Skip the Irritation: How to Find the Right Products for Sensitive Skin

Sensitive skin is one of those common issues that isn’t really a problem until something causes it to flare up. There’s a wide range of sensitivity levels and it can be hard to predict what will irritate sensitive skin. It can be a bit of a mystery when it comes to which products to use, but you can help guide your clients in the right direction.

What causes sensitive skin?

Sensitive skin, aka skin that’s prone to inflammation and irritation, can be the result of a condition like eczema or it can be a general reaction. The degree of sensitivity as well as the symptoms vary by person.

Some people with sensitive skin react to certain chemicals in skincare products, while more severe cases may show irritation from clothing or their environment. Symptoms like redness, itching, rashes, hives, and stinging are all signs of sensitivity to a specific substance.

The root of skin sensitivity is impaired skin barrier function caused by damage to the skin’s outermost protective layer. The damage can come from certain diseases, environmental factors, or exposure to certain products or ingredients.

How to protect sensitive skin

While the cause varies from person to person, avoiding products containing fragrances and dyes is helpful for most people with sensitive skin. Keeping the skin hydrated and moisturized will often help with sensitivity so steer clear of products that strip the skin of natural moisture and oil.

To avoid flare-ups, remind clients to test new products on a small area and watch for signs of irritation. It’s also helpful to introduce a new product slowly and build up to normal frequency to allow the skin to adjust to ingredients.

Ingredients to avoid

  • Alcohol
  • Fragrances
  • Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs)
  • Beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs)
  • Parabens
  • Sulfates
  • Phthalates
  • Salicylic acid
  • Retinol 

Products/Ingredients for Sensitive Skin

It might seem like the list above could also be titled “most popular skincare ingredients” and that’s exactly the challenge for those who struggle with sensitive skin. So many products on the market contain ingredients that will cause trouble for their skin.

When it comes to cleansers, look for a cream or lotion cleanser instead of foaming cleansers that can cause dryness. Ingredients like aloe, cucumber, and glycerin can be soothing to sensitive skin.

Moisturizers that contain squalene or ceramides help restore skin barrier function by replacing lost lipids in the epidermis. Jojoba oil is a better option than coconut oil as its less likely to clog pores, but equally hydrating.

For acne-prone skin, azelaic acid can be a gentler option than salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. Witch hazel is another alternative to help kill bacteria before it can cause breakouts.

Retinol is hard to avoid in anti-aging products, but it’s often too harsh for sensitive skin, resulting in unwanted redness and peeling. Bakuchiol is an alternative to retinol without the unpleasant side effects. Like retinol, it works best in a night cream or serum.

The Bottom Line

While sensitive skin adds an extra challenge to finding the right skincare products, there are plenty of other options available. Help your clients by suggesting alternatives that will solve skin issues without the unwanted irritation and inflammation.