Dermatologists say less is more in this case.
When your face is irritated, the last thing you want do is apply a product that makes it look and feel worse—but that guessing game may be a constant struggle if you have sensitive skin.
“Sensitive skin is not necessarily a clinical diagnosis by dermatologists, but rather meant as skin that may have a higher tendency to react than average,” says Michael Kassardjian, DO, a board-certified dermatologist in Los Angeles. This is due to a weaker skin barrier, which allows irritants—say, from a certain ingredient or colder weather—to penetrate your skin more readily. The result? Redness, itching, or stinging.
“Having an occasional sensitization to a product can occur to many people, but an ongoing sensitivity to products and persistent symptoms like redness, irritation, or itching, may indicate a possible underlying condition,” says Dr. Kassardjian, such as eczema, psoriasis, or rosacea.
Sensitive skin is usually pretty dry, too. “Having a thinner or damaged skin barrier allows moisture to escape more easily, causing more dryness and exacerbating this condition,” explains Dr. Kassardjian. “Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for the skin barrier to thin as we age, and therefore some products that may have once been fine to use can later start becoming more irritating and intolerable.” (Check out our favorite moisturizers for dry skin here.)
Look out for common irritants: Be cautious of moisturizers that contains sulfates, alcohol, preservatives, dyes, or fragrance. In fact, “fragrances are a common cause of skin irritation and allergies,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital.
Steer clear of acids. “While everyone wants radiant skin, acids often cause more harm than good in people who have sensitive skin,” says Dr. Zeichner. “They work by enhancing exfoliation, but can lead to skin barrier disruption in people with sensitive skin.” Common ones to keep an eye for include salicylic, lactic, and glycolic acids.
Choose skin soothers. The experts we talked to recommend looking for ingredients that boost hydration, soothe irritation, and have healing properties. Ceramides, hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, soy, and colloidal oatmeal are all safe bets.
As you try a new product, listen to your skin. “It can take six to eight weeks after you start using a product for negative effects to show up—and six to eight weeks more weeks for negative effects to subside,” says David Lortscher, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Curology, a customized acne treatment system.
That being said, these expert-approved moisturizers for sensitive skin are a good place to start.