They don’t call it sensitive for nothing! Allergies, harsh products, hidden ingredients, stress, hot showers, and even cold weather can trigger sensitive skin to react with anything from an angry blush to itching, flaking skin, hives, and bumps. But on a more soothing note, just as there are many causes of sensitive skin, there are many ways to manage the condition. Here, we share the best skin care products for sensitive skin and simple but effective ways to give your sensitive skin all the care it deserves.
You have a sensitive skin type if your skin regularly shows all or a combination of these symptoms:
Itching, burning, and redness
A tendency towards blushing and flushed skin
Dry skin that doesn’t protect nerve endings as it should
Pustules, skin bumps, or skin erosion (a loss of some of the epidermis – the outer layer of skin)
If your skin is dry, rough, and dull, you have dry sensitive skin and will benefit from following a regimen of skin care for dry sensitive skin. You might find your skin is not only sensitive, but tends to have an oily T-zone and a dryer cheek area—this means you have sensitive combination skin. If your skin is not sensitive at all and is perfectly balanced most of the time, this means that you have normal skin.
Sensitive skin can be difficult to diagnose and manage in the long term because it varies in so many ways — from a tendency to get mildly red and itchy, to more severe inflammation and skin allergies like contact dermatitis. If your skin tends to get irritated when you use certain products, if you’ve ever had an allergic reaction to a product, or if you have certain skin conditions on your face (eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, etc.) you may have sensitive skin. People with sensitive skin can have oily, dry, combination, or normal skin too, but may need to take extra care in selecting products that don’t cause irritation or exacerbate skin conditions.
What causes sensitive skin?
Your skin acts as your body’s shield — holding in vital moisture and keeping out what might be harmful or damaging to you. It might be that sensitive skin is more penetrable than normal skin — this means your skin’s barrier has a tendency to let through things that irritate it. This could be the result of genetics, dry sensitive skin, an underlying condition like eczema, or it could be worsened by age, or stress and anxiety. One factor that could compromise the skin’s barrier is the absence of enough ceramides—these are fatty acids that help your skin function as a protective layer.
Building a daily skin care routine
Skin care doesn’t have to be complicated if you don’t want it to be. The three basic steps of a skin-care routine are cleansing, moisturizing, and applying sunscreen (at least SPF 30 and broad spectrum). You should cleanse then moisturize every morning and night. You should also apply sunscreen every morning, but you can use a moisturizer that has at least 30 SPF and broad spectrum protection to combine those two steps. You can use a daytime moisturizer with SPF at night too although you may find that a thicker product is more moisturizing and better suited to nighttime use because you don’t need to worry about being able to put makeup over it—plus, you don’t need to worry about SPF while you’re sleeping.
If you wear heavy makeup or sunscreen during the day, you may find that your cleanser doesn’t get all your makeup off or still leaves you feeling kind of greasy. In that case, you might benefit from double cleansing, a process in which you wash first with an oil-based cleanser followed by a water-based cleanser or micellar water on a cotton pad to remove anything left behind. But double cleansing is not a requirement.
No matter what your skin type is, a daily skin care routine can help you maintain overall skin health and improve specific concerns like acne, scarring, and dark spots. A daily skin care routine has four basic steps you can do once in the morning and once before you sleep.
Cleansing: Choose a cleanser that doesn’t leave your skin tight after washing. Clean your face no more than twice a day, or just once, if you have dry skin and don’t wear makeup. Avoid washing for that squeaky-clean feeling because that means your skin’s natural oils are gone. Cleansers known to work well for all skin types include Cetaphil and Banila Clean It Zero Sherbet Cleanser.
Serums: A serum with vitamin C or growth factors or peptides would be better in the morning, under sunscreen. At night, retinol or prescription retinoids work best. Makeup Artist’s Choice has an effective vitamin C and E serum and retinol available.
Moisturizer: Even oily skin needs moisturizer, but use one that is lightweight, gel-based, and non-comedogenic, or doesn’t block your pores, like CeraVe’s facial lotion. Dry skin may benefit from more cream-based moisturizers like MISSHA Super Aqua Cell Renew Snail Cream. Most brands will label their products as gel or cream on their packaging.
Sunscreen: Apply sunscreen with at least 30 SPF 15 minutes before heading outdoors, as it takes a while for sunscreen to activate. Darker skin tones actually need more sun protection because hyperpigmentation is harder to correct. Try EltaMD’s sunscreen, which offers broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection and is recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation.
Skincare routine for sensitive skin
AM: Gentle cleanser (oil or milk cleanser), soothing moisturiser and sunscreen (physical zinc formulas may be best). All products should be free from alcohol, fragrance and actives such as glycolic acid or high-potency vitamin A.
PM: Gentle cleanser (oil or milk cleanser) and soothing moisturiser.
Extras: Calming serum. Look for serums/products with skin strengthening ingredients such as vitamin K, niacinamide, shea butter or squalene.
Start with a basic and simple routine to see how your skin reacts. Once you’re comfortable, you can then add extra products such as exfoliants, masks, and spot treatments to boost your skin’s health.
And don’t forget to patch test new products, especially if you suspect you have sensitive skin. This can help you identify potential allergic reactions.
To patch test a new product:
Apply a small amount of product on your skin in a discreet area, such as the inside of your wrist or your inner arm.
Wait 48 hours to see if there’s a reaction.
Check the area at 96 hours after application to see if you have a delayed reaction.
An allergic reaction may include irritation, redness, small bumps, or itchiness. If you notice these symptoms, wash the area you tested with water and a gentle cleanser. Then return the product and try another that better suits your skin type.