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 might also sap your skin’s moisture levels, leading to irritation and itchy, uncomfortable skin.
It’s also important to avoid synthetic fragrance, which can react with skin, causing inflammation and potentially 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 might make them too harsh for sensitive skin. Keep using them on your feet, elbows, and knees, but try opting for a gentle, gommage peel 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 should be fine for normal skin!—but might cause problems for sensitive skin. If that’s you, try opting 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 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 a gentle and natural antioxidant with anti-inflammatory benefits.
You already know that sipping green tea has many health benefits, but it’s also great when used topically. Green tea is rich in antioxidants and helps with skin circulation—and shouldn’t cause irritation! Try Boscia’s Green Tea Oil-Control Mask ($26).
Have easily irritated, dry skin? Sunflower oil protects skin and helps to repair moisture to your skin’s moisture barrier. We like Rouleau’s Phytolipid Comfort Cream ($65) for a rich moisturizer, and Dr. Jackson’s Natural Products Face Oil ($54) for an oil option.
Similar to how chamomile tea calms an upset stomach, it also soothes skin.
The plant extract has soothing and anti-inflammatory benefits when applied to skin, and is often found in serums and moisturizers.
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