Is a tingling sensation on the skin good or bad?

I was talking to my bestie over the weekend and she told me that she was slightly miffed by the explanation or lack of it regarding the tingling sensation from a face mask she was testing. She wanted to know why the mask was causing her skin to have a slight tingling sensation but the only answer she received from the supplier was, “oh, because it’s doing something to your skin”.

Then coincidentally, I had the same sensation during my facial yesterday and when asked, was told that the tingling sensation on my skin was because the product used was penetrating deeply into the dermis layer.

More often or not, you’ll probably be told that you’re feeling the slight tingle on your skin because the product is working. Is it really so?  And is a tingling sensation a good thing for our skin?

One school of thought: no, it’s not a good thing
One school of thought will tell you that the tingling sensation isn’t a good thing. If you’re using a cleanser and that’s causing some tingling sensation, it’s likely that the product has removed the natural lipids rom your face and causing your skin’s pH to become unbalance.

In fact, Paula Begoun has indicated in The Cosmetic Cop that a cooling or tingling sensation being a sign that your skin care product is really working is a myth.

Myth 14: This common myth couldn’t be further from the truth. That familiar tingling sensation is actually just your skin responding to irritation, resulting in inflammation. Products that produce that sensation can actually damage your skin’s healing process, make scarring worse, cause collagen and elastin to break down, and increase the growth of bacteria that cause pimples.

Ingredients such as menthol, peppermint, camphor, and mint are counter-irritants. Counter-irritants are used to induce local inflammation in an effort to reduce inflammation in deeper or adjacent tissues. In other words, they substitute one kind of inflammation for another, which is never good for skin. Irritation or inflammation, no matter what causes it or how it happens, impairs the skin’s immune and healing response. And although your skin may not show it or doesn’t react in an irritated fashion, if you apply irritants to your skin the damage is still taking place and is ongoing, so it adds up over time.

Funnily enough though, one of her products under Paula’s Choice–Skin Balancing Carbon Mask–has been reviewed to provide a tingling, cooling, stinging, and burning sensation. At the same time, many of the reviewers said that the product actually works for them! (see reviews)

Second school of thought: the product is working
You may have also come across some products that indicate that you should expect a slight tingling sensation when you first use the product and that’s considered normal. And according to Smartskincare, certain natural substances can produce a tingling sensation when reaching the dermis, i.e. the target layer for the majority of active ingredients. So it’s actually a sign that your skin is absorbing the active ingredients.

In fact, it is supposedly quite normal for you to experience tingling sensation when using some products as their ingredients will bring the blood to the surface of the skin. Products containing oxygen is a good example as oxygen is often said to penetrate into skin to activate cells. The same is true for AHA or BHA products and a small amount of tingling is actually considered normal. Some tanning products apparently will stimulate the skin and cause oxygen to rush to the surface, which helps increase the skin’s ability to tan.

Personally, I’ve tried products that cause a slight tingling sensation on the skin, such as those from Organic Apoteke, which are said to enhance microcirculation in our skin. Microcirculation really means increasing nourishment of skin cells as well as speeding the detoxification of the cells and hence, it is normal for our skin to experience a warm, tingling sensation because our skin is adjusting to a nutrient-rich diet.

My thoughts
Personally, I believe that it is true that the tingling sensation is caused by a response to the product or treatment. It is not uncommon to experience similar sensation when you subject your skin to some of the cosmetic treatments involving light penetration. So I would go with the explanation that the product is doing something to our skin. Whether it’s good or bad is another question altogether though.

The intensity of the tingling effect will vary among people, much depending on their skin type. Obviously, someone with a thinner, more sensitive skin type will likely experience a stronger and maybe slightly unusual reaction. However, the tingling sensation should be really short, lasting like a few seconds and to me, a warmer sensation probably means an improvement in blood flow.

However, for those with sensitive skin conditions, the heat related with increased blood flow may actually trigger some of the sensory pain nerves and cause them to become sensitized. In some cases, I learnt that the ingredients may leak through blood vessels, activate these nerve endings and cause excessive inflammation, resulting in skin burning (source). Woah…surely you don’t want to go there.

So if your skin is sensitive, you should really be careful with what you apply. Learn more about what ingredients might irritate your skin and yes, it’s best you stay away from ingredients that can trigger such tingling sensation as you can never tell how your skin will definitely react.

I also feel that the adjustment to the product or treatment should be temporary. That means, this tingling sensation shouldn’t be ongoing for long periods. Anything longer than a minute or two should be of some concern. I tend to agree with Paula Begoun’s view that this isn’t good for the skin when it is happening over a prolonged period as that would mean the skin is constantly being stressed.

What about you?  How do you feel about using products that cause your skin to tingle slightly?  Nay or yay?


  1. flym says:

    I experience tingling and burning sensation with many products on initial contact. My derm said it’s alright if it’s for a few seconds only, doesn’t cause redness or irritation. My facial lady said it’s because my skin is too dry, so it’s easily irritated. She uses an analogy of sprinkling cold water on hot plate where you would get a strong reaction.

    In any case, I’m inclined to think that unless the products contain a substantial amount of active ingredients such as Vit C, acids etc, there shouldn’t be any irritation in any form.

    Since I have sensitive skin where even regular creams can cause stinging/burning, I steer clear of products that contain active ingredients, meaning most anti-ageing products are out for me.

  2. AtelierGal says:

    Some product description does specify that one will experience a tingling sensation, bu I’ve only seen it on Neutrogena’s Pore Refiner. Strange enough I don’t really feel anything, not that I have thick skin haha!

    When I first started using Nixoderm as a pimple treatment, there is a slight burning feel but I reckon the product is effective but never crossed my mind about the inflammation part until 2 years ago. I don’t like the new formula, it no longer works for me ?

  3. sesame says:

    Your skin is pretty sensitive isn’t it? Your facial lady is probably right cos if the skin is dry, it’s prone to irritation. I like her analogy – makes sense.

    Yes, if the product has no active ingredients, changes of the tingling sensation should be lessened. But some essential oils do cause the tingling sensation and if I’m not wrong, some pple may react to alcohol too.

  4. sesame says:

    Yeah, the new formulation of Nixoderm doesn’t work well and it cause burning! Not good.

    And actually, I think thick skin is good…I wish my skin is thicker. ?

  5. youngorgeous says:

    Oh my! I adore the tingling sensation of Nixoderm..Had no idea its bad for the skin..ooops!

  6. sesame says:

    It’s supposed to be effective as a spot treatment but it’s rather strong. So only certain skin types can tolerate this product. Btw, it still works for you?

  7. Carolyn Veroni says:

    As a licensed esthetician I am acutely aware of the “tingling sensation” I usaully see it on the face before the client comments! It gets slightly red and or flush, I am not too worried if the product I am using is a glycolic blend or TCA etc, becasue that is the nature of the beast! But,with other products used and the tingling lasts just a few seconds I don’t get too concerned. Anything that brings blood to the surface in my opinion is a good thing.
    Any tingling or irritation lasting longer than 1 minute …we have a problem- the product should be removed and flushed with cool water until irritation subsides.

  8. Jasmine says:

    I think a line needs to be drawn between tingling and burning. I have very sensitive skin but I know when something’s not right – tingling is sensation without flushing of my face and there is no itch. Burning, which is the sensation I get when using things with too much alcohol, causes my skin to flush red and slough off after some time.

  9. N. says:

    Yeah, I had a really strong and bad tingling feeling with a recent “morning refreshing moisturizer” that ended up giving me a bad burning sensation.

    But anyway, I do have a eye cream that I believe the tingling sensation is because its doing good since it aims for dark circles and that involves circulatory system.

  10. Gaby says:

    You actually listen to what Paula Begoun says? She’s so full of it. A lot of times she doesn’t even know what she’s talking about.

  11. sesame says:

    Ah, so anything under 1 minute is okay. What is your view with products that constantly bring a tingling sensation to the skin. I’m of the view that our skin should get use to the product after awhile and the tingling sensation should not happen after we have been using the products for awhile. What is your view on this? Or maybe it depends on skin types?

  12. sesame says:

    I agree. The tingling is probably very slight but it it brings about burning, then no no even for non sensitive skin type.

    So your skin can’t take products containing too much alcohol? I think it might have to do with the fact that the ingredient is drying and that can irritate sensitive skin.

  13. sesame says:

    I tried Organic Apoteke’s eye cream that brought, tingling, warm feeling and also redness! But I thought it was quite effective. Just that I wonder if it’s good to experience it long term.

    How about your eye cream? Does the tingling sensation happen each time you apply? Also, curious to know which product you’re using if you don’t mind sharing.

  14. sesame says:

    Well, some of what she wrote makes sense but not all. I have quoted her in many of my entries but I don’t always agree with her views.

    Anyway, she tries too hard to push her products and that’s something I don’t like.

  15. Chris Soh says:

    Hey Sesame, I like your personal thoughts on this topic!

    Generally, tingling equals inflammation equals increasingly sensitive skin over time.

    Maybe you should do a part two on why tingling from acids is not necessarily a bad thing?

  16. Victoria Lewy says:

    I experience tingling and tightening effect when I’m using clays on my skin, especially green clay, but i tend to believe that any tingling sensation comes from the activity of the clay minerals and active ingredients.

  17. sesame says:

    Hi Chris: so tingling sensation on a prolonged basis can lead to sensitive skin? That’s interesting to know.

    Btw, I don’t understand what you mean by acids here.

  18. sesame says:

    I believe the tingling is quite slight…I experience that sometimes using certain masks too. I also concur that the sensation is due to the active ingredients working on the skin.

  19. Chris Soh says:

    Was referring to acids like AHA, BHAs which cause tingling but when used appropriately, can give long term benefits. As opposed to poorly made synthetics which cause burning and stinging and over time, wear down an individual’s skin barrier. Once the lipds, fatty acids start disappearing like the ozone layer, bad things really start to happen!

  20. says:

    I have problems with tingling too! I have SUPER acne prone skin and anything that is suposed too be good for acne burns my face (and sometimes breaks me out)!I cannot use acne cleansers, benzoyl peroxide, wear BHA+AHA everyday and it seems that anything with lactic acid burns my face!It is so frustrating, sometimes I do not know what to do…my only “friend” is the ocasionally use of glycolic acid.

    It is good to know that we share the same thoughts about tingling, the sensation should be short and not last for more than one day (like in my case).

    I also have had problems with sunscreens and moisturizers for sensitive acne prone skin (that do not contain any BHA or AHA). I am currently in the hunt for a good sunscreen, so far the best that I found is LRP spf50. But I do not like the white cast that gives me. Have you ever tried the spf 20 or 30? Does it have the same problem? Or do you have any other brand recommendation?

  21. sesame says:

    No, never tried the lower SPF. The problem is, my skin is fair and I don’t really experience much of a whitecast with these products either. I’m more inclined to mineral sunscreens containing zinc oxide and I read that the one from Devita does not leave much whitecast. However, the SPF is about 25 or 30 I think but I have no idea how well it works as I’ve not tried it.

    I’m currently trying out Bentonite Clay to draw out the clogged pores…hope it’ll work well. Will write a review of it in time. It’s supposed to be good for acne prone skin.

  22. meandmyTHRILLS says:

    Now that you mentioned, I tend to experience tingling sensation when I use whitening products.

    I have never bothered about it till I read this post, which left me wondering, is it good or bad in long term.

  23. says:

    Thanks for repplying.

    I have fair skin too, but face sunscreens always leave white cast on me (ones more than others).

    Looking foward to your review.

  24. sesame says:

    May not be a good thing as the skin is constantly stressed and can become sensitized over long periods. If it’s just the sensation from initial usage of the products, then should be quite okay.

    Anyway, it also depends on your skin type. Some skin types can tolerate a lot of stressing and still don’t show much adverse signs. So you have to gauge for yourself.

  25. meandmyTHRILLS says:

    Thanks for the advice.

    In fact, I have not been using whitening masks for sometime though I only experienced initial tingling sensation.

  26. Yanhearts says:

    I get a prickly feeling when I use aloe vera gel. I don’t feel comfortable but since aloe vera gel is good for skin so I continued using, hoping for the better.
    Well, it seems to help a bit with the acne scars, however I do get breakouts (but not sure what causes it)

    Previously, When I was in Thailand, (before using aloe vera) My face is very very very itchy and ‘burns’ after putting makeup. I have no idea why..Maybe I was about to have heat rash.

    Yanhearts last post is: (RUNWAY) McDonaldization of Fashion?!: Moschino Fall/Winter 2014

  27. Shannon says:

    I used a product called skin doctors gamma hydroxy. It’s a resurfacing cream. Believe it’s aha & bha, salicylic acid .Didn’t seems to get tingling sensation when using but nearly 24hrs later I noticed all of a sudden I got what I can only describe is intense pins and needles attacking my face in intervals??? Then later feeling hot and sensitive??

  28. Sesame says:

    Is it still working alright for you? If not, those symptoms sounds a bit alarming and you might want to stop using if they persist.

  29. Lydia Walt says:

    My Dermatologist prescribed me to use an 2 in one Erythromycin gel +Tretinoin gel and she also told me to use it on only on my serious acne affected areas on my face, But then I didn’t followed her coz I also put some on my white head/black head areas (nose and chin) after 2 days I started to feel stinging sensation on where I put the gel on, So I just derelict it since maybe it’s just starting to work. Then the problem is as the time pass by I continuously use it I started to feel tightening, peeling and burning sensation. Even when I’m washing my face it’s really burning! and when my face is already dry from water it gets crimson. I don’t know what to do. :'( I shouldn’t have put it on my nose and chin areas. What should I do???
    Lydia Walt last post is: Best Korean green tea and green tea skin care at O’Sulloc Tea House

  30. Sesame says:

    You should go back to the dermatologist to rectify the problem. She has to prescribe you something to soothe your skin. If you have aloe vera, you can use it in the meantime.

  31. lolarian says:

    hye,i have been using charcoal purifying mask for almost 1 month and i apply 2 times a week.everytime i apply it i feel like the tingling sensation is too much for me and something if feels like burning my skin.thats only happened when im started to apply this mask.after i have apply it i didnt feel anything for 20 minutes.and the result is my face feel cleaned, smooth, no blackhead and cause a little redness on my it okay with the too much tingling sensation that i felt on my face?and im just 17 years old.but it works well on my face

  32. Sesame says:

    Try to dilute it with yogurt to minimize the sensation. Could be too strong for your skin.

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