A couple weeks ago I was asked to recommend a few products for sensitive skin. To be honest, I highly doubt I can do a better job than a derm or a cosmetologist, so instead I am going to share the products I currently use when my skin is feeling irritated. Truth is, I use resurfacing exfoliants – mainly acids – daily or almost daily, which is something I personally do not recommend if you want to play it safe. I do it for one reason only – to test the limits of my skin’s tolerance, so I can later determine the absolute maximum exfoliation it can take before it freaks out. As you might have guessed, sometimes those experiments end in itchy, red, irritated skin and scattered constellations of red, painful, non-acne bumps. At that point I completely stop whatever it is I was doing and switch to ultra-gentle routine that will help nourish my skin back to health.
Here’s how I picked the products below:
- Unscented – Fragrance is one of the main irritants in cosmetics. Even if your skin is not normally sensitive to it, when it’s already irritated, fragrance will only make it worse.
- Hyaluronic Acid – Well-hydrated skin is proven to repair itself faster.
- Gentle occlusive – Squalane or glycerin are both great gentle occlusive choices for irritated skin.
- Dye-free, alcohol-free, sulfate-free – This goes without saying, but irritated skin shouldn’t be exposed to harsh alcohols, synthetic dyes, and sulfates that would make it even more sensitive.
- Physical sunblock – Chemical sunscreen gets absorbed by the skin, and physical sunblock creates a layer on top instead. A lot of people are sensitive to chemical sunscreens these days, and many of them are mildly irritating. I just play it safe for a few days, it’s no biggie.
And now the actual routine.
CLEAN. This goes without saying, but I try to wear very minimal makeup when my skin is irritated, and only where necessary. Also, I go for cream formulas instead of powder, and apply everything with my fingers. With that said, my cleanser/makeup remover of choice is has been La Roche-Posay Toleriane Dermo-Cleanser* ( for 6.76 fl. oz, 200ml), which was developed for sensitive and intolerant skin. The formula is soapless and can be wiped off the skin with a warm moist towel or rinsed off with water. There are only 8 ingredients, including Glycerin, which helps nourish and lubricate the skin during cleansing, reducing friction and further irritation. This cleanser comes with a rare 5-star rating on Beautypedia, if you trust their opinion.
GREEN & CLEAN. Manyo Factory Galactomyces Special Treatment Essence ($25 for 1.7 fl. oz, 50ml) is a first essence, not a toner, but first essences are usually runny and liquidy like toners. After cleansing I add a few drops to my palms and press them against my face a few times to help the liquid absorb. This potent concentrate contains a whopping 97% Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate, which is known to boost collagen production, moisturize, brighten, and improve the skin’s barrier function.
A serum is necessary to really boost my skin’s hydration levels, and the new Perricone MD H2 Elemental Energy Hydrating Booster Serum* ($100 for 1 fl. oz, 30ml) contains not one, but multiple different forms of Hyaluronic Acid to really cover all the bases. Other notable ingredients include fermented yeast filtrate, Vitamin E, and Panthenol to protect, repair, and nourish sensitized skin. Actually, this was the product that prompted me to write this blog post in the first place, because I am constantly impressed with how comfortable it makes my skin feel. We all have different beauty budgets, so if this price is within your comfort zone, for sure give this serum a try – it’s amazing.
GREEN & CLEAN. A moisturizer doesn’t have to be a cream or a lotion, in fact, a lightweight oil to seal in the serum and prevent the water from evaporating is really all you need. I like to use C2 California Clean Ageless Facial Oil* ($97 for 1 fl. oz, 30ml) and I couldn’t be happier with it. This oil contains only two ingredients: pure Squalane, derived from sugar cane, and a potent antioxidant Vitamin E, that nourish and soften the skin, and create a protective layer on the surface. Unlike petrochemicals that form an impenetrable barrier, letting nothing in or out, when using Squalane and Vit E the skin can still breathe, which to me is pretty important. C2 California Clean is a women-owned, indie beauty company on a mission to create products that are cleaner and more effective using trusted natural ingredients.
GREEN & CLEAN. I am very adamant about applying sunscreen daily, even if I stay indoors, with one exception – when my skin is irritated. I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but let me explain. Even natural sunscreens are mildly irritating because they are made of ground minerals, and no matter how finely milled they are, those little bits still have rough edges that create micro scratches on the surface of the skin. Naturally, that’s the last thing I want when my face is sensitized. What I do instead, I make sure to avoid the sun if I’m staying indoors, meaning I stay away from the windows as much as possible during the sun’s most active hours – 11am through 4pm. If I expect to be outside no more than 10 minutes, I put on a wide-brimmed hat and large sunglasses. Now, if I have to go somewhere and I can expect to be in the sun for 15 minutes or longer, that’s when I apply my trusted Erin’s Faces Peptide SPF30* ($50 for 4 oz, 120 ml), which has been one of my absolute favorite discoveries of the year.
Using this routine, and following the precautions, my skin usually recovers within a few days. If you are like me, and you love experimenting with different resurfacing acids, make sure to set aside a simplistic routine like this one and always switch to it if you experience irritations and sensitivities due to over-exfoliation.
Do you have sensitive skin? Have you tried any of these products before? What’s your favorite OTC product to treat redness? Let me know in the comments below!