- Sensitive skin is easily irritated as a result of impaired skin barrier function.
- This skin type benefits from fragrance- and alcohol-free products with minimal ingredients.
- Sensitive skin is best served by moisturizing products that help restore the integrity of the skin barrier.
Skin sensitivity is characterized by the development of adverse reactions to certain products as well as to environments that do not normally cause such reactions. To choose the best skin care products for sensitive skin, you need to determine what your skin’s triggers are and then eliminate them from your skin care routine.
Sensitive skin is caused by impaired skin barrier function. The outermost layer of skin, called the stratum corneum, is composed of lipids and keratin that protect your skin from environmental irritants, and helps skin retain moisture.
The skin barrier can become compromised due to harsh products, exposure to the elements, aging and certain skin diseases. Once the barrier is damaged, skin will be irritated by products and environments that don’t normally cause reactions. Common irritants include skin care products, dry air, extreme temperatures, perfumes, laundry detergent and fabric softener.
Symptoms of impaired skin barrier function include redness, dryness, burning sensations, tingling and itching. In some cases, skin sensitivity is a temporary state that can be resolved by removing the irritant, but for those with naturally sensitive skin the solution is more complicated..
Although it may not be possible to fully eliminate skin sensitivity, you can reduce the symptoms by developing a specific skin care routine and adhering to it. This routine should involve a small number of carefully chosen products that do not trigger reactions in your skin.
How to Pick Products for Sensitive Skin
To reduce the likelihood of your skin reacting, choose fragrance- and oil-free, noncomedogenic products with as few ingredients as possible. A short ingredient list makes it easier to determine which additive is causing a flare-up of symptoms; more importantly, less ingredients mean fewer potential triggers.
Avoid products such as clay face masks that strip the skin of its natural oils, and facial scrubs which create further damage in your skin barrier. Limit your skin’s exposure to chemical exfoliants by using them in very low concentrations and only once or twice a week, at most.
Ingredients to avoid
A few common skin care ingredients are known to cause dryness and irritation in sensitive skin and should be avoided. These include:
- Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs)
- Beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs)
- Salicylic acid (unless treating acne)
Always test for sensitive skin reaction
Before using a new product, perform a patch test by applying an amount to a small area of skin on your forearm and wait 24 hours. Repeat the test for several days; if no reaction occurs, the product is safe for use.
Skin Care Products for Sensitive Skin
The skin care products you use should aim to soothe and moisturize your skin and, in the long term, restore your skin barrier function.
An effective moisturizer improves the quality of your skin in both the short and long term.
A product containing hyaluronic acid can improve skin hydration, while ceramides and squalane help restore the skin barrier function by replacing lost lipids in the outermost layer of skin.
Shea butter and plant oils lock in moisture, as does vitamin E, with the additional benefit of smoothing the skin.
Sensitive skin benefits from the use of a cleansing cream or lotion rather than a face wash or foaming cleanser, which can be drying. Look for a product containing the following soothing ingredients:
- Aloe vera
- Hyaluronic acid
- Thermal water
Many makeup removers can leave sensitive skin feeling tight and dry. Instead, use a hypoallergenic, fragrance-free cleansing water or cream that hydrates as it removes makeup.
Hydrating sheet masks offer extra moisturization to sensitive, irritated skin. DIY face mask recipes can exfoliate the skin more gently than commercial products. One example is using yogurt as a mask to benefit from its lactic acid.
Effective natural treatments for sensitive skin include colloidal oatmeal, which can be combined with yogurt, honey and water to form a mask. The oatmeal forms a protective film over the skin and helps restore skin pH levels.
Calendula extract can be combined with a carrier oil and applied to the skin to reduce inflammation. Similarly, brewing a cup of chamomile or green tea and applying the cooled liquid to your face with a cotton pad can soothe red, irritated skin.
Sensitive Skin Routine
A skin care routine using carefully selected products can help reduce the symptoms of sensitive skin.
In the morning, wash your face with a fragrance-free cleansing cream or lotion and gently pat dry. Protect your skin from the sun by applying a face cream containing a broad-spectrum SPF of at least 30.
In the evening, wash your face again and apply a night cream containing ceramides, vitamin E or hyaluronic acid. For very dry skin, consider applying a facial oil before your moisturizer.
Use a gentle chemical exfoliant once or twice a week before washing your face to remove dead skin cells.
Sensitive acne-prone skin
If your sensitive skin is also prone to breakouts, try spot-treating individual blemishes with an anti-acne product containing a low concentration of benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid or tea tree oil.
A face wash containing salicylic acid can control oil if your skin can tolerate it, but avoid leave-on products such as foundation or cleanser containing drying acne-fighting ingredients; the prolonged exposure to this ingredient may further damage your skin.
Rosacea is an inflammatory skin condition where dilated blood vessels in the face cause a flushed appearance. This condition is a common cause of skin sensitivity and is managed by good skin care habits such as identifying and reducing exposure to triggers to help prevent flare-ups.
Rosacea usually requires prescription topical and oral medication, including antibiotics or antibacterials, to control symptoms. Professional treatments such as intense pulsed light and laser therapies can help reduce the appearance of broken capillaries.
Sensitive skin can be managed by developing a carefully planned skin care routine that includes skin care products that do not trigger a reaction in your skin.
Choose noncomedogenic, fragrance-free, hypoallergenic products to reduce the risk of adverse skin reactions. Look for ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, shea butter, plant oils, ceramides and squalane that moisturize the skin and help repair skin barrier function.
Avoid drying ingredients such as alcohol and sulfates, and restrict your use of AHAs and BHAs.
As natural alternatives to commercial products, you can use calendula extract, colloidal oatmeal, chamomile or green tea.
If you find you cannot reduce skin sensitivity through your skin care routine, consult a dermatologist to develop a treatment plan.
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