Sensitive skin is on the rise. More of us than ever before are complaining of redness, irritation and flaking. What’s making our skin so reactive, and what can we do to make it better?
Here’s everything you need to know, from the ingredients to avoid to how to build a replenishing routine that keeps skin calm and protected.
What is sensitive skin?
Sensitive skin happens when the natural protective barrier is damaged and can’t do its job. Skin becomes easily irritated and prone to redness, tightness, flakiness, stinging, rashes, breakouts and discomfort.
What causes sensitive skin?
Triggers include hormones, medication, age, cold weather, sun, wind, cigarette smoke, pollution and genetics. People with dry skin that lacks protective lipids, or conditions like eczema or rosacea, are naturally more likely to suffer from sensitivity. The other big trigger? Skincare. Product overload and routines that over-cleanse, over-exfoliate and over-use powerful ingredients like AHAs and retinol destroy the barrier and make skin more reactive.
How to treat sensitive skin
Stressed skin needs a regime that gently calms inflammation, hydrates and protects the barrier. Strip your routine back to basics and keep things very simple until your skin feels happy again. Reintroduce products slowly, one at a time – it’ll help you pinpoint any that were causing flare-ups.
Extra-mild facial cleanser
Washing too often is a key culprit for dryness and irritation. Once a day remove makeup, grime and debris with lukewarm water and a hydrating soap-free cleanser formulated without SLS / SLES. Avoid using hot water as it strips away the precious natural oils that keep skin soft and strong. Gently pat your face dry – no rubbing or scrubbing!
Follow with a barrier-nourishing serum that drenches skin in comforting heavy-duty hydration. Top picks are ingredients like niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid that draws moisture to the skin and seals it in. Make sure the serum is free from actives – hyaluronic acid can increase the absorption of other topical ingredients that might irritate.
To rebuild and maintain the skin barrier look for a non-comedogenic lightweight moisturizer with hyaluronic acid, plant-based emollients, replenishing fatty acids and soothing, protective antioxidants.
Chemical sunscreens are a known trigger for finicky, reactive skin. Look for non-irritating UV-blocking physical shields formulated with titanium and/or zinc oxide.
What ingredients are good for sensitive skin?
The go-tos for stressed-out skin are glycerin, niacinamide, hydration-boosting hyaluronic and polyglutamic acids, healing ceramides, anti-inflammatory licorice, aloe vera, colloidal oatmeal, and plant-based, fatty acid-rich natural lipids like squalane, and evening primrose, rose hip, apricot kernel, and jojoba oils. Pre and probiotics are great options that can help rebalance and strengthen the microbiome, and antioxidant-spiked products can soothe and protect.
Ingredients to avoid if you have sensitive skin
As a starting point keep these ingredients off-limits: artificial fragrance, dyes, alcohol, SLS/SLES, retinol, glycolic and salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, hydroquinone, comedogenic mineral oils, chemical sunscreens and physical scrubs.
How to keep the barrier strong
A healthy barrier is critical for happy, resilient skin. The best way to keep it strong?These are the three golden rules that help keep sensitive skin at bay: don’t cleanse more than twice a day, don’t over-use chemical exfoliators (once or twice a week is plenty) and hydrate daily even if you have oily skin.