Of all the questions you tweet and email us every day, how to care for sensitive skin is at the top of the list. It’s also one of the most common questions that skincare expert Renee Rouleau gets asked, so we tapped her for answers!
First things first: so what, exactly, creates irritation? It turns out, the answer is incredibly simple. "The majority of the time, it’s the person’s use of harsh products that causes irritation,” Rouleau says. And the solution? “Simply put, avoid using irritating ingredients and your skin will be less irritated!” Which ones should you avoid? And which should you embrace?
Click through our slideshow for the ingredients you need to avoid—and the ones to try—if you have easily irritated skin!
The number one ingredient that Rouleau suggests weeding out of your routine? Alcohol. Many toners and creams have alcohol, which delivers a quick-dry finish, but can also sap your skin’s moisture levels, leading to irritation, itchy, uncomfortable skin.
It’s also important to avoid synthetic fragrance. Scented lotions and creams can react with skin, causing inflammation and weakening the inner layers of skin. Luckily, there isn’t really a need for perfume in skincare, so opt for fragrance-free formulas.
There are countless reports questioning the safety of sulfates—the ingredients that create lather in everything from face wash to toothpaste—such as ammonium lauryl sulfate and sodium lauryl sulfate. The jury is still out, but we do know they cause irritation. It won’t be easy, but try avoiding them for a few weeks and you may end up with healthier skin. (Start by swapping an oil or cream cleanser into your routine!)
The tiny granules in your favorite natural scrub? Their irregular shape makes them too harsh for sensitive skin. Keep using them on your feet, elbows, and knees, but opt for a gentle, gommage scrub for your face instead.
There are two main types of sunscreen: chemical and physical. The former uses hard-to-pronounce chemical ingredients (like avobenzone, octinoxate, and oxybenzone) to reflect UV rays—which is fine for normal skin!—but can cause problems for sensitive skin. If that’s you, opt for a physical, or mineral, formula. We like La Roche Posay’s Anthelios 50 Mineral ($34) for face and Kiss My Face’s Natural Mineral Sunscreen SPF 40 ($17) for body.
Now it’s time to find products that will soothe and nourish your sensitive skin. “Look for calming ingredients and lipid-rich, barrier-repairing oils, which can reduce redness, calm inflammation, and reduce symptoms of sensitivity,” Rouleau says. Keep clicking for the ingredients you need.
Like green tea, white tea is also great for skin when used topically, since it’s gentle and natural antioxidant with anti-inflammatory benefits. Try Rouleau’s own Age Defense Moisturizer SPF 30 ($38): it’s a 100 percent mineral sunscreen with green and white tea.
Similar to how chamomile tea calms an upset stomach, it also soothes skin! Try Malin + Goetz multi-purpose Chamomile Treatment Oil ($68)—you can use it on your body, hair, and face!
The plant extract has soothing and anti-inflammatory benefits when applied to skin, and is often found in serums and moisturizers. We like Clarins Beauty Flash Balm ($46) or First Aid Beauty’s Anti-Redness Serum ($36).
Read Rouleau’s other articles, too: tricks to banish blackheads, tips to prevent a breakout, and how to treat aging and pimples at the same time.