How To Deal With Sensitive Skin: The Dos and Don'ts


sensitive skin

Source: Peter Sabok/NurPhoto/Getty Images

When it comes to treating sensitive skin, it can often be quite overwhelming – the last thing you want to do is aggravate or irritate it. And, because your skin is so sensitive, it makes experimenting with products even harder! That’s why tailoring your skincare regime and understanding what works for your skin type is essential. To help, we’ve broken it down, so you can get to know your skin, stay clear of any triggers, and give it the TLC it needs.

What does sensitive skin look like?

One of the most common mistakes people make when it comes to sensitive skin is confusing it with dehydrated skin (which is only temporary, yet dry skin is a permanent condition). It’s also harder to diagnose sensitive skin as it’s not always visibly red or itchy. It can actually flare up at any time due to a whole variety of changes, like hormones, a new product or even external factors like pollution or sun damage. If you do continually suffer from sensitive skin, you can experience a whole range of symptoms such as redness, blotchiness, dryness, itchiness, or flaking skin. You could also suffer from a specific condition like facial eczema or rosacea.

The best way to tell if your skin is sensitive is to press down on your cheek with light to medium pressure using your fingers. If your skin turns red, then you have sensitive skin. Another clear indication is when using a product makes your skin sting or tingle slightly when you first apply it.

What causes sensitive skin?

Sensitive skin can be triggered by a whole variety of things that cause the nerve endings in the top layer of the skin to become irritated. The nerve endings are so sensitive because your skin’s natural barrier is weak, which makes it easily affected by external factors. These factors could be anything from sun exposure or cold weather to hot water, stress, hormonal changes or a lack of sleep. This is why it’s so important to treat your skin with the right topical nourishing creams, as if you use a product that is too harsh, they’ll penetrate deeply due to the feeble barrier and cause further irritation. As your skin’s natural defense layer is weak, this also means your skin loses moisture more rapidly, which is why it’s usually very dry.

How to treat sensitive skin:

The Dos: 

Do test out all new products: Skin testing is important for everyone, but it’s crucial if your skin is sensitive as you can never predict how it’ll react to a new product. Even if you’ve used those active ingredients before, the formula will be different. The best place to skin test is on the inside of your arms, as your skin is sensitive here, but it’s not too noticeable if you do react. It’s even better if you can try a sample for three to five days before you invest in the product: explain to the salesperson that you have irritable skin and they’ll typically give you a week’s tester.

Make sure your skin is hydrated: As sensitive skin loses moisture so easily, you need to make sure you’re always replenishing it. So, layer rich hydrating creams that contain ceramides (a peptide complex) and niacinamide. You should also moisturize twice a day and use a hydrating mask once a week, like the Kiehl’s Calendula & Aloe Soothing Hydration Mask, $45.

Look out for these natural ingredients: Within your skincare products, you need to look for soothing ingredients that are full of antioxidants so that they can hydrate your skin while boosting repair. Look for plant-based ingredients that are packed with nutrients such as aloe, chamomile, evening primrose, rose and argan oil. Also look for azelaic acid as this will calm your skin or hyaluronic acid, as it’s super hydrating and occurs naturally in your skin.

Use sun cream daily: Excessive skin exposure can be seriously damaging to your skin, especially if your skin is sensitive. As always, you need to use products that are tailored to your skin type, so look for sun creams whose only active ingredients are zinc oxide and titanium oxide as they’re super gentle, like the Aveeno Baby Natural Protection Lotion Sunscreen, $12.

See the dermatologist: If your skin is constantly flaring up, we recommend seeing a dermatologist as you could have a specific skincare condition such as rosacea or facial eczema. In which case, you would need to use topical treatments targeted to those issues.

skincare products for sensitive skin

Source: Aveeno, Kiehls, The Ordinary

Aveeno Baby Natural Protection Lotion Sunscreen, $25, Kiehl’s Calendula & Aloe Soothing Hydration Masque, $45, The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 15%, $13.

The Don’ts:

Don’t use soap: Using soap on sensitive skin can be detrimental as it damages the skin’s barrier further by removing the lipids (the natural oils in your skin), which are needed to maintain a healthy skin barrier.

Avoid products containing these ingredients: Stay clear of any harsh, acidic ingredients like alcohol, fragrance, citrus, glycolic acid or L-ascorbic Acid (a more irritating form of vitamin C). You should also avoid rough scrubs, microbeads, and harsh cleansing brushes.

Don’t use the same products for your body and your face: It’s always better to use a milder product on your face, as the skin is thinner there compared to the rest of your body.

Don’t overtreat your skin: When it comes to hydrating and nourishing sensitive skin, we tend to pile on the products, but this could be overwhelming your skin. According to a recent study, the average American woman uses 12 different products each day, which makes an average total of 168 unique ingredients. This can seriously confuse your skin and actually lead to irritation. So, the ‘less is more’ approach is a must: invest in fewer good quality products and use them regularly.

Avoid excessively hot water: If you regularly expose your skin to hot water, you risk removing the natural oils in your skin that keep it soft and supple. Try not to have extremely hot showers or baths, as this will only dry out your skin more.

Check out these posts, to find the best cleansers, moisturizers and face oils for sensitive skin.