Once you determined that you have a sensitive skin type, you can start developing your own skin care routine.
In my opinion sensitive skin is the most challenging type because it could react to any new product or even to environmental changes such as pollution, wind or temperatures.
According to American Academy of Dermatology around 50% of Americans report having sensitive skin and estimates a much higher number globally.
What causes sensitive skin?
There are actually 2 types of sensitive skin: true sensitive skin and sensitized skin.
1. True sensitive skin is caused mainly by genetics and/or other medical conditions (psoriasis, eczema, allergies and others). You cannot really treat (aka get rid of) this type of sensitive skin, but you can manage it with the right skin and medical care routine.
2. Sensitized skin is caused by years of exposure to environmental irritants, pollution, and years of cosmetic and skin care products that might be harsh and not suitable or just overwhelming for your skin. You can manage well this type of sensitive skin or even repair it all together by establishing proper skin care routine and using proper skin care products. (The International Dermal Institute)
Signs of symptoms of true sensitive and sensitized skins overlap.
What are the symptoms of Sensitive Skin?
- You probably have sensitive skin if you have:
- dry, itchy and flaky skin
- your face turns red easily. Cold weather, wind, cleansing, or stress easily turn your face red and flashy
- your skin is prone to rushes, bumps and pimples. When you try a new skin care product with unknown ingredients, you skin usually reacts and starts going red and bumpy.
- your skin reacts to fragrances from perfumes and deodorants to laundry detergents.
Tips for buying skin care products for Sensitive Skin
The main thing for you is to look for products with minimal list of ingredients (no more than 10).
Avoid products with alcohol, fragrances, parabens – they all damage the lipid barrier of your skin and cause it to break out and over dry.
Consider trying products that have a note on them “for rosacea” or “for psoriasis” even though you do not have those conditions. The reason being is that such products are designed to accommodate itchy, irritated, dry and reactive skin.
Please, do not fall for labels saying “for sensitive” skin, because you really do not know how your skin will react to any component of the product. My sister had a bad irritation to a cucumber face lotion that promised to deliver “calming and soothing effect for sensitive skin”. To this day we do not really know which ingredient prompted to such reaction.
Try to buy new products in sample sizes before purchasing full size products. You can order samples from amazon or eBay. Also, Sephora is very generous with samples.
Always perform a patch test before applying a new product to your full face. Even if there is an ingredient that will make your skin react, at least it will be on a small patch, not your whole face (and neck).
Something very obvious, but I think still worth mentioning: know your allergens and triggers; avoid those all the time.
(Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links. That means that if you make a purchase, I might receive a small commission at no extra cost to you).
Skin Care Routine for Sensitive Skin
The main goal in your routine is to preserve lipid (oily) barrier on the surface of your skin (this barrier protects your skin from environmental triggers, pollution and also prevents your skin from drying).
It could be tempting to layer your skin with multiple products (especially if you read about Korean skin care routine, where women apply up to 10 different products to skin in PM routine). However, you would want to avoid that as you do not want to overload your skin with too many products and introduce too many ingredients. It could be just too overwhelming for your delicate skin.
Morning routine for Sensitive Skin
It is a very important step in the skin care routine for any skin type. It could be challenging for sensitive skin as you are trying to remove all dirt off and still not to irritate your reactive skin.
DO NOT use hot water. As simple as it sounds, avoiding hot water could really help to eliminate breakouts and inflammation. Hot water is quit hash on the skin and removes lipid barrier much faster than lukewarm water. So, DO make sure that you are using comfortable temperature water that will not make your skin “angry”.
DO NOT use foamy cleansers as they contain sodium laurel sulfate which is very harsh on the skin (in fact, foamy cleansers should not be used regardless the skin type).
Consider using milky creamy cleansers or even old-fashioned bar soaps as they contain natural fats and oils.
Skin cleansers and Soaps for sensitive skin
Aveeno Ultra-Calming Hydrating Gel Facial Cleanser – this facial cleanser is clinically proven to effectively remove dirt, oil, pollutants, and makeup. The gentle face wash is formulated with Calming Feverfew, an ingredient related to Chamomile, and Nourishing Oat, two of nature’s effective and proven ingredients for sensitive skin. The non-drying formula containing exclusive Polymeric Cleansing System leaves your sensitive skin soothed and healthy-looking day after day. This gel cleanser is fragrance-free, soap-free, non-irritating, non-comedogenic, and hypoallergenic.
Neutrogena Ultra Gentle Hydrating Daily Facial Cleanser for Sensitive Skin – is an effective, yet extraordinarily mild facial cleanser formulated with a skin nourishing polyglycerin formula that helps hydrate and protect skin while it cleans. This hydrating cleanser is fragrance free, and ideal for dry, sensitive skin. In fact, it’s so gentle that it’s safe on even the most sensitive skin conditions, such as eczema, rosacea, and psoriasis. Ultra Gentle Hydrating Cleanser effectively cleanses pores, gently removing excess oil, dirt and makeup, and leaves skin clean and feeling moisturized.
Vanicream Cleansing Bar – this soap bar has been specially developed for people who want to avoid common chemical irritants found in ordinary soaps. This unique formula, enriched with Vanicream Skin Cream, moisturizes while gently cleansing the skin. Your skin will feel clean, fresh and soft without feeling dry or irritated. Ideal for face, hands and body
Basis Sensitive Skin Bar – this soap bar is made with an ultra pure gentle cleansing formula that does not contain any fragrance or dyes. It contains natural botanicals chamomile and aloe vera, which soothe and comfort skin. Your skin is left clean, calm, and comfortable.
Toners do not “tone” anythings as your might think from the name (they do not make your skin firmer or stronger).
However, toner is an essential step in skin care. Toner is applied right after cleansing and drying skin with a towel.
Well-formulated toner is designed to further remove residual dirt and makeup. Toners sooth and moisturize skin after cleansing and prevent it from drying out. Good toner also reduces inflammation, infuses skin with antioxidants and moisturizing ingredients and prepares your skin for the next steps in your skin care routine.
Look for lightweight toners that moisturize skin, have sebum control properties and minimize pores.
Toners for Sensitive Skin
Neutrogena Oil- and Alcohol-Free Facial Toner – helps refresh your skin with Neutrogena Alcohol-Free Toner. This refreshing facial toner works to cleanse and tone without stripping skin of its natural moisture. Its formula contains mild purifiers that work to gently remove impurities and help recondition skin. This toner is also alcohol-free and leaves skin feeling fresh and clean without any dryness or stinging.
Face n Earth Sensitive Skin Toner Cucumber & Chamomile – gives calming effects to inflamed Acne-prone and Rosacea skin types when used with cleanser. Colloidal Silver has reportedly cleared up inflammatory skin conditions like acne, rosacea, eczema, dermatitis and a variety of rashes.
A O Power Moisture Facial Toner Moisturizer – contains mild, low-irritant ingredients. Guaiazulene extracted from Chamomile soothes your skin and increases antioxidant activity. Pseudomonas Aeruginosa Fermented Extract and Saccharide Isomerate provide extreme moisture supply.
ISNTREE Aloe Vera Soothing Facial Toner for Dry and Sensitive Skin – this contains 80% of aloe vera extract from Jenu, and delivers the abundant moisture of aloe directly to skin, lowers skin heat, and smooths external stimulus sensitivity.
3. Serums or Essences/Ampoules (optional)
This is an optional step for you, but you might consider it.
Serums or Essences are infused with concentrated amount of ingredients that are designed to target specific issues: dehydration, clogged pores, fine lines and wrinkles, dull and sagging skin, age spots etc.
For sensitive skin type choose lightweight treatments that absorb fast and do not cause your skin to feel overwhelmed and “heavy”.
Remember, with sensitive skin type you do not want to overburden your skin with too many products, so consider skipping this step altogether.
Serums and Essences for Sensitive Skin
Bielenda Rose Care Multiphase Face Serum for Sensitive Skin – is the perfect way for a systematic sensitive and fragile care of the skin, prone to irritation or hypersensitivity. Its components contribute to a significant improvement of the skin quality, soften and protect against water loss. Its rich Hydro-Lipid formula effectively moisturizes and nourishes, and enhances the quality of epidermis prone to drying.
Murad Sensitive Skin Soothing Serum – calms and soothes redness and irritation.
Innisfree The Minimum Ampoule Essence – hypo-allergenic product that has minimal amount of ingredients and specifically designed for sensitive skin.
Cosmedica Organic Rose and Witch Hazel Toner – hypoallergenic spray toner that is free from Sulfates, SLS, Parabens, Silicone and DEA/MEA. It contains rosewater and witch hazel.
4. Moisturizers and Creams
Both toner and serum (if you are using one) are lightweight and need to be sealed with either moisturizer or cream depending on how dehydrated your skin is.
Aim for lightweight oil-free, wax-free and lipid free moisturizers and creams.
Sensitive skin creams and moisturizers
Vanicream Moisturizing Skin Cream – a thick, smooth moisturizing cream that helps restore and maintain a normal moisture level. Helps soothe red, irritated, cracking or itchy skin. It is as gentle as it is effective on even the most delicate skin. Ideal moisturizing formula for dry skin associated with eczema, psoriasis, ichthyosis, and winter itch. Kid-friendly.
DERMA E Sensitive Skin Moisturizing Cream – visibly diminishes fine lines and wrinkles, contains anti-aging Pycnogenol. It delivers soothing properties to calm red, irritated or sensitive skin. In addition, it has nourishing Vitamins A, C and E, which moisturize and smooth your skin. Therefore, it is excellent for people who have dry red, irritated or sensitive skin or rosacea.
Eucerin Q10 Anti-Wrinkle Face Cream – is a fragrance-free, non-comedogenic anti-wrinkle cream for sensitive skin types. It contains antioxidants like Vitamin E, Coenzyme Q10, and Beta-Carotene to help reduce the look of fine lines and wrinkles.
Neutrogena Oil-Free Moisture Facial Moisturizer – is a lightweight, water-based moisturizer that provides gentle yet effective hydration for even the most sensitive skin. This feather-light, dermatologist-tested formula does not make skin oily or shiny. Extra gentle and irritant-free, it is ideal for sensitive skin. Also, this moisturizer does not contains alcohol. As a result, skin becomes soft, smooth, and moisturized.
5. Eye creams
Under eye skin care is extremely important as our eyes can reveal our age much faster than the rest of the face. I made an extensive post about the best under eye care not long ago. Please read it, so you can understand why skin around eyes is different from the rest of the face and how to take care of it.
Eye Creams for sensitive skin type
Tree to TUB Gentle Retinol Eye Cream for Sensitive Skin – contains Retinol and Hyaluronic Acid to achieve good hydration and anti-aging effect. It also has healing Vitamins B5, C, E and K to provide your skin with necessary vitamins without causing irritation.
Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hydrating Gel Eye Cream – this cream is specifically designed to help smooth and hydrate the skin around the eyes. This gel contains Hyaluronic acid which hydrates dry skin cells. This cream provides supple and smooth skin. This ophthalmologist-tested and dermatologist-recommended water gel-cream is oil-free, dye-free, and fragrance-free and non-comedogenic. You can wear it alone or under makeup.
You need sun protection from harmful UV and UA rays. UVA rays cause premature skin aging, skin dehydration burns and skin cancer (to say the least). So if you are anticipating to be exposed to sun for more than 5 minutes, you need sun screen.
Remember, that you cannot just apply sun screen in the morning and hope that it will last through the day. You will need to refresh your sun protection before going outdoors.
Sunscreen is especially important for sensitive skin as your skin burns and reddens easily; sun can also cause irritation and breakouts.
Sunscreens are usually harsh for any skin type and we use them because benefits outweigh the harm sun rays cause us. The best tip for sensitive skin care and sun is to avoid sun exposure completely by wearing big hats or staying in the shade.
Sunscreens for Sensitive Skin
Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen SPF 30+ – formulated with dermatologists to protect sensitive skin from damaging sun rays, this mineral-based “Sensitive” sunscreen formula provides SPF 30+ protection. This sunscreen does not contain any parabens, fragrances or skin-irritating chemicals.
Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection SPF 50+ – it is quite suitable for adults with sensitive skin. This sunscreen is very mild, protects from UVA/UVB rays and will last for up to 80 minutes in the sun and water. Its tear-free formula is non-greasy and is free of parabens, phthalates and fragrance.
Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Sunscreen Lotion SPF 60 -specially formulated for sensitive skin. This gentle sunscreen provides protection from damaging UVA and UVB rays to help prevent sunburn. Its unique formula features Purescreen technology made with 100% naturally sourced physical sunscreen ingredients, including titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. This unique mineral sunscreen is hypoallergenic and free of fragrances and oils that may irritate sensitive skin.
La Roche-Posay Anthelios Melt-In Sunscreen Milk SPF 60 – very light milk-like sunscreen that is tested to be safe for sensitive skin. It is free of perfumes, oil, parabens and so on. It is water resistant for up to 80 minutes.
7. Lip Care
As with skin care for any type, do not forget to take care of your lips. Our lips do not have sebaceous oil) glands and might need help to stay moisturized. I always have a lip balm handy in case I need it.
Lip balms for sensitive skin
Aquaphor Lip Repair – this lip balm is fragrance fee and paraben free. It is designed to repair dry and chopped lips. It contains vitamins, shea butter, and chamomile essence.
Blistex Simple and Sensitive – has no flavours, fragrances, colours or unnecessary sensitizing ingredients. In addition it’s hypo-allergenic formula is clinically proven to be gentle on lips.
Vanicream Lip Protectant SPF30 – no dyes, flavoring, formaldehyde, fragrance or masking fragrance, lanolin, parabens or other preservatives, no sensitizing chemical sunscreens. Protects from UVA/UVB rays.
This is the basic example of morning skin care routine for sensitive skin. It could seem overwhelming, however it is quite simple once you start doing it.
I hope I did not scare you with seemingly long morning routine, because now here is an example of evening skin care routine for your skin type.
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Evening Skin Care Routine for Sensitive Skin
Evening cleansing is one of the most crucial part of your skin care routine. You need to remove all the dirt, pollution and environmental irritants that accumulated on your skin during the day.
For the evening routine you might consider double-cleansing method when you perform 2 steps of cleansing: first, you remove makeup and dirt with oil and second, use non-foaming cleanser that you used in the morning.
Using cleansing oil will help you to dissolve oil based products, dirt, makeup, sunscreen and so on, and non-foaming cleanser will wash everything off. Also, cleansing oil will protect lipid barrier of your skin, which is very important for sensitive skin type.
Cleansing Oils for Sensitive Skin
bareMinerals Oil Obsessed Total Cleansing Oil -gently removes impurities while also nourishing the skin. This oil is perfect for all skin types, even the most sensitive ones.
Wandering Seoul No.35 Camellia Cleansing Oil – combines Camellia oil with legendary Olea Europaea (Olive) fruit oil. It also has a blend of botanical skin care superstars, including coconut oil and sweet, naturally scented Bergamot. The result is a weightless, easily absorbed cleansing oil jam-packed with vitamins A, B, and E and rich in Omegas 3, 6, and 9.
Sensitive skin type needs exfoliation like any other skin type. Exfoliation helps to remove blackheads, dead skin build up, clear acne and clogged pores. We already learned that washing skin vigorously with harsh soaps and cleansers is not a good solution for any skin type, especially the sensitive one.
This is when exfoliants come into play.
DO NOT use physical exfoliants (aka scrubs or manual exfoliation). These exfoliants contain some sort of ground down natural products (coffee, nuts, stones, plants etc). Even though pieces are small, but they are still able to create mini tears in your skin which will cause irritation, redness and breakouts. Nowadays the shift is towards chemical exfoliants as they do not damage outer layer of the skin, do not strip it off healthy skin oil, and work on deeper skin layers than physical exfoliants.
Chemical exfoliants such as AHAs (alpha hydroxy acid) and BHAs (beta hydroxy acid) are quite gentle and suitable for regular use (for sensitive skin it would be once a week). Such exfoliators are great to brighten skin by removing the layer of dead cells; they also clear clogged pores and prevent blackheads formation. A good tip would be to use a very mild from of chemical exfoliation and apply it for half a time that is indicated on a product label.
Exfoliating Products for Sensitive Skin
Aquareveal Satin Bright Soft Water Peel for Face – this lightweight water-based gel that contains Hyaluronic Acid and nourishing botanicals to maintain skin’s natural moisture levels. It also removes impurities and decongests clogged pores without causing irritation or redness in even the most sensitive skin. Immediately following use, skin feels smoother and softer and looks brighter and healthier.
Paula’s Choice SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Lotion Salicylic Acid Exfoliant – a light lotion texture that softens and hydrates skin as it gently and naturally exfoliates dead skin. Your skin will look more radiant and smoother, with diminished pore size and less visible wrinkles. Gentle exfoliation renews skin’s youthful-looking texture, shrinks pore size, and diminishes the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Lightweight hydrating emollients soften skin, leaving it feeling smooth and soft without flaking or redness.
Paula’s Choice-SKIN PERFECTING 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant with Glycolic Acid Chamomile & Green Tea – a completely non-abrasive leave-on exfoliant. This unique formula revitalizes skin’s surface, smooths the appearance of wrinkles and makes your skin soft. SKIN PERFECTING 8% AHA Gel also helps keep skin hydrated making it more receptive to moisture.
This step is the same as your morning routine one.
4. Sheet masks
Sheet masks are excellent as they are full of variety amazing essences/serums which will aid in hydration, nourishment, whitening and many other benefits.
I suggest that you use sheet masks twice a week after applying toner.
Sheet Masks for Sensitive Skin
Garnier SkinActive Super Hydrating Sheet Mask – this mask contains Hyaluronic Acid and Chamomile Extract. Both ingredients hydrate and calms skin in just 15 minutes.
Iris and Beauty Aloe Vera Facial Sheet masks – 100% clean, safe and honest ingredients for sensitive skin (soothing face mask). Each face mask sheet contains powerful antioxidants from Rose, sage, green tea, avocado extract. Loaded with nutrients to deliver goodness to your complexion.
AYSWE Hydrating & Moisturizing Organic Cotton Face Mask Sheet – helps to tone and soothe skin, softening the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles while waking up tired skin with a burst of refreshing botanicals and continuous hydration.
5. Serums or Essences/Ampoules
I already mentioned before this step is absolutely optional for you: you do not want to overload your sensitive skin with too many layers of products.
In case you decided to apply serum or essence, apply if after your toner. If you are using sheet masks, do not apply serum on that night as you will have essence leftovers from your sheet mask.
6. Moisturizer or Night Cream or Overnight Mask
You should be using rich night cream over night to give your skin a chance to repair, calm down and hydrate.
Overnight masks are different from night creams. Overnight masks contain concentrated ingredients that target skin on more extensive and deep level. You should be using these masks 1 or 2 times a week as an extra booster for your skin. Otherwise it will be like taking steroids on a regular basis – and taking steroids daily is harmful to your body. For more information on overnight sleeping masks and night creams, please, read my post by following this link.
Night Creams for Sensitive Skin
Garnier SkinActive Miracle Anti-Fatigue Night Cream -this night cream feels like a very light face moisturizer. It contains Lavender Essential Oil, Hyaluronic Acid and Hydroxy Acid that intensely hydrates and reduces wrinkles.
Nivea Rich Face Regenerating Night Cream – this cream intensively moisturizes and regenerates skin overnight.
Birch Juice Hydro Sleeping Pack – formulated with 74% birch tree sap instead of regular H2O to boost moisturizing power. Deeply moisturizes the skin overnight with no greasy residue. This overnight mask helps to restore and maintain the balance between water and natural oil in the skin for a better look and feel.
Z Natural Life Hydrating Overnight Facial Mask – delivers deep, penetrating hydration to the skin. Some ingredients include avocado oil, ylang-ylang flower oil, geranium oil, sodium hyaluronate, and olive squalane.
7. Eye cream
Apply eye cream the same way as in the morning routine.
8. Lip care
I know that most resources recommend to use special lip balm or lip mask for your lips, however I just apply night cream or moisturizer to my lips and feel happy about it. You could also use your lip balm that you use during the day.
This concludes the example of skin care routine for sensitive skin. Please, remember this post offers skin care guidelines, which are not rules. Therefore, you could change things as you wish. I mention products in this post only as an example of products out there that are suitable for sensitive skin. I hope you do not feel pressured that you have to buy exactly the same products; feel free to pick your own. Please, share what kind of products you use for sensitive skin.