This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
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Around the same time of year that the gust of stale subterranean air as the subway roars into the station starts to feel like a refreshing gift from God, cooling products start to seem like a very good idea. Face mists spiked with menthol or under-eye gels laced with peppermint oil are a lifeline, a Hail Mary for days when it’s 100 degrees and you’re 100% trapped in the office.
But that invigorating tingle, the same sensation that tells your brain that it’s cold now and everything will be fine and no, you won’t melt to a fleshy puddle right where you stand, isn’t necessarily a good thing — no matter how good it might feel.
In fact, that’s the biggest benefit of cooling products, right there: They just feel good. “The cooling effect of a product on the skin does not have a true therapeutic benefit, but rather affects the experience of using the products,” says dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD. “That can make you feel more comfortable in general, without necessarily changing the health of the skin.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with using a product because you like the sensorial experience of it — it’s just that the specific ingredients typically used to create a cooling sensation, like menthol, peppermint, and eucalyptus, can be harsh on skin, especially sensitive types. The risk, Dr. Zeichner explains, is that they can trigger contact dermatitis, with dryness, itchiness, and inflammation far outweighing the benefit of instant I’m-not-melting-anymore relief.
But a propensity for reactivity does not mean you are doomed to a life of suffering through hot summers armed with nothing but a paper fan and a prayer while everyone else on the subway platform spritzes their forbidden minty elixirs around you. There are plenty of soothing, anti-inflammatory ingredients to look for — things like aloe, caffeine, cucumber, coconut water — that cool and refresh without rocking the sensitive-skin boat.
And, if all else fails, just stash your regular skin care in the fridge. It’s so simple it’s stupid, but hey, that’s one thing your office building has going for it that your beach bag doesn’t.
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