Your skin woes are about to come to an end.
For those living with sensitive skin, the struggle to find the right products is absolutely real. Every sensitive skin sufferer has tales of cleansers, serums, and moisturizers that worked for a time and then turned on them; or worse, horror stories of costly products that resulted in instant irritation and a trip to the trash. Good news: There are a few rules you can follow when shopping for skin care to reduce your risk of a flare up.
First, let’s talk about what “sensitive skin” really means. “If you get frequent irritations from many different skincare ingredients, then you have sensitive skin,” explains Dr. Neal Schultz, NYC dermatologist, host of DermTV.com and creator of BeautyRx by Dr. Schultz. “But it has to be all three: FREQUENT, MANY, and DIFFERENT. Most people who think they have sensitive skin really don’t. If you’ve had two irritations in ten years, you don’t have sensitive skin. If you get irritated regularly (think a few times a month) by common over-the-counter moisturizing lotions, sunscreens, wool, all fragrances, etc., then you have sensitive skin.”
Additionally, according to Dr. Joshua Zeichner, Director of Cosmetic & Clinical Research at The Mount Sinai Hospital, certain skin conditions can create sensitivity. “Generally speaking, people with eczema and rosacea also tend to have sensitive skin, meaning a dermis with an impaired barrier that can’t protect itself as well as it should from the environment and is more likely to become inflamed in response to environmental triggers.”
If any of this sounds familiar, let’s talk ways to prevent those oh-so painful irritations.
1. Look for lower concentrations of ingredients.
Sometimes, it’s best to simplify. “There are no ‘safe’ ingredients. What bothers one person with sensitive skin may not bother another,” cautions Dr. Schultz. “The trick is finding products with very few ingredients. The fewer the ingredients, the less of a chance of reaction.” This means products with more gentle formulas, such as acne products with 2.5% benzoyl peroxide rather than 10%, and mild cleansers and moisturizers with as few ingredients as possible.
Try: Neutrogena On-The-Spot Acne Treatment, $7; drugstore.com; Origins Mega-Mushroom Skin Relief Micellar Cleanser, $30; Sephora.com; SkinMedica Sensitive Skin Cleanser, $36; skinmedica.com; Proactiv + Pore Targeting Treatment, $90; proactivcatalog.com
2. Try non-irritating alternatives to traditionally irritating ingredients.
You can use the same ingredients as your friends with tougher skin, but look for kinder formulas. For instance, when looking for a night cream with a retinoid to help exfoliate for a better morning complexion, Dr. Zeichner recommends products with retinyl propionate or palmitate instead of retinol. You can also try more soothing versions of products that might agitate you. For example, if a typical toner is too harsh, choose a gentler version containing aloe vera.
Try: Murad Perfecting Night Cream, $55; Sephora.com; Mario Badescu Aloe Vera Toner, $15; Nordstrom.com
3. Choose skin-soothing ingredients.
Dr. Zeichner recommends tending toward products with skin-loving ingredients, such as niacinamide. Niacinamide is a derivative of vitamin B3 that firms skin, reduces hyperpigmentation as well as visible signs of aging, and prevents moisture loss.“The moisture barrier is the first line of defense for sensitive skin,” he says. Other gentle ingredients to look out for when your browse the beauty aisle include quercetin, turmeric, and hyaluronic acid.
Try: iS Clinical Poly-Vitamin Serum, $98; skinstore.com; Korres Quercetin & Oak Antiageing & Antiwrinkle Night Cream, $52; Sephora.com; Philosophy Take A Deep Breath Oil-Free Energizing Oxygen Gel Cream Moisturizer, $37; Ulta.com
4. Use physical blocker sunscreens.
Sunscreen is non-negotiable, a fact on which both dermatologists agree. But if chemical sunscreens (which break up the sun’s radiation at the surface of the skin) cause irritation, Dr. Zeichner recommends switching to a physical blocker. Sunscreens with ingredients such as zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide can prevent UV radiation from reaching the skin and causing damage by creating an invisible barrier. These physical sun protectants can be a healthier alternative for those with sensitive skin.
Try: Colorescience Skin Calming Face Primer SPF 20, $49; colorescience.com; Drunk Elephant Umbra Sheer Physical Defense SPF 30, $38; Sephora.com
5. Go for fragrance-free products.
According to Dr. Schultz, sometimes the struggle to find exactly what irritates you can be long and hard. “Very few people actually ever know which ingredients bother them because the products they use that irritate them have 20-50 ingredients,” he cautions. One of the best ways to avoid irritation is to give up the frilly fragrances and use products that contain no artificial scent. Unless that floral essence is due to the actual flower in the product, it’s best to go scent-free so you can live your life without painful skin irritation.
Try: Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream, $15; Cetaphil.com; Lavanila The Healthy Body Butter Super Sensitive Fragrance Free, $19; Sephora.com