Sensitive Skin

Crystal Schwanke
Sensitive Skin

Sensitive skin can be challenging to work with. Products may irritate it, and It may seem that everything you do results in dry, itchy, red, or bumpy skin. There are ways to cope with this condition, however, that will leave you with calm, beautiful skin.

Understanding Sensitive Skin

Did you know that over 20 percent of adults have sensitive skin? If your skin is sensitive, you may notice itching, burning, and stinging. Many people with sensitive skin also have dry skin that feels very sore and/or tight. People with this skin type can react to ingredients in their skin products as well as sudden climate changes or an increase in personal stress levels. People of all ethnic backgrounds can have sensitive skin, but the condition appears to be most common among fair-skinned Caucasian women. Many people with this skin type suffer from rosacea, psoriasis, or eczema. Acne is also a common problem among those who are sensitive to the ingredients found in various skin care products.

Skin Care Tips

If your skin is sensitive, simplifying your skin care routine will yield the best results. Overloading your face with harsh, abrasive products will only result in more redness and irritation. For example, many exfoliating scrubs are much too rough for people with sensitive skin. You'll get better results if you remove flakes by gently rubbing your skin with a soft wash cloth or an exfoliating brush with soft bristles.

One of the most common skin care mistakes people make is over-washing their skin. If your skin is sensitive, washing your face more than two times per day will do more harm than good, and in some cases you may even want to limit your morning routine to simply rinsing your face with lukewarm water and applying moisturizer. It's also a good idea to limit your time in the bath or shower to less than 15 minutes. Use warm water to cleanse your face and body; hot water is too drying.

Sunscreen is important for everyone, but it's an essential part of caring for your sensitive skin. Get in the habit of wearing a gel-based sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or more. Reapply after swimming, sweating, or spending more than two hours in direct sunlight. WebMD recommends sunscreen designed for children and suggests looking for sunscreens with the active ingredients zinc oxide or titanium dioxide instead of chemicals like paraaminobenzoic acid (PABA) and benzophenones, including oxybenzone, dioxybenzone, and sulisobenzone.

Finding the Right Skin Care Products

Since there are many choices available, finding the right skin care products can be a challenge. Reading labels helps, but keep in mind the following tips when choosing your skin care products:

  • Many people with sensitive skin react poorly to products containing synthetic perfumes or dyes. Natural skin care products are best for your skin type because they're usually free of fragrance and parabens, but you should read the label before making a blind purchase based on the words "natural" or "organic on the packaging. As a general rule, the fewer ingredients in a product, the better.
  • According to WebMD, a mild, soap-free cleanser is the right choice for people with sensitive skin. If you have acne, choose a face wash that contains a small amount of salicylic acid. In general, people with sensitive skin should use a liquid, gel, or oil cleanser instead of a bar--unless that bar is designed specifically for sensitive skin. Try a gentle product like Ultra Gentle Daily Cleanser.
  • You can use an alcohol-free toner or astringent on oily areas, but discontinue use if you notice additional redness. Try a toner with natural ingredients such as Burt's Bees Rosewater Toner.
  • Moisturizer will keep wrinkles at bay, but it's important to choose a product that's suitable for your skin type. For example, Cetaphil moisturizing lotion is hypoallergenic, fragrance-free, and dermatologist recommended for people with sensitive skin.
  • If you wear makeup, look for oil-free, water-based, and non-comedogenic products. While it's often more expensive than other cosmetic products, many women swear by makeup from Bare Minerals.

Best and Worst Ingredients for Acne

Skin care expert Renée Rouleau offers a list of ingredients to avoid if you have sensitive skin that's prone to acne, including mineral oil, petrolatum, sulfates, fragrance, acetone, lanolin, SD alcohol 40, and more. A double-blind placebo-controlled study published in 2007 showed five-percent topical tea tree oil gel to be an effective treatment for moderate acne. However, if you use tea tree oil, be sure to only use it topically, and do a test patch first.

Best and Worst Ingredients for Rosacea

Paula Begoun, the Cosmetics Cop, recommends using a BHA exfoliant if you have rosacea. This type of product is also a good pick for those with acne because they combat blackheads while removing dry, flaky skin--without causing redness and irritation. She also recommends using moisturizer with antioxidants and ingredients designed to repair the skin, regardless of your skin type (dry, normal, oily, etc). The drier your skin, the richer the moisturizer should be. Oily skin can use a lightweight gel. Rosacea.org recommends staying away from products that contain alcohol, witch hazel, menthol, peppermint, eucalyptus oil, and clove oil.

Ingredients to Avoid to Prevent Burning and Stinging

The American Academy of Dermatology article with tips from Dr. Baumann states that while there are no ingredients designed to help the burning and stinging feelings on your face and body, there are some products that are known to cause at least mild burning and stinging, and you will probably want to avoid them or do careful testing if you have this type of sensitive skin. The ingredients listed include:

  • Lactic acid
  • AHAs
  • Vitamin C
  • Glycolic acid
  • Benzoic acid
  • Azaelic acid

Dealing with Contact Dermatitis

Since contact dermatitis flare-ups are different for different people, there are no "best" products to use or to avoid for those with this type of sensitive skin. Pay attention to the products, foods, and other things you're allergic to and compare the ingredients. See if you can find a recurring theme.

Enjoy Beautiful Skin

Once you learn to properly care for your face and body with gentle products designed for the type of sensitive skin you have, they can be radiant and healthy. It may take some trial-and-error in finding a daily care regimen that works for you, but when you create a good cleansing and moisturizing routine free of alcohols, fragrance, parabens, and other triggers, your complexion will be more balanced and less prone to irritation. In addition, select gentle cosmetics that won't aggravate your skin's condition and you'll be well on the way to enjoying beautiful skin.

Sensitive Skin