Cleansing is super important—any skincare expert will tell you that. But when you're dealing with a temperamental complexion that needs only look at an essential oil or potent active to turn an angry shade of red, the whole cleansing thing can become one massive debacle. Speaking your language?
The reason you've been having these sink-related nightmares is likely to be because the cleanser(s) you've been using contain(s) harsh, foamy surfactants that, yes, cleanse but also strip skin of its natural oils, and it's those little guys that help to keep it the right side of calm. Essential oils, which often crop up in many natural cleansers, can also contribute to irritation, although which ones you react to tend to be on a case-by-case basis.
We know it sucks. You've been dealt a pretty crappy card in the skin department, but it's unlikely your complexion is going to get hardier anytime soon—so try to pay a little closer attention to the products you give face time. Making sure you pick the right face cleanser for sensitive skin will massively help prevent bouts of irritation.
These are actually the gentle cleansers that the sensitive-skinned Byrdie editors have had the most success with.
As creamy as a moisturizer and built on a base of aloe vera, Tata Harper's cleanser will rinse away the day without upsetting the balance of your skin's barrier. It also contains salicylic acid and pink clay, which are great if you straddle both sensitive and acne-prone skin camps, but being a little gentler, it won't peel away makeup, so we'd advise using a simple micellar water for that first.
Just like a glass of milk can soothe a curry-spiked tongue, cleansing milks console irritable skins. Rather than the rougher approach of a gel, they simply rinse away the build-up whilst nurturing with kind skin nourishers. Inside REN skincare's offering, you won't find parabens, sulfates, mineral oils, petrolatum, silicones, synthetic colors or fragrances (all things that can potentially upset), but in their place, you'll find essential fatty acids to dial down inflammation and calendula to soothe.
Chamomile is, more often than not, a good bet when it comes to sensitivity, as it has the ability to lull skin into submission just like a hot mug of chamomile tea does for the mind. Elemis's formula contains plenty of it, alongside vitamins E and F to nurture (not whip) the skin to cleanliness. Apply with gentle, circular massage motions and pretend you're in a spa—not your cold bathroom.
Halfway between a gel and a cream, Clinique's cleanser is chock-full of emollients that slip and slide over the top surface of the skin, taking dirt and pollution particles with them without interfering with the skin below. And as sensitive skin and rosacea go hand in hand, it contains cucumber and barley extract to dial down any redness.
If you've got really, really sensitive skin, we'd recommend trying this milky formula by La Roche-Posay. It has one of the shortest ingredient lists you will ever find, meaning there's nothing that your skin can take umbrage to, but it still works really well at swiping away foundation. Plus, it has the seal of approval from the British Allergy Foundation.