You’ll know if you have sensitive skin – even looking at a new product is enough to make your skin erupt into a pit of redness, itching, stinging or puffiness (or all of them at once – lucky you!). Your skin hates products, but it also hates not having products on it. What can you do? Here are a few tips on finding the right routine for you:
Avoid harsh products, or at least use them rarely
This includes abrasive scrubs, foaming cleansers, stiff cleansing brushes. When you need to use a harsh product, like an alpha hydroxy acid or a retinoid (vitamin A derivative – both of these are great for acne and anti-ageing), introduce it slowly and only use them once or twice a week when your skin is in peak condition.
Avoid irritants and common allergens
The best thing to do is to get yourself to a doctor ASAP for an allergy test! In the meantime, if you’re not sure which ingredients trigger your sensitivity yet, it’s safest to avoid products with common irritants and allergens.
Fragrance, alcohol, methylisothiazolinone, essential oils, propylene glycol and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives (e.g. diazolidinyl urea, quaternium-15) are common irritants in beauty products. Parabens are a common preservative ingredient but an allergy to them is rare – for most people with sensitive skin, the alternative preservatives used in place of parabens are more irritating. Vitamin E (tocopherol) is another common ingredient that rarely causes sensitivity, but you may just be one of the unlucky ones.
Go for products with as few ingredients as possible
The fewer the ingredients, the less likely it will be that you’ll have a sensitivity. Some ingredients that very very few people are sensitive to, and are good for repairing the skin barrier, are petroleum jelly, mineral oil, ceramides and glycerin. In general, all-natural products will have more ingredients than petroleum-based products (have you seen the number of chemicals in a blueberry?), and more seasonal variation too, so they can be problematic for sensitive skins.
Dry products also tend to be safer than liquid products, as they need less preservatives to keep them bacteria-free.
Wear a sunscreen
Sun is an environmental irritant, so it’s important to protect sensitive skin from excessive sunshine. The physical sunscreen ingredients zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are the safest for sensitive skin, but unfortunately they tend to be weaker at blocking UVA light, which causes wrinkles and melanoma. The chemical sunscreen ingredients which cause the most reactions are oxybenzone, methoxycinnamate and avobenzone. Luckily, it’s much easier to find allergen-free sunglasses, UV-protective clothing and shade!
Patch test all your products.
Patch testing involves applying a small patch of a potential new product behind your ear or in the crook of your elbow for a week or so, and checking for a reaction before putting it on your face. This is a good way to avoid full face tomato-coloured irritation! For wash-off products, make sure you rinse them off each time – most wash-off products will irritate even the hardiest of skins if left on for too long.