

The instructions said it could be left on for a few more minutes if needed, but to mind the clock and not let it cake on to the face. I complied, setting the timer for three more minutes.

Three more minutes too long.

When I returned, now with fingernails drying from their first coat of paint, I knew something was wrong with the first swipe of the washcloth. Underneath the clay, my face screamed out at me, "WHAT DID YOU DO TO ME?!"

I soaked it the cold, cold water and carefully wiped away the mask to reveal bright pink cheeks, chin and forehead. It stung but I had to get that stuff off of my face. Once it was all patted, swiped and hold-the-breath rubbed away, I looked in the mirror.

The reveal: I looked splotchy and lobster-y and like I'd falled asleep half-drunky with no sunscreen, fully exposed to Hawaiian sun

My face was sunburned. Or face-masked. Or something painful and sad.

Here's what I did: I held a clean, cold cloth to my face, took two ibuprofen and then put a thin layer of avocado oil (awesome for all kinds of skin and calming for psoriasis, rosacea, sensitive and break-outs) all over. Then I dug into my freezer for special ice-packs for the face that the aesthetician sent me home with last year (and no, I've never accidentally added the Botox-branded capsules to my kid's lunchbox...and no, I've never had Botox). I sat for a half-hour with the freezer face packs pressed to my cheeks for relief. 

In bed, I couldn't rest my prickly cheek on the pillow and a few strands of hair hurt my forehead as my pinned-back bangs fell out. 

This morning, I woke up saying, "Owwwww" as I yawned, stretching my face-masked skin that was still plenty pink, warm and uncomfortable.

Another dose of ibuprofen, cold packs and avocado was next. While I am otherwise fully operable and am sure it will all be fine and healed up in a day or two (I promise to seek medical attention if it is not or any other symptoms or concerns arise), right now I feel like (ahem) slapped myself in the face.

The product and the brand don't even matter. It was my own fault for not testing the stuff inside. And I should know my skin well enough to be conservative in the time I leave product on, just like I am in reading through ingredients. 

I feel dumb-burned for not testing it out at all and for skipping that step in an effort to tend to myself. I know those warnings are mostly CYA for the companies that make them. But if I had heeded this warning, I would have CY-my face. 

If you see me at school pick-up or at Trader Joe's today, don't laugh. If you're a negligent patch-tester, this could be your surface-of-the-sun face, too.


Be honest: Do you patch-test beauty products?  Have you ever had a horrible reaction?

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Reader Comments (1)

Oh my gosh! That is so awful! Did you figure out what it was that made you react like that? Its probably one or two ingredients that did it. Yikes.

I went through about six months of retin a because i was having mild acne. I would rather have that mild acne than the horrible skin I had with retin a. I hear it takes a while to really work, but it just wasn't worth it. I think using an aesthetician is the best route. I only wish I was related to one.
January 18, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterhillary

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