Having sensitive skin isn’t easy for anybody. However, as a beauty editor who is constantly chopping and changing her routine in order to try new products, it’s exceptionally difficult. Receiving news of a new skincare launch is a bit like a game of roulette for me. You see, if a product contains note-worthy amounts of retinol, vitamin C, alpha-hydroxy acids, essential oils or fragrance, you better believe my skin is going to have something to say about it.
The difficult thing about coming to terms with such truths is that I really do want to reap the benefits from such wonderful ingredients. But at what cost? While using potent retinol or vitamin C will help in reversing and preventing signs of ageing, the chances are they will leave my skin red, sore, dry and usually susceptible to breakouts too. And it would seem I am not alone in this. My DMs on Instagram are full of people asking what they can do about their sensitive skin.
So considering I am no skin expert, in a bid to make sense of our sensitive-skin nightmares, I reached out to someone that is a little more in the know. Keep scrolling for everything you need to know about what your sensitivity might mean and to shop all of the sensitive-skin heroes I swear by.
Those that deal with sensitivity will know the symptoms all too well, however, One Aesthetics Studio’s Jonquille Chantrey, surgeon and international beauty lecturer warns, “Most people that believe they have sensitive skin, in fact do not. Usually the case is that is it just sensitised.”
The difference here is simply that sensitive skin is usually genetic, whereas sensitised skin is caused by the environment. Both show similar results in the form of irritability, redness and inflammation, but knowing what to look for is imperative in figuring out the cause. For instance, those with naturally sensitive skin may have a thin epidermis and are prone to redness due to visible blood vessels or may even have other skin issues such as eczema. “Certain skin types and skin diagnoses such as eczema do have true sensitivity and often require specific medical products,” explains Chantrey.
Although we have touched on this a little bit above, it’s crucial that if your skin is prone to sensitivity but is not necessarily de facto sensitive, you understand the reasons it might be irritated. “Sensitivity is due to the skin barrier not functioning properly. The barrier, which is comprised of lipids and proteins, protects by allowing what is needed through and blocking things that may do harm. When it’s dysfunctional, the skin becomes irritable,” says Chantrey.
So what causes this to happen if it isn’t a genetic predisposition? Well, simply put, Chantrey says it’s usually down to using the incorrect product. “The majority of sensitised skin occurs due to incorrect use of topical products on the skin which irritate the surface barrier and cause inflammation. The most common factors influencing this is using inappropriate topicals. For example, using overly stripping toners or acids, then using heavy moisturisers which then cause the hyaluronic acid production to become sluggish, creates a false dryness which leads you into thinking you have actual dry skin.” Getting into a vicious skincare cycle like this only leads to barrier confusions, she warns.
What to Do
First and foremost, it’s imperative that you stick to a well-considered routine and avoid chopping and changing your skincare as much as possible. “When the right products are used and the surface barrier repairs, sensitivity is resolved. True, dry, sensitive skin can consider a product that contains certain lipids to help reconstruct the skin barrier,” advises Chantrey.
While sensitised skin can be improved within a few weeks with the correct lineup, sensitive skin may take longer. If you’re ever unsure, it’s worth booking in for an expert consultation (many clinics are now offering these online until they are back up and running again).
Shop My Top Sensitive-Skin Products
There are very few brands as highly recommended for sensitive skin as La Roche-Posay. This particular cleanser is a gel formula which is great for giving a deep clean and decongesting my pores, plus it doesn’t leave skin even a little bit upset.
Of all of the cleansers ever made, this one is definitely in my top three. It’s a foaming gel formula which doesn’t make it great for super dry skin, but for those prone to oiliness like me, it’s a winner. With ceramides, hyaluronic acid and niacinamide, it calms, soothes and hydrates, all while delivering a thorough cleanse.
If you have sensitive skin, this cleansing butter is a surefire way to make it a little bit happier. It’s nourishing, fuss-free and leaves my skin calmed, plump and supple. Also, it removes even the most stubborn of makeup with total ease.
Part of one of the most well-known sensitive skincare ranges out there, Kate Somerville’s Goat Milk Cleanser is a cult product for a reason. Gentle, creamy and formulated with manuka honey for ultimate nourishment, it’s a daily product I reach for.
It’s another La Roche-Posay number, I know, but honestly, this range is worth all of the hype it gets. Before I stumbled across this particular formula, I thought face mists were just another beauty gimmick. However, a light spritz of this instantly cools irritation, brings down redness and gives skin a healthy-looking sheen.
I think of this mist as (funnily enough) the queen of all mists. The actual spray itself makes all of the difference. Dispersing a light veil of product over the face without any unwelcome splodges, it’s one of the most luxe (and loved) products that I own. Plus, it helps stimulate repair, so my skin loves it too.
I’m not going to pretend otherwise, the thing I love most about this is its spa-like smell. Usually, when my skin has reacted to something, I get a bit stressed and start panicking it’s never going to go back to its normal state. Luckily, a few spritzes of this over my face calms everything down long enough to think about a rational plan of action.
I have waxed lyrical about these clever exfoliating pads since I first got my hands on them last year. When skin genius (and clinical aesthetician), Pamela Marshall at Mortar and Milk recommended them to me, I knew that they would be good. Using gentle, kind-to-skin polyhydroxy acids to exfoliate with minimal irritation, they have become my T-zone’s best friend.
I’m not going to lie—when I first came across this brand I wasn’t expecting huge things. I assumed it was just another pretty, Instagram-friendly, natural skincare brand with mediocre results. But whoa, was I wrong. Ideal for sensitive skin, Dr Roebuck’s products are gentle and hydrating without being heavy. This particular product is the star of the show. It’s a creamy exfoliating mask that minimises the appearance of pores with no fuss.
For days when my blackheads are particularly bad, I reach for these. They are a little bit harder-working than the Exuviance pads and actually deliver a hearty dose of salicylic acid to help unclog pores and slough away at dead skin cells. To minimise irritation, I only use where needed.
I know what you’re thinking. How can such a skin-friendly product have such an unfriendly price tag? Hear me out: This serum is quite possibly one of the best soothing products I have ever come across. With liposomal RNA to stimulate healing and help restore the skin, I like to think of this stuff as a rewind button for when I’ve applied something my skin doesn’t like. My boyfriend regularly helps himself to this for any post-shave irritation. I’m not charging him (yet).
My love for this brown bottle of joy really does know no bounds. Jam-packed with hydrating and plumping hyaluronic acid and free from any obvious potential irritants (like fragrance), I would bathe in ANR if I could. Honestly, it’s an absolute essential in my routine.
Similar to ANR in its results but packing just a bit more of a punch (and an expensive one at that), this serum—formulated in collaboration with skincare maestro Augustinus Bader—has been a daily go-to for me since it launched. Since using this every morning, I haven’t had a single unmanageable reaction and breakouts have been drastically reduced.
Again, this is just another great no-fuss, soothing and hydrating serum. Can you spot the theme here? Just like all of those mentioned above, it’s essentially healthy skin in a bottle. You might not get instant mind-blowing results, but it definitely helps to reduce sensitivity and keep the skin barrier intact. Plus, it contains my hero ingredient, niacinamide, to soften and smooth.
I love a whipped, creamy mask on the best of days, but when my skin is particularly sensitive and irritated, I deem them essentials. This particular formula contains black tea ferment as an antioxidant and lychee and jicama extracts to nourish and boost glow.
For those that have congestion-prone, sensitive skin like me, I understand that thick, pore-clogging masks aren’t always an option, no matter how soothing they might be. This wonderfully calming mask from The Body Shop contains almond milk to soothe and also oatmeal to gently exfoliate. Again, it’s a real favourite.