The Best Skin-Care Routine for Sensitive Skin

Those of us with sensitive skin need to be a little more particular about which new skin-care products we’re picking up — that’s just the reality of it. Sensitive skin can be easily thrown off by anything, from the weather to a new product formula. Simply put, the best skin-care routine for sensitive skin is the one that works for you. Ahead, find a few tips for starting a skin-care routine that’s suitable for sensitive skin.

What Is Sensitive Skin?

According to the International Journal of Cosmetic Science, sensitive skin is a “condition of subjective hyper-reactivity to environmental factors. Generally substances that are not commonly considered irritants are involved in this abnormal response.” Basically, sensitive skin is an overreaction to factors that usually don’t irritate most people’s skin. This can be anything from certain moisturizers to even a type of metal used in a bracelet. It’s also important to note that sensitive skin isn’t necessarily something you experience from a young age. At any age, you can begin to suddenly experience sensitive skin, no matter what other skin predispositions you may have.

What Causes Sensitive Skin?

Although there may not be one set causation behind sensitive skin, there are a lot of theories as to why it pops up. Some studies have shown that there may be a correlation between weakness in the epidermis (the outermost layer of the skin) and how reactive the skin was in contact with external forces. Age has also been thought to cause skin sensitivity. Despite age clearly having an effect on sensitivity, however, sensitive skin affects those old and young. Where the skin is on your body may also determine its susceptibility to sensitivity with the face being one of the most commonly reported areas of skin sensitivity.

Do I Have Sensitive Skin?

Before we can get into a skin-care routine for sensitive skin, it’s important to determine if you do indeed have it. Unfortunately, this isn’t as black and white as it may seem. According to board-certified dermatologist and consultant Dr. Dendy Engelman, “There isn’t a definitive checklist that dermatologists use to define sensitive skin.” However, there are a few tell-tale signs that can help you determine whether or not you have this skin type. If you have reactive skin that becomes red, blotchy, stings or burns when exposed to certain elements — like the sun’s UV rays or certain skin-care formulas —it is likely sensitive. Other signs of sensitive skin may include itching, burning and even feeling some sort of tight sensation in the area that’s irritated.

What to Look for If You Suspect Your Skin Is Sensitive

If you suspect your skin may be sensitive, there are a few things you’ll want to look for. First off, try to use products that are fragrance-free and non-comedogenic. When a product is non-comedogenic, it means the formula will not clog your pores. (This is key for all skin types, not just sensitive.) Secondly, do your best to look for gentle formulas that are safe for sensitive skin specifically and keep your routine as basic as possible. This will lower your chances of introducing any possible irritants.

Skin-Care Routine for Sensitive Skin

STEP 1: Cleanser

Whether you have the most resilient skin on the planet or you burn within a few moments of being outside in the sun, your skin-care routine should always start with cleansing. You can have the best products that money can buy but if you are layering them on top of built-up dirt, pollution, makeup and other impurities that can linger on the skin’s surface, they aren’t going to do you much good. By not cleansing your skin, you risk all of those aforementioned impurities clogging your pores which can lead to everything from breakouts to dull skin-tone to irritation. Start your sensitive skin-care routine off with a gentle cleanser formulated for sensitive skin. We recommend Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water All-in-1 to remove makeup and other dirt and impurities from your skin’s surface.

STEP 2: Alcohol-Free Toner

Sweeping toner over your skin might seem like a superfluous step, but it’s well worth the few extra seconds of effort. Toners are often overlooked in skin-care routines but can actually offer a wide range of benefits, including balancing the skin’s pH levels post-cleansing, soothing the skin and removing any lingering bits of residue or dirt. Sensitive skin types can benefit from using a toner but should steer clear of those formulated with alcohol or astringents. Reach for one that’s mild with calming ingredients, like the Kiehl’s Cucumber Herbal Alcohol-Free Toner.

STEP 3: Serum

A serum is a product that can be applied in between toning and moisturizing to make sure your skin is getting all of the essential ingredients it needs. Serums are a great addition to any skin-care routine, as they can target specific concerns such as wrinkles, fine lines, dark spots and more. For sensitive skin, we recommend the Lancôme Advanced Génifique Youth Activating Serum.

STEP 4: Moisturizer

While your skin is still a little damp, reach for a non-comedogenic, fragrance-free cream, gel, or water-based moisturizer. Depending on your specific sensitive skin needs, you may find you need a thicker formula. Keeping your skin well-hydrated will help reduce your risk of irritation. Try the dermatologist-recommended CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion.

STEP 5: Sunscreen

If there’s one thing every skin type needs during the day, it’s protection from the sun’s harmful rays. While we recommend seeking shade and wearing protective clothing during peak sun hours, we know it’s not always possible. Reach for a sunscreen that’s sensitive skin-safe, like Vichy Capital Soleil SPF 60 Sunscreen to avoid irritation from the sun.

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Quiz: What’s Your Skin Type?

We’ve all been there: After trying that new skincare product your best friend (or, like, your Instagram feed) convinced you to buy, you were left with red, irritated, and burning skin. The hard truth? There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to skincare, and if you’ve got sensitive, easily irritated skin, you need to take extra caution when adding new products to your routine.

“Not every product is made for everyone,” says Ranella Hirsch, MD, a Boston-based dermatologist. “If your skin becomes inflamed or stings after using a formula, especially one that contains fragrance, alcohol, or harsh exfoliants, it’s considered sensitive.” The good news, though, is that there are tons of products for sensitive skin, whether you’re looking for a non-drying face wash, a lightweight foundation, or even a gentle shampoo. And to make just one damn thing easier on you and your face, I went ahead and handpicked the 15 best sensitive skin-friendly products, below.

Best Face Products for Sensitive Skin

Courtesy Image Avène Eau Thermale Avene Micellar Lotion Cleansing Water, Toner, Make-up Remover $18.00

1. This Makeup Remover for Sensitive Skin

Avène Eau Thermale Micellar Lotion Make-Up Remover

Unlike makeup remover wipes (which can lead to irritated, broken-out skin), this gentle, no-rinse cleanser, toner, and makeup remover doesn’t contain any alcohol, soap, or oil. Plus, it’s spiked with soothing ingredients like chamomile and hyaluronic acid that hydrate your skin as you’re cleansing.

Courtesy Image Olay Cleanse Gentle Foaming Cleanser $11.98

2. This Foaming Face Wash for Oily Sensitive Skin

Olay Cleanse Gentle Foaming Cleanser

This ultra-gentle face wash is ideal for hypersensitive, yet oily, skin, thanks to its simple ingredients (no soap, oil, or fragrance here) and foaming texture. Lather it up morning, night, or both to give your skin a soft-but-effective cleanse.

Courtesy Image Eucerin Redness Relief Night Creme $14.99 $11.57 (23% off)

3. This Nighttime Moisturizer for Sensitive Skin

Eucerin Redness Relief Night Creme

Got red, easily irritated skin? Slather on this thick-ass moisturizer before you jump into bed and the fragrance-free and non-comedogenic formula will soothe the sh*t out of your sensitive skin with ingredients like redness-reducing licorice root extract and hydrating glycerin.

Courtesy Image Dermalogica Calm Water Gel $48.00

4. This Daily Moisturizer for Sensitive Skin

Dermalogica Calm Water Gel

A cocktail of sensitive-skin-friendly ingredients makes this daytime moisturize a no-brainer. Think: apple fruit extract (which helps soften your skin), ultra-hydrating glycerin (which sucks moisture into your skin barrier), and skin-soothing cactus pear (to lightly calm irritation).

Courtesy Image Dr. Andrew Weil For Origins Mega-Mushroom Skin Relief Soothing Face Lotion $57.00

5. This Soothing Serum for Sensitive Skin

Dr. Andrew Weil for Origins Mega-Mushroom Skin Relief Advanced Face Serum

This face serum is packed with the skin-repairing reishi mushroom and redness-soothing chaga and cordyceps mushrooms that are typically used in Chinese medicine to help heal irritated, out-of-whack skin.

Courtesy Image Burt’s Bees Sensitive Eye Cream with Cotton Extract $9.97

6. This Eye Cream for Sensitive Skin

Burt’s Bees Sensitive Eye Cream with Cotton Extract

Hot take: Eye cream isn’t just another useless step in your skincare routine—it’s actually super important, especially if you’ve got sensitive skin, since the skin surrounding your eyes is not only thin but also easily irritated by the wrong products. This fragrance-free formula, which is made with moisturizing cotton extract and olive fruit oil, should do the trick.

Courtesy Image Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 60+ $5.97

7. This Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin

Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 60+

Sunscreen is a nonnegotiable for sensitive skin—and, let’s be real, all skin—and this fragrance-free and hypoallergenic formula is lightweight, non-irritating, and super effective. Prepare to slather this one on daily.

Best Makeup Products for Sensitive Skin

Courtesy Image CoverGirl Clean Sensitive Skin Liquid Foundation $5.99

8. This Foundation for Sensitive Skin

CoverGirl Clean Sensitive Skin Foundation

Sensitive skin products don’t just stop at skincare—if your skin really doesn’t vibe with harsh ingredients, you’ll want to make sure you also use caution when buying and wearing makeup too. This gentle drugstore foundation is loaded with hydrating glycerin to hydrate dry skin, and it’s fragrance- and oil-free, so no extra irritation.

Courtesy Image RMS Beauty “Un” Cover-Up $36.00

9. This Concealer for Sensitive Skin

RMS Beauty “Un” Cover-Up

Whether you’re wearing it solo or on top of your foundation, this lightweight concealer is perfect for sensitive skin types, since it’s formulated with hydrating ingredients like coconut oil and castor seed oil.

Courtesy Image Fresh Sugar Lip Treatment Sunscreen SPF 15 $24.00

10. This Tinted Lip Balm for Sensitive Skin

Fresh Sugar Lip Treatment Sunscreen SPF 15

There’s no need to worry about irritating your sensitive skin with this cult-favorite tinted lip balm, thanks to the formula’s gentle and hydrating ingredients (see: antioxidant-rich grapeseed oil and moisture-retaining sugar).

Best Body Products for Sensitive Skin

Courtesy Image Drunk Elephant JuJu Exfoliating Bar $28.00

11. This Body Exfoliator for Sensitive Skin

Drunk Elephant Juju Bar

This multitasking bar looks toward thermal mud and bamboo powder to cleanse and gently exfoliate your sensitive skin simultaneously. It is also 100 percent fragrance- and soap-free and has a pH level of 6.34, so it definitely won’t strip your skin of its natural oils.

Courtesy Image Dove Sensitive Skin Body Wash $5.99

12. This Body Wash for Sensitive Skin

Dove Sensitive Skin Nourishing Body Wash

If your skin feels itchy, red, or irritated when you jump out of the shower, it’s time to enlist the help of this gentle body wash. Not only does it cleanse your sensitive skin without irritating it, but it also hydrates, soothes, and softens rough patches and redness.

Courtesy Image Vanicream Sunscreen Sport SPF 35 $16.02

13. This Body Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin

Vanicream Sunscreen Sport SPF 35

Ditch your spray-on sunscreen for this calming and simple SPF that feels soft and creamy on sensitive skin. Unlike the majority of body sunscreens on the market, this formula is free of dyes, fragrance, parabens, formaldehyde, and oil.

Best Hair Products for Sensitive Skin

Courtesy Image Free & Clear Shampoo and Conditioner for Sensitive Skin $21.03

14. This Shampoo and Conditioner for Sensitive Skin

Free & Clear Shampoo and Conditioner

It might sound weird, but your scalp is really just an extension of the skin on your face, so there’ no reason why you shouldn’t treat them similarly. That means using a gentle, non-irritating shampoo and conditioner—like this pair from Free & Clear—that’s free of dyes, fragrance, parabens, and formaldehyde.

Courtesy Image Briogeo B.Well 100mg CBD + Arnica Flower Soothing Skin & Scalp Oil $48.00

15. This Scalp Oil for Sensitive Skin

Briogeo B.Well 100mg CBD + Arnica Flower Soothing Skin & Scalp Oil

This lightweight oil soothes sensitive, irritated scalps with a blend of CBD, arnica flower extract, and hempseed oil. Pro tip: Mix a couple drops into your conditioner for a super-easy, mess-free application.

Related Story Ruby Buddemeyer Beauty Editor Ruby is the beauty editor at Cosmopolitan, where she covers beauty across print and digital. Carly Cardellino Carly Cardellino was the beauty director at Cosmopolitan.

Between the 10-step Korean skin care routine and the countless serums, acids and high-tech tools on the market today, it’s easy to get carried away with skin care. But how much is too much? Can you overdo it or will an extensive routine yield better results?

We turned to some tried-and-true skin care experts to answer all of our questions. Their advice may make you reconsider your multistep skin care routine.

Simple is often better

“While 12-step routines are popular, they may not work any better than one or two steps,” said New York-based dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner, who generally recommends using only one to two products in the morning and evening. “The fewer products to apply means fewer products you forget to use. So keeping it simple usually helps people stay on track with regular use of their products.”

Dr. Cybele Fishman, a dermatologist in New York City, echoed this sentiment: “I think people do too much to their skin and often end up harming it with all the extra steps. One of my mantras is, ‘Don’t overwash your skin, don’t overtone and don’t overexfoliate.’”

In addition to saving both time and money, adopting a pared-down routine won’t “get in the way of what your skin is supposed to do: provide a barrier between the outside world and the inside of your body,” Fishman told TODAY Style.

But is a more involved routine bad?

The short answer is no, a multistep skin care routine is not inherently bad. However, there are more mistakes to be made.

“Applying multiple products increases your risk of skin irritation, and we don’t know whether the active ingredients in all the products are even compatible. This means that you may be inadvertently inactivating products because of the combination,” said Zeichner.

Renee Rouleau, a celebrity aesthetician and skin care expert, said people should think about how much their skin can actually absorb. “A lot of time people are wasting products and money layering on all these things thinking it’s better,” she said. “Normally, it’s the first two products that are the ones making the biggest difference.”

According to Rouleau, two of the most common signs of overdoing it are using multiple products that do the same thing and exfoliating too frequently. So not only are the lengthy routines possibly superfluous, they could be harming your skin in the process.

Fishman recommends exfoliating no more than once a week and using an acid exfoliator rather than a physical exfoliator.

Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial, $80, Amazon

She likes this mask because it’s meant to be used once a week, meaning it’s easy to incorporate into your routine, and it’s packed with antioxidants.

What is the best skin care routine for me?

It’s important to remember that one size does not fit all. A routine that works for your best friend might not work for you. Instead, choose products according to your skin type and need.

For those just starting out in skin care, Rouleau recommends trying one new product at a time and slowly adding others on to ensure your skin doesn’t react negatively to any single ingredient.

If you’re pregnant, Fishman suggests avoiding products containing retinol, salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide as they can be potentially harmful to an unborn child.

Our experts helped identify a basic routine that should work for most skin types.

The best morning skin care routine

According to Dr. Neil Sadick, a clinical professor of dermatology at Cornell University with a private practice in New York City, your morning skin care routine should be designed to protect your skin from environmental factors, such as harsh ultraviolet rays or free radicals.

1. Cleanser

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Start your morning skin care routine by gently cleansing the face. Rouleau recommends a low-foaming cleanser because “the bigger the bubble, the more drying it is on the skin.”

Product pick: Dove White Beauty Bar, $3, Amazon

“This gentle bar cleanser can be used on face and body, and is gentle enough for all skin types,” said Zeichner.

Product pick: Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser, Pack of 2, $19 (usually $28), Amazon

Sadick recommends this gentle cleanser in his practice.

Product pick: Vanicream Gentle Facial Cleanser, $9, Amazon

Fishman likes this cleanser because it contains no fragrance, dyes, parabens, sulfates, gluten or formaldehyde. She noted that it’s “great for people with allergies.”

2. Antioxidant serum

Antioxidants are the best way to protect against free radicals. There are two ways to get antioxidants: ingesting them, which Sadick recommends, and applying them directly to the skin. If you’re looking to incorporate them into your skin care routine, try Zeichner’s favorite affordable option below.

Product pick: L’Oreal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives Pure Vitamin C Serum, $16 (usually $24), Amazon

“I recommend antioxidants to all patients to protect the skin against free radical damage. Vitamin C can be used whether you have dry or oily skin,” said Zeichner.

3. Moisturizer with sunscreen

Sunscreen is easily the most important step of any morning skin care routine. According to Zeichner, “a one-year study funded by Johnson & Johnson actually showed that applying nothing but sunscreen improved the cosmetic appearance of the skin. Besides protecting the skin from UV damage, it likely allowed the skin to function optimally and heal itself from previous damage.”

Product pick: EltaMD UV Clear Facial Sunscreen Broad-Spectrum SPF 46, $27, Walmart

Every single skin care routine needs a moisturizer with a mineral SPF applied every morning, according to Fishman. “I would never ever give up my EltaMD UV Clear,” she said. “It is a fantastic product.”

Product pick: La Roche-Posay Anthelios Ultra Light Sunscreen Fluid SPF 60, $30, Amazon

Sadick branded this sunscreen with SPF 60 an “excellent moisturizing agent.”

Product pick: Aveeno Positively Radiant Daily Facial Moisturizer With Total Soy Complex and Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Sunscreen, $14, Amazon

“Daily sunscreen is important as incidental UV light exposure adds up over a lifetime,” said Zeichner. “No matter your skin type, with age almost everyone starts to develop sun spots. The soy complex in this product helps brighten the complexion and can be used across all skin tones.”

Sadick also likes Aveeno’s soy products for their “strong anti-inflammatory capabilities.”

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The best evening skin care routine

Sadick told TODAY that the goal of an evening skin care routine is to aid in turning over new skin cells and stimulating collagen production to repair any damage that has occurred throughout the day. Here’s an easy program to follow at night that will accomplish these goals:

At the end of the day, it’s important to remove dirt, makeup and any other irritants that may have gotten onto the skin. You can use the same cleanser for both morning and night.

2. Repairing serum

Serums are the meat of the evening skin care routine. The ingredients in these products will actively help improve the look and feel of the skin. By applying these at night, it gives the skin enough time to soak them in and start to repair itself without being exposed to pollutants.

Product pick: Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Hyaluronic Acid Face Serum and Retinol Serum, $18 (usually $20), Amazon

“Retinol is the best-studied ingredient we have over the counter to improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It stimulates collagen to strengthen the foundation of the skin and enhances cell turnover to improve skin radiance,” said Zeichner.

Product pick: Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream, $21 (usually $25), Amazon

“If you have sensitive skin, stick to a peptide instead of retinol to strengthen the skin and treat wrinkles,” said Zeichner.

3. Moisturizer

Finally, seal in hydration with a moisturizer.

Product pick: CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion, $12, Walmart

“CeraVe PM is a light evening moisturizer that helps repair the skin barrier with ceramides, which act like grout to fill in the cracks between your skin cells’ ’tiles,’” said Zeichner.

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The best skin care routine for sensitive skin

1. Be Consistent

Keep your skin care simple and commit to products long-term. Have you found something you like? Stick with it and consider buying other products of the same skin care line. Just make sure you don’t overdo it. Cleansing once a day and moisturizing is usually all that sensitive skin needs.

2. Be Gentle, not Abrasive

Yes, many people rave about the power of intense scrubs and exfoliating brushes but if you have sensitive skin, they can cause irritation and inflammation. Exfoliating is a crucial component of skin care but if you’re looking to get rid of dead skin cells aim for more gentle liquid scrub rather than the harsh effect of a brush or a product with harsh scrubbing particles. Definitely steer clear of scrubs containing crystals or shells as these are damaging to your skin. Lastly exfoliate no more than once a week.

3. Don’t Wash Your Face Two Times a Day

When your skin comes in contact with water it will invariable become drier than if it does not. Unfortunately dryness affects the barrier your skin has between the outside world and your face. Once it’s vulnerable is more likely to break out. Limit washing your face with water to once a day and if you absolutely must cleanse it more than that use wipes for sensitive skin.

3. Know Your Ingredients

With sensitive skin there are certain ingredients that trigger adverse reactions in your skin. Everyone’s skin is different, but chemicals such as acids and alcohol can cause irritation. Make an appointment with a dermatologist to find out which ingredients are on your no-go list and then steer of them when you purchase products.

4. Protect Your Skin From the Sun

Sunscreen is always an absolute must for all skin types but especially for sensitive skin. Your best bet will be to buy non-comedogenic and fragrance-free SPF which is less likely to irritate your skin. Pick an SPF 15 to make sure you’re protected from the sun and your skin is less likely to break out once you get back into the shade.

5. Keep it Neutral Fragrance and Color-Wise

As mentioned in the point above, your sensitive skin and fragrance are not friends. It’s tempting to use exquisitely-scented, colorful products but your skin will thank you later for steering clear of them. Sensitive skin is more vulnerable to allergens in fragrance which combined with skin-stripping soap is a recipe for disaster for your skin.

6. Switch it up for Each Season

Sensitive skin is easily be affected by temperatures and climates — what worked for you in the summer may wreak absolute havoc on your skin in winter. Moisturizer plays an important factor in your skin’s health especially in the winter. Cold temperatures can cause your skin to flake and feel tight, while spending time indoors means lots of dry air; also a situation that’s incompatible with sensitive skin. Make sure to give your skin added hydration and suppleness by keeping it moisturized. And as we mentioned earlier, all throughout the year SPF is crucial to protect you from the sun’s rays and also prevent additional dryness from sun exposure.

7. Watch Your Diet

There are many natural anti-inflammatory spices that can greatly decrease your chances of a skin flare-up. The most notable ones are turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, and black pepper and they also happen to be pretty common and more importantly, delicious. Add them to your meals for a more flavorful dining experience and the side effect of healthy skin.

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When our skin is healthy, it prevents dehydration and infection, and helps regulate body temperature1. But when we experience sensitized skin, it’s an indicator that our skin’s naturally protective barrier function has been compromised.

The Causes & Aggravators of Sensitive Skin

• Skin disorders like eczema and rosacea2
• Overuse of or allergic reaction to products with harsh ingredients
• Prolonged exposure to skin-damaging environmental factors (sun, wind, excessive heat or cold)
• Overly dry or injured skin
• Stress and lack of sleep3
• Very hot water

The Symptoms of Sensitive Skin

• Skin reactions such as pustules, bumps or skin erosion1
• Very dry skin that can itch, flake or peel
• A tendency toward skin redness: blushing and flushing
• Stinging or burning feeling when applying products4

The Key to Healing Sensitive Skin
To bring your sensitive skin back to healthy, you need to improve your skin’s damaged barrier function. This means taking a hard look at the ingredients in your products.

You’ll want to make sure any product you choose is soothing, strengthening and protective. But what does that really mean?

Soothe: For sensitive skin, soothing means anti-inflammatory. Ingredients like rice, aloe and eyebright will help reduce inflammation and irritation.

Strengthen: Your skin needs vitamins, nutrients and essential fatty acids to help repairs its protective barrier function—like cotton extract, shea butter and sugar.

Protect: Antioxidants like beet extract will help protect your skin from environmental toxins and free radical damage.

Along with the right ingredients, you’ll want to avoid the wrong ones. Ingredients that may exacerbate sensitive skin include:

• Fragrances
• Harsh preservatives such as parabens
• Sulfates such as sodium lauryl sulfate
• Anti-aging ingredients such as glycolic acid and retinoids5

Your Sensitive Skin Care Routine
The best skin care practice for sensitive skin is to focus on minimalism. Avoid surprising your skin with specialty products, and be sure not to over-wash. The point is to restore healthy skin, not strip your skin of its natural oils. Use only the gentlest fragrance-free and allergy-tested products with soothing, strengthening and protective natural ingredients.

• To truly combat sensitive skin, use a soap-free cleanser. Rinse your face clean with warm water, not hot! If you wear a decent amount of makeup, consider using a gentle foaming cleanser instead.
• Use gentle micellar cleansing water to remove any lingering oil, dirt or makeup.

• Facial serums packed with antioxidants will give you a heavy dose of protection against free radical damage. But if you’re worried that any new ingredient may cause a flare-up, you can skip topical treatments altogether and use something like a jade roller instead. See below.
• Use a jade roller 30 seconds after moisturizing to help cool the skin (pro tip: stick it in the fridge for extra cooling!). Jade is also said to help the skin’s lymphatic drainage process, which can reduce puffiness.

• Since synthetic fragrances can cause irritation and allergic reactions, use a fragrance-free day, night and eye cream with soothing ingredients like aloe.

Sensitive skin can feel hard to control, but committing yourself to a minimal skin care routine with gentle and clean ingredients will help you discover healthy, happy skin. Just be sure to opt for products that are truly formulated for sensitive skin!

The best skincare routines for sensitive skin

Yes you’re sensitive, but what about all your other skin woes? Judy Johnson asks Cosmetic Dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting for her top tips on gentle skin care routines that still deliver the results you need

Traditionally, the problem with most sensitive skin products has been that they’re designed to do no more than their basic function in a way that won’t cause irritation. But what if you want all those other skin care benefits that the non-sensitive folk are lucky enough to have? From blemish-busting creams to the latest innovations in anti-ageing, it’s hard not to feel left out when you’re shopping for sensitive skin; yes, you may need a gentler touch that’s predominately soothing, but how can you fix other issues at the same time?

Cosmetic Dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting says it’s all in the actives; whether you’re spot-prone or suffering with redness, your skin care routine won’t vary too much, but there should always be a step in there that addresses your skin concern alongside the sensitivity.

Step up your skincare with Dr Bunting’s top tips and key product picks…

If you’re… Sensitive and Spot-Prone

“It might seem counter-intuitive, but skin can be dry, sensitive and spot-prone all at the same time. The key points are to support the skin carefully to enable the use of actives that unclog pores and calm inflamed blemishes.

“This means a non-foaming cleanser, an anti-inflammatory agent in the morning and some flexibility with moisturiser, as this skin-type will often vary in how much support they need from their moisturiser. Then at night a retinoid is key for preventing comedones, depending on what can be tolerated. Finally, a non-clogging sunscreen is essential.”

So which products should be on your shopping list?

“I should point out that these skincare basics may well apply to more than just the acneic group – they are good all-rounders, in my book,” explains Dr Bunting. “Try La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo, £16, for the morning; Avene TriAcnéal Expert, £23, for evening; La Roche-Posay Toleriane Riche, £16, or Effaclar H, £16, for moisturiser, depending on skin’s needs. For sunscreen, I like Heliocare Gel SPF50, £21, or Epionce Ultra Shield Lotion SPF50, £29.50.”

Dr Bunting recommends starting your routine slowly, using these products every other night at first. “Build up to daily use over a few weeks; try applying actives over moisturiser, if skin is really sensitive. It should be noted that this is often a tricky one to tackle alone, so it is often worth seeing a dermatologist for the initial routine structuring to avoid irritancy, at least in the first instance.” Check out Dr Bunting’s video on acne-prone skin here.

If you’re… Sensitive and Ageing

Potent anti-ageing creams and sensitive skin may not mix, but there is plenty you can do to ward off wrinkles simply by choosing your active products carefully. “This is a very common skin-type in the UK – thin, pigmentation- and wrinkle-prone skin which is often fair and therefore susceptible to cumulative UV damage,” says Dr Bunting. “The Holy Trinity of anti-ageing is retinoid, antioxidant and SPF use, and this is a highly effective long-term strategy for many of my patients.

“To begin with, we’ll often just start with a retinoid at night combined with daily sunscreen. Gradual introduction e.g. every third night is implemented and it’s a three month project to build up to daily retinoid use. At that point I will often add in a vitamin C serum – I will start with lower percentages (5-10%) than I would with normal skin and again, build up slowly.

“I would tend to use a similar cleanser to the sensitive/acne prone skin-type and a moisturiser like Obagi Hydrate, £37.99, which delivers hydration with oomph but not greasiness. Physical sunblock that’s as elegant as makeup is key – Neostrata Sheer Protection SPF50, £37.40 is great, as physical filters are much less irritating in sensitive skin.”

You can find out more about sunscreen filters and the best SPF ingredients for sensitive skin here.

MORE GLOSS: Everything you need to know about retinol and retinoids

If you’re… Sensitive and dry

This one is very common – sensitive skin is often lacking in hydration. “The first thing with this group is to find a basic cleanser and moisturiser that leave skin comfortable, with no tightness and a smooth surface. I often find Cetaphil Gentle Cleanser and Moisturising Cream, £8.99 work wonders in this group,” advises Dr Bunting.

“Once their barrier is working well, we can consider adding actives, and again it’s one at a time, to avoid creating confusion over what’s not working. If there is a tendency to something like atopic eczema or product reactivity/allergy (as is common in this group), then a clear strategy needs to be put in place for that and a dermatologist’s opinion should be sought.

“I like the ingredient niacinamide in those who are dry and sensitive as it boosts ceramide production, helps with uneven skin tone and can help maintain collagen store. The Olay Regenerist Regenerating Serum, £21.69, contains good levels and is now available in a fragrance-free version. And of course, UV protection is vital. I find a more moisturising formulation works well and Skinceuticals Mineral Radiance UV Defence, £35, is a good option.”

If you’re… Sensitive and oily

“This is relatively rare – oily skin is usually thick and therefore tolerant,” explains Dr Bunting. “The main advice is to avoid oil-based products; you may not even need moisturiser. The key is to avoid irritants and maintain and protect skin, without provoking common associated issues like acne. Key actives include retinoids, salicylic acid (which is anti-inflammatory and useful at cutting through excess oil to exfoliate the pores, to keep them clear) and sun protection that doesn’t make shine even more of an issue.”

Top of the list? “I like the Obagi Clenziderm Foaming Cleanser, £31.50, for very oily skin with a tendency to blemishes – otherwise, stick to the cleanser mentioned for those with acne and sensitive skin.”

Follow this with a sunscreen. “I like Jan Marini Physical Protectant SPF 30, £53, as it’s super-matte, behaving more like an oil-reducing primer.”

If you’re… Sensitive and redness-prone

“Those who are prone to redness commonly suffer from rosacea or are on the rosacea spectrum. If there’s any doubt about this, it would be worth seeing a dermatologist as there are a number of other causes, and diagnosis is important,” Dr Bunting advises.

“In those with rosacea-prone skin, we are dealing with a tendency to react to certain skincare products so it’s wise to build a routine slowly, adding one new product at a time, rather than blitzing skin and making it angry.

“Again I like simple, non-foaming products for cleansing (physical exfoliants are an absolute no-no in my book) and a supportive moisturiser as barrier function is often impaired in this group,” says Dr Bunting. Try Eucerin Anti Redness Soothing Care, £20.50.

“My active agent of choice is azelaic acid – it reduces redness, inflamed spots and is a good chemical exfoliant. This is best found on prescription; I mostly use Finacea with Obagi’s Professional-C 10% serum.”

This article is an extract from my downloadable e-guide, A Beginner’s Guide to Sensitive Skin. Need more advice for reactive, hypersensitive skin? now for product recommendations and much, much more. You might also like my list of the best cleansers for sensitive skin types

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What Dr. Shah says: I got this one mostly right, but learned a valuable lesson from Dr. Shah’s notes. She recommends twentysomethings use an antioxidant serum. “An antioxidant serum has a protective and preventive quality,” she says. “Free radicals are created by environmental pollutants and ultraviolet radiation. An antioxidant serum helps counteract those free radicals that are also very damaging to the skin.” She says to use one with vitamin C, and likes Skinceuticals C E Ferulic ($166). (A cheaper option: Maelove The Glow Maker ($28).)

Your antioxidant serum should be applied in the morning, she says, before moisturizer or sunscreen, pointing out that you shouldn’t mix your serum with an SPF product because it dilutes the strength of the SPF. I’ve mixed serums with my SPF moisturizer—but I’m definitely going to make a point of putting them on one at a time now, first serum, then moisturizer with SPF.

She also points out that since the serum I’ve been using contains exfoliating alpha and beta hydroxy acids, I should only be using it once a day (ideally at night and without other exfoliants).

Sun Protection

What I do: In the mornings, I’ve always used a moisturizer with SPF because it means I’ll never forget my sunscreen protection or my moisturizer. And I don’t have to use two separate products in the morning (unless I’m at the beach and need to add something more heavy duty). I’m a fan of Avene’s Hydrance Optimale Hydrating SPF 25 Cream ($35).

What Dr. Shah says: “For day-to-day use, if all you’re doing is going to the office and grabbing lunch, then you can use a moisturizer that contains SPF,” says Shah. “If you’re going to be outdoors for a prolonged period of time, like the beach, biking, or hiking, then you really need a more dedicated sunscreen.” Dr. Shah recommends a moisturizer with at least SPF 30, like CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion AM ($13) or First Aid Beauty 5-in-1 Face Cream with SPF 30 ($40). She says to make sure to apply all your treatments down to your neck, ears, and décolletage (places that are often forgotten and are prone to sunburn).

Mineral sunscreens—physical blockers with ingredients like zinc and titanium dioxide—should be applied at the end of your regimen, says Dr. Shah. (Derms often recommend mineral sunscreens for sensitive skin types.) Chemical sunscreens work by being absorbed into the skin, so “if you have a very thick moisturizer, and then apply a chemical sunscreen, it won’t absorb as well as when you apply it to clean skin,” says Shah. In these cases, you’ll want to put your sunscreen on after cleansing and serum (if you’re using one) but before your moisturizer.


What I do: Exfoliating is one thing I’ve never really thought about adding to my skin-care routine. But since I recently switched to a serum with alpha and beta hydroxy acids, I’ve been apparently exfoliating for several weeks without realizing. My skin definitely feels better, and I can see why it’s recommended.

What Dr. Shah says: Exfoliating is important in your mid-20s because cell turnover starts to slow down around 25. This can make the skin look dull and scars can take longer to fade. Depending on how dry or oily your skin is, you only need to exfoliate once or twice a week. Dr. Shah recommends chemical exfoliants like peels over mechanical ones like scrubs, because they are gentler in the long run. Try presoaked pads, like Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel ($88). Since my serum already contains exfoliating acids, Dr. Shah says I don’t need to combine it with additional exfoliating treatments as I’d run the risk of overexfoliating.

Eye creams

What I do: Eye creams are formulated specifically for the delicate eye area, so some people like to use them in place of moisturizer on that part of their face. Personally I want to minimize the appearance of my dark circles, so I use Nyakio’s Quinoa De-Puffing & Firming Eye Cream. It contains caffeine—an ingredient Dr. Shah says helps with puffiness by constricting the blood vessels under the eyes. When I use it, I can see a difference in my puffiness within a few minutes. On better days when I’m just looking for hydration, I reach for Belif’s Moisturizing Eye Bomb ($48) (PS: This product won an award for Best Eye Cream in our SELF Healthy Beauty Awards).

Sensitive skin care routine

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