Sensitive Skin Care Tips
By Cynthia Bailey MD. This page was updated on Thu, Nov 12, 2015
Is your skin a little … sensitive?
Sensitive skin is reactive to skin care product ingredients, chemicals and environmental conditions (such as harsh weather or temperature extremes.)
Your sensitive skin may be due to an allergy (such as a rash from fragrance ingredients.) Or your skin may be irritated (for instance, if acne treatment products like benzoyl peroxide or glycolic acid gave you a rash or chapped your skin.)
Sensitive skin is usually more permeable than normal skin. This has two main disadvantages:
- Your body’s important natural moisture escapes faster, and
- Harsh ingredients penetrate into your skin more readily.
The good news is you can improve this “compromised skin barrier.” The key is to consistently treat your skin gently and replenish your skin’s moisture. I call this treatment a “hydrating gentle skin care routine” and it’s the single most effective way to keep sensitive skin healthy.
Here are the building blocks of my Dermatologist's Hydrating Gentle Skin Care Routine for Sensitive Skin:
- Use only gentle skin cleansers.
- Use only hypoallergenic products (those that don’t have irritating ingredients or fragrances and complex ingredients that might be allergens).
- Use warm (not steamy hot) water on your skin.
- Always apply a deeply hydrating moisturizer right after toweling your skin dry.
It’s easy! If you follow this simple regimen, your sensitive skin will look and feel great in no time.
Here’s how to do it:
The best skin care regimen and products for sensitive skin
1. Use only gentle skin cleansers
Apply gentle skin cleansers and use them only where you need them. Rinse them off your skin thoroughly with warm (not steamy hot) water.
For your body: You probably don’t need as much soap as you think! Use your cleanser/soap to lather-up only the parts of your skin that are soiled or have body odor glands (you know where they are!). This includes your armpits, groin, buttocks, and feet. If you have oily skin, you also need to use cleanser on the oily areas of your back, neck, and chest.
Product picks from my practice: Vanicream Cleansing Bar, Naturally Best Bar Soap for Dry Skin. (Other sensitive skin product options include naturally made unscented glycerin soaps or Dove Unscented Bar Soap.)
For your face: Use the mildest cleanser that does the job. Beware of that tight “squeaky-clean” feeling after washing. That feeling means you’ve removed too much of your natural oils and actually irritated your skin.
Product picks from my practice: Extremely Gentle Foaming Facial Cleanser or Vanicream Cleansing Bar. (Other options include Neutrogena Naturals Purifying Facial Cleanser, Aquanil Cleanser.)
For your hands. What is the easiest trick? Because you wash your hands multiple times a day, keep an unscented and gentle easy-rinse foaming soap near every sink. A foaming hand cleanser is best. That’s because it prevents skin irritation by washing off your skin quickly. Apply cleanser only on your palms most of the time; the skin on the back of your hand rarely gets into germs and grime, and the skin is much more fragile and prone to dryness. Also, take care to rinse all of the cleanser out from between your fingers where hand chapping often starts.
Product pick from my practice: All Natural Foaming Liquid Hand Soap (the only hand soap that I know of that’s foaming, unscented AND gentle).
2. Use only hypoallergenic skin care products.
Sensitive skin is more prone to react to taunting ingredients, which commonly include:
- Harsh preservatives
- Anti-aging ingredients such as glycolic acid, vitamin C or retinoids
- Acne treating ingredients such as salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide
- Some sunscreen ingredients (remember some of the active sunscreen ingredients can be irritating. Stick with mineral zinc oxide products, they give the best protection and do not irritate your skin.)
The bottom line is, play it safe and use only gentle, hypoallergenic products for the majority of your skin care needs.
3. Bathe and wash your skin in a hydrating way
Your bath or shower has the potential to either hydrate or dry out your sensitive skin. To make your shower or bath therapeutically hydrating, don’t strip your natural skin oils with hot water (remember that hot water cleans greasy dishes better than warm water). Use only gentle soaps and cleansers on your sensitive skin and be sure to always rinse them off completely. Also, use them only where needed, meaning on the body-odor producing parts of your skin and the oily or soiled areas as I mentioned above.
4. Always apply a moisturizer to your skin after washing.
You need to apply a moisturizer within three minutes of toweling your skin dry. Use hypoallergenic moisturizers with rich oils and water-binding ingredients that soak deeply into your skin. This locks in healing moisture that your skin soaked into the skin layers when you washed or bathed.
You’ll want to pick the product based on your skin type. This helps you “dial in” the right amount of hydration without clogging your pores or having a heavy and greasy skin feel. For your body after every bath or shower (you may be able to skip your trunk if it’s not too dry.)
Product picks from my practice include All Natural Face and Body Butter Cream or All Natural Face, Hand and Body Lotion. Other sensitive skin product options include Aveeno Skin Relief Moisture Repair Cream or Daily Moisturizing Lotion, CeraVe Moisturizing Lotion.)
The best moisturizer for your sensitive facial skin (applied morning and night after washing)
Product picks from my practice include Natural Face and Body
Butter Cream, Natural Face, Hand and Body Lotion, Daily
Moisturizing Face Cream for Dry to Normal Skin (or for Oily to Normal Skin). (Other options include Aveeno Cream or Lotion, CeraVe Cream or Lotion, Clinique Dramatically Different Lotion Plus.)
For your hands, keep a moisturizer by every sink so you can moisturize many times a day.
Product picks from my practice include Dr. Bailey Dry Skin Hand Cream. For severely chapped hands use my Dry Skin Hand Repair Kit. (Other options include ShiKai Borage Hand Cream or Aquaphor Healing Ointment.)
For your lips, coat them throughout the day with a hydrating lip balm.
How to pick a sunscreen for your sensitive skin.
You need to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen to all sun-exposed skin 365 days a year, which means you need to find a product that your skin loves. Daily sun protection is the single most important anti-aging skin care step. Sun exposure over the years causes wrinkles, age spots and even skin thinning and fragility as you age.
Zinc oxide mineral protection is hypoallergenic and perfect for sensitive skin! My top picks for the most highly sensitive skin are the pure mineral zinc oxide products.
To find the right product for your skin type and activities see my collection of products and solutions for sunscreen and sun protection. If your skin is moderately sensitive then you will most likely tolerate any of the sunscreens that I use in my practice.
Sensitive skin can be a challenge. The good news is, once you follow a routine and use the right products, you’ll have healthy, happy skin in no time.