Skincare regimen series: Sensitive skin
Routine with tips and product recommendations.
Sensitive skin is a term that gets thrown around a lot in the skincare and beauty world. But what does it mean? Let me break it down for you.
What is sensitive skin and how to tell if you have it?
Sensitive skin is not a clinical diagnosis; it simply means that your skin is more reactive than usual. It can be easily irritated either by:
- Environmental elements like the sun, wind, cold, air pollution, or heat
- Topical products such as serums or lotions
- Lifestyle habits such as poor sleep, diet (e.g., gluten), or hormones
The irritation manifests as redness, itchiness, stinging and burning, or general discomfort on the skin.
The most telling factor is probably your skincare routine — if your skin turns red, stings or burns on using a certain serum or face mask, you have sensitive skin. Your skin could also become sensitive over time (just how we develop allergies) by repeated exposure to an irritant or skincare ingredient. Increased skin sensitivity isn’t just uncomfortable and annoying but can also signal an underlying condition such as eczema, psoriasis, or rosacea — which is why it’s worth seeing your dermatologist to rule these out. Some of these conditions are genetic so the sooner you find out the better they can be managed.
How to care for sensitive skin?
Sensitive skin means that your skin’s protective barrier has been weakened and requires utmost care to repair and nourish it. USE:
- Ingredients such as ceramides, fatty moisturizers, humectants (draw water into the skin) that restore the skin barrier
- Soothing ingredients such as licorice, centella asiatica to keep the skin calm and reduce redness
- Toners, serums, or creams containing Niacinamide (skin barrier nourishing ingredient)
- Facial oils to soothe and coat the skin
- Physical sunscreens (containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide)
- Fragrance, essential oils, or denatured alcohols
- Sulfates or soaps
- Chemical sunscreens (ingredients such as avobenzone, oxybenzone)
- Products with long ingredient lists
- Physical scrubs (e.g., walnuts, grainy textured ones)
What skincare routine to follow for sensitive skin?
Don’t fall for the latest skincare fads and start testing out tons of new products, it will only worsen your skin. If you’re incorporating a new product into your routine DO A PATCH TEST FIRST. Stick to a simple skincare routine that looks like this:
- Gentle moisturizing cleanser — The cleanser needs to include skin hydrating and restoring ingredients, both of which hold moisture in the skin and protect the skin barrier.
2. Niacinamide — This is one of the most versatile ingredients in skincare and one of the few that works for all skin types. For sensitive skin it can help restore the skin barrier.
3. Antioxidants (e.g., Vitamin C) or skin soothing serum (for redness) — If you suffer from patches of red/flushed skin, you need to add skin calming and soothing ingredients.
If you don’t have redness, then use a Vitamin C in your routine but stick to a derivative since it is gentle on skin. The below serum has Vitamin C and a host of other antioxidants to defend against daily environmental assault.
4. Moisturizer — Look for three types of ingredients (humectants, emollients, and occlusives), all of which work in conjunction to hold moisture in the skin and prevent it from escaping the skin’s surface. Depending upon how moisturized your skin feels after using the antioxidants serum, you can go with either moisturizer below:
My pick (Heavy): Cetaphil moisturizing cream
My pick (Light): Cerave Daily Moisturizing Lotion
5. Sunscreen — Don’t even think of stepping out without your SPF. The sun is the biggest contributor to aging and depleting your skin’s protective barrier. So, make sure you invest in a good sunscreen.
- Gentle moisturizing cleanser — same as the AM routine above.
- Niacinamide — see AM routine above.
- Moisturizer — same as the AM routine above.
- Facial oil — Use it as a last step to provide an extra dose of moisture. Oils are great at soothing the skin and repairing the skin barrier, my favorite is rosehip oil.
The above routine is a general one for anyone that suffers from sensitive skin. There are varying degrees of sensitive skin, and this routine can be tailored as needed. For e.g., if you want to start using wrinkle fighting ingredients such as exfoliating acids, retinoids you can start with low doses and see how your skin takes it. It’s also prudent to discuss with your dermatologist as they can help pick the right one or alternative ingredients that are effective and less likely to irritate your skin.
As an example, azelaic acid and salicylic acid are two good ingredients for someone with rosacea (they help reduce redness and inflammation) — but again this condition needs to be diagnosed by your dermatologist.
The bottom line
Sensitive skin can be genetic or acquired (environmental or lifestyle factors) and can affect anyone. It’s extremely important to identify it timely, understand the triggers and construct a skincare regimen focused on repairing and nourishing your sensitive skin.