The biggest challenge of looking after your skin is really, really, truly knowing what will WORK. When your skin is having a ‘fine ‘n dandy’ moment you’re more than happy to play a bit of pick & mix down the skincare aisle. Fun times! Fast forward to a sensitive skin moment and it’s scrap that ‘pick & mix’, trial & error malarkey, we want something that works and we want it now! I hear you! So, how do you choose skincare perfect for sensitive skin?…
I have a sensitive skincare insiders secret for you… a lot of the bog-standard stuff you can buy off the high-street for sensitive skin is a no-frills version of their normal skincare range. On one hand, hooray for taking out the sensitising ingredients, but on the other hand, where the heck are my special sensitive skin friendly active ingredients? ‘eh? Where are they?
*insert some grumpy 5 year old foot stamping*
Flash yourself back to the last time you wondered into a skincare store with a mission. A sensitivity flair up? A super sensitive sun burn? A skin irritation that just won’t quit? You walk through the door with a Tyra Banks worthy strut, power mode ON, ready to rumble some sensitive skin love for yourself and then BAM… 5 WHOLE aisles to choose from.
We all like a good candy store, oh yea, ‘take me to the candy shop…’. Thing is when it comes to actually needing something for X, Y, or Z you want to KNOW it has something that CAN actually work!
Anyone can put ‘sensitive skin’ on the bottle. The real question is this… are there actually ingredients in that bottle that are egger beavers to set to work on your sensitive skin?
This my lovelies is how you tell the sensitive skin losers from the sensitive skin winners. It’s all about ‘what’s inside’ that counts *wink wink*.
Prepare to get super ‘sensitive skincare choosing’ savvy. I have for you a round-up of the KEY ingredients you will want to be using, where & how you’ll find them on the ingredients list PLUS some sensitive skin friendly recommendations, let’s get you back that Tyra Banks worthy strut!
First off I have a sensitive skincare ingredient checklist that you can download here, it will guide you through ALL of the below in 1 simple sheet – don’t memorise it, just keep this some place safe and pull it out whenever you’re considering a new skincare investment [leaves space for those important visual images of Ben Affleck!].
SENSITIVE SKIN ‘ACTIVES’
One thing us sensitive skin sufferers look out for is that promise of ‘hypoallergenic’. Skincare ingredients that are tested to be ‘sensitive skin proof’. Sometimes this is kinda like putting a toddler in a white room, with no music, no TV, nada stimulation. These are sensitive skin actives that CAN have a good old chin wag with your skin and your skin WON’T have a tantrum about it…
Allantoin is the wonder ingredient that is responsible for the healing reputation of the Comfrey plant. It is this one phytochemical that helps skin to heal, helps skin to tolerate other ingredients, normalises skin metabolism (that means if your skin is slow to repair, this guy helps speed that repairing back up!], is a drug standard accepted skin protectant and is an anti-irritant.
How much do you need? For those skin protectant qualities 0.5-2%. Scan straight to the bottom of the ingredient list to check for Allantoin.
What do I look for on the ingredients list? Allantoin.
SENSITIVE SKIN HYDRATORS
Sensitive skin that’s irritated by something we can’t even see [how crazy is it that something so small has such a massive effect on our skin ‘eh!] needs hydration and moisture to relieve those irritated symptoms including that itch!
Here is another sensitive skin tit-bit, your sensitive skin could be sensitive just because it is dry!
So another ‘thing’ that is a proven sensitive skin treat are these things called ‘humectant moisturisers’. A big fancy word to say, I am the Daniel Craig [insert man crush here] of attractiveness to water! These ingredients sink into your skin, attracting a tonne of water and they keep it there. Mesmerised! These humectant moisture keepers all work in the exact same way as your skin’s own ‘natural moisturising factor [NMF]’ – some of these are even skin identical.
Glycerin is a go-to water magnet that you’ll be almost definitely find in your skincare picks and usually as the second/third ingredient on the list. You won’t have to trip over yourself to find this one in your skincare – phew!
How much do you need? Make sure Glycerin is high up on the ingredients list.
What do I look for on the ingredients list? Glycerin.
SENSITIVE SKIN FRIENDLY ANTIOXIDANTS
You can imagine your sensitive skin like a tight rope walker! Some skincare is like practising your tight rope walking skills while ALSO trying to play dodge ball… I know you are pretty awesome and if you put in enough time you could absolutely get there, thing is it’s #effort ‘eh!
You probabaly could use some skincare that might set your skin balance off, but you’d then have to invest a lotta time and £’s in devising your super re-balance post off-balance skincare routine. Some of the antioxidant, anti-aging, collagen boosting skincare family are like whacking skin with a hockey stick instead of a fluffy feather.
Don’t be tempted into hockey stick cosmecutical skincare for your sensitive skin type, stick to these sensitive skin friendly antioxidant Lotharios.
Vitamin E is an anti-oxidant with heritage that has shown to be helpful when you slather it on your skin and when you eat it!… just don’t go eating the lotion kind though ‘eh!
How much do you need? 0.1-1%.
What do I look for on the ingredients list? Tocopherol [natural vitamin E], Tocopheryl acetate.
SENSITIVE SKIN CONDITIONERS
Your skin could be sensitive just because it is going through a ‘dry as a dessert’ stage. Dry skin is like your skin castle moat drying out of water and any who,what,where,why being able to just walk up to your front door and wander straight in. That means allergens, irritants, jellyfish (!?) and general skin enemies.
As well as those humectant moisture magnets, it’s a good shout to get some skin conditioners in your life. Skin conditioners (emollients) are made of the same make-up as the top surface of your skin AND every one of your skin cells… that EVER lived. Our skin keeps all our juicy stuff from seeping out of us, it does that in a super simple way, the way that water and oil just don’t like each other. That means the top layer of your skin and every skin cell you have are coated in an outer oily layer, there’s even your skin’s natural sebum to provide your skin with a gratis top-up!
Getting your skin to hold onto water in the long term, is about giving an extra top-up with skin conditioning oils and butters.
Omega 3 & 6 are both essential fatty acids which are light, thin, easily absorbed oils. They have shown to be anti-inflammatory and help to repair normal skin barrier function. Good skills for steering sensitive skin back on the path to health.
You’ll find a good dose of these oils in Rosehip, Evening primrose, Hemp, Borage and Flaxseed oils.
How much do you need? You want these high up on the ingredient list – you can even use them ‘neat’.
What do I look for on the ingredients list? Rosa canina (rosehip) fruit oil, Oenothera biennis (evening primrose) oil, borago officinalis (borage) oil, Cannabis sativa (hemp)seed Oil, Linum usitatissimum (flaxseed) seed oil.
THE AVOID LIST FOR SENSITIVE SKIN TYPES…
After you’ve pinpointed your tri-fecta of sensitive skin love from the above [and I’ve changed careers to become a poet *wink wink*], you’ll also want to check that your ingredient lists are free from these sensitive skin ‘instigator’ ingredients…
These guys smell like heaven but for your skin they mean stress. Essential oils are loaded up with known allergens and irritants which aren’t good for any skin type, but most of all not good for sensitive skin types. Steer yourself clear of essential oils and get a read of ‘How to Make Sure Your Skincare is Allergen Free’ to become a pro at scanning out essential oil allergens.
What do I look for on the ingredients list? A sure fire clue that essential oils are present are the allergen names that legally HAVE to be labelled on the ingredients list, things like Citral and Limonene.
SENSITIVE SKIN BRAND RECCOMENDATIONS
Now you are one sensitive skincare ingredient savvy ready to strut your ‘know’ down the beauty aisles the last thing you need from me are some key sensitive skin friendly brands to start with.
Make your choice about the thing that is MOST important to you, is it the amount of actives, a free from promise or a natural approach to skincare? You’ll probably even have a different ‘no.1 must’ for different skin phases. Sometimes you’ll need a great skin conditioner [awesome for winter] other times when you’re having a sensitivity flair you might prioritise a free-from promise or a high dose of sensitive skin actives. #BecauseYourSkinIsAsUniqueAsYou.
Aveeno is a great range packed with sensitive skin actives, J&J the company behind Aveeno have done a load of behind the scenes research on these ingredients and put together the favourites of Oatmeal, Allantoin and Panthenol.
Some of the Aveeno range are fragrance free but ‘parfum’ does sneak into a few of their bottles – so watch out for that.
Sensitive skin actives
Sensitive skin hydrators
Sensitive skin conditioners
Tell me about your sensitive skin journey…
Cheryl Woodman is a scientist & award winning skincare formulator who’s more friend next door than bow tie wearing professor. As creator of Honesty For Your Skin her aim is to help you care for your skin in the best ways possible. She’s founder of the natural & fragrance free skincare brand Honesty while also hosting 1 to 1 skincare coaching to help you get your best skin yet. Find out more here.