The arrival of spring generally means a few things: Embarking on some Marie Kondo-inspired deep cleaning, storing away winter knits, and—with the elements turning a bit kinder—bidding farewell to dry, dull, itchy winter skin. When it comes to the latter, though, the reality can sometimes look a bit different. Even with warmer days, more moisture in the air, and a break from harsh indoor heating, skin can start to feel prickly just as the daffodils begin to pop.
Why itchy skin happens
Seasonal shifts are never easy on skin, and the transition from the barren winter months to the pollen-packed ones can be irritating. “Seasonal allergies, asthma, and eczema are a triad of conditions that some individuals experience together,” says Sonia Batra, M.D., a Santa Monica, California-based dermatologist and cohost of the television show The Doctors. What’s more, your go-to antihistamine can dry out your face and extra pollen in the air can “trigger an allergic reaction and make skin more sensitive, even puffy,” says Jordana Mattioli, a medical esthetician in New York City. “We are more likely to get rashes or irritation from products and ingredients that normally wouldn’t cause a reaction when skin is struggling with this immune system response.” In other words, when irritation comes from multiple angles—whether it’s from allergies, over-cleansing, or exfoliating acids—it can push our immune systems into overdrive, weaken the skin barrier (its protective outer layer), and lead to red, irritated, itchy skin.
The first step towards recovery: find out what caused your inflammation and try to remove it, Mattioli says. “Were you on a recent trip and exposed to harsh wind or sunburn? Was it an exceptionally stressful few weeks? Did you start a new skincare product? These are some of the most common factors.” Next, work your way towards a calmer complexion with our skin-soothing guide, below.
Keep your skin clean (just not too clean)
“When skin is sensitized, even washing your face can be unpleasant,” Mattioli says. But that doesn’t mean you should skip your nightly cleanse, especially while everything is in bloom. “Allergens can stick to everything—so if you’re experiencing a reaction, shower and wash your hair before bed so you don’t end up sleeping with them.” Swap bar soaps and cleansers that make skin feel tight with hydrating washes rich in soothing antioxidants (think green and white teas) and humectants such as aloe vera—all of which are found in the Renew Nourishing Cleanser. Also opt for warm, not hot, water. “Frequently exposing your skin to hot water strips the natural oils that protect it,” Batra explains.
Ditch harsh ingredients
“Analyzing your products to eliminate sensitizing ingredients is the first line of defense,” Mattioli explains. “When clients have a rosy hue on cheeks and their skin feels warm or tender to the touch, I recommend a routine change by cutting irritants.” Common culprits include retinols, leave-on acids, chemical sunscreens, artificial fragrance, alcohol-based products, and prescription-strength acne cream. Instead, stick with a simpler (and all-around cleaner) regimen consisting of a gentle cleanser, face oil, and mineral-based sunscreen. Also look for products with ingredients high in nourishing essential fatty acids (sesame, chia, and hemp seed oil are good examples), like Calm Pure Radiance Face Oil, which also contains potent soothers like calendula and chamomile. Fatty acids occur naturally in skin’s outer layer, and studies show that applying them topically can help restore a compromised skin barrier. Batra also recommends upping your intake of EFA-packed foods: “Nuts, seeds, grains, squash, fish, and sweet potatoes all contain fatty acids that can help irritated skin.”
Source ingredients from your kitchen
Oatmeal is a classic cure for good reason—there’s real science backing its ability to settle skin. “Avenanthramides, which are present in oatmeal, have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects,” Mattioli explains. “Beta-glucan also helps lock in hydration, while cellulose and fiber are soothing.” Reap the benefits by making a DIY mask using colloidal oats, which are easier for the skin to absorb, Batra says. Simply grind up two cups of oats in your Vitamix or food processor, add the powder to a warm water to create a paste, and leave it on your face for twenty minutes. (No time to mask? Keep an oat-infused face mist on hand, like Calm Nutrient Mist, on your desk to instantly quell midday itch.)
Steep in salts
If your irritation extends beyond your face, retreat to the tub. Research has shown that bathing in magnesium-rich dead sea salts can lessen inflammation, increase hydration, and strengthen skin barrier. “Magnesium has also been shown to reduce stress and cortisol levels (the root of many skin conditions),” Mattioli adds. “Soaking in it will help it absorb transdermally.” Add a generous amount to a warm bath and a few drops of your favorite oil to elevate the self-care element.
Consider CBD oil
CBD oil devotees tout it as a cure for everything from insomnia to chronic pain, and while the jury is still out on some of its claims, its skin benefits are increasingly well-documented. “CBD has been found to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that have a soothing effect on the skin—reducing itching and irritation and treating skin conditions such as acne, rosacea, and eczema,” Batra says.