If you count yourself as someone with sensitive and/or sensitised skin, you’re not alone. It’s not a big secret that in recent years, dermatologists and other trained skincare experts are reporting that they’re seeing an increasing number of patients coming in with inflamed skin.
One factor lies in FOMO; the voracious consumption of new skincare products and strong actives (think retinol, vitamin C, glycolic acid peels) has never been easier with social media and the explosion of self-proclaimed skincare influencers.
Compound that with mandated mask-wearing (read: maskne) and people carelessly experimenting with skincare during the lockdown and what you have on your hands is a time bomb waiting to go off.
The fact is your skin barrier generally likes a stable routine – throwing too many strong actives or trying many new products too quickly (read: one product at a time is the golden rule) is a recipe for disaster, especially if you’re someone who already has sensitive skin to begin with.
In a post for her eponymous blog, dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting stated that when you’ve overdone things (symptoms usually include redness, dry patches, tightness and itchiness), it’s imperative to pare back (read: cut down on actives) and go for simple, even bland staples that are truly free of fragrance (both synthetic and “natural” a.k.a essential oils) as well as other common irritants such as alcohol.
Below, we’ve put together a list of trusty staples we rely on whenever we experience any of the above symptoms – or even when we’re not.
Soothe stressed and irritated skin with this nourishing cream from Asis-Tobe. Made from the nutrients of oats and soybean embryos, this skin-loving cream boasts a potent blend that works to strengthen skin barriers for an anti-wrinkle and brightening effect. What’s more, the cream also absorbs quickly into the skin, leaving a non-sticky finish and it’s also free from artificial fragrances.
If you’re prone to dryness, we recommend adding Cetaphil’s Gentle Skin Cleanser to your routine. Boasting a new blend of Niacinamide (Vitamin B3), Panthenol (Vitamin B5) and hydrating Glycerin, the reformulated cleanser helps to improve the overall resilience of sensitive skin and defend against the five signs of skin sensitivity which include irritation, roughness, tightness, dryness and weakened skin barrier. Creamy and gentle at removing dirt, makeup, and impurities, the cleanser can be used on both your and your face.
By now you would’ve already heard about the highly raved Fresh Soy Face Cleanser. Perfect for those with extra sensitive skin, this cleanser is not only gentle on the skin, but also removes makeup and impurities thoroughly without leaving your skin with that squeaky clean feeling. Besides, after a few uses, you’ll start to notice that your complexion is a lot brighter and your skin feels a lot softer as it is formulated with soy proteins that are rich in amino acids.
If you’re someone with rosacea, this reliable balm should be your first port of call when the skin gets irritated. Its key ingredient is panthenol (pro-vitamin B5, hence the name), which is one of the most effective humectants (an ingredient that draws and binds water to the skin) around. Panthenol helps to soothe any inflammation in the skin, speeds up wound-healing and improves skin’s hydration, elasticity, and smooth appearance.
Panthenol is present in this balm in a concentrated amount of five per cent, while the other key ingredient in here is madecassoside – one of the main components of the trendy K-beauty favourite, centella asiatica (commonly known as cica), which might explain why this balm is such a powerhouse in neutralising irritation.
Bonus: this balm can be used not just on the face but any part of the body as well.
It’s easy to overlook cleansing but it’s the first and one of the most fundamental steps in any routine. Oats rank among the best skin-soothing ingredients around (which explains why they’re frequently found in products designed for those with say, eczema).
In fact, the United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA) even categorises colloidal oatmeal (a form of oatmeal) as a skin protectant. Few brands are as associated with using oatmeal in their products as Aveeno and this oat-based cleanser has been noted to be an extra gentle option for even those with reactive skin.
A classic mainstay in many make-up artists’ kits – and for good reason.
If you’re a fan of double-cleansing, this is a fantastic (and super-gentle) first cleanse option as micellar waters contain tiny molecules called micelles, which grab onto and easily remove unwanted oil, pollution, makeup and sunscreen.
P.S. While the label says rinsing after using micellar water is not necessary, you should still do so. That’s because leaving even gentle surfactants (the cleansing component in cleansers responsible for removing oils and other pollutants) on the skin is not a good idea as it could potentially become irritating.
We’re aware that toners and essences are a nice but completely optional step in any routine. That said, a light, soothing one like this one from indie label Geek & Gorgeous (they’ve been called the Hungarian version of The Ordinary) is a simple way to add extra hydration if your skin needs some.
Like the La Roche Posay Cicaplast Baume above, this watery toner also contains five per cent panthenol and a bunch of NMFs (natural moisturising factors a.k.a substances naturally present in skin’s uppermost layers that are necessary for hydrati).
Where it has the advantage over the balm is its feather-light texture. Bonus: this toner is also perfectly calibrated to our skin’s ideal pH level – another important factor in keeping your skin calm and healthy.
Niacinamide is trending so hard these days – and with good reason.
This anti-inflammatory multi-tasker is well-loved for its versatility to almost any skincare concern and skin type and comes with few drawbacks unlike say, vitamin C or retinols (two actives which are known to be stinging for newcomers). Benefits include visibly improving the appearance of enlarged pores, uneven skin tone, fine lines, dullness and helping to repair a weakened or damaged skin barrier.
This serum by Paula’s Choice remains one of the best out there in our opinion as it comes packed with a variety of other skin-soothing goodies such as panthenol, phospholipid, acetyl glucosamine, licorice root extract, beta-glucan and allantoin. In short, it’s a formidable blend, instead of just focusing purely on niacinamide. Bonus points for its super-light watery texture too.
Accessible, functionality-focused brands like The Ordinary and Cerave have boomed in recent times – some would say they got even more popular during the pandemic what with TikTokers enthusiastically embracing these brands.
Cerave has long been known for its emphasis on using ceramides which are lipids (beneficial fats) that are naturally present in the uppermost skin layers (they form about 50 per cent of it actually) that help to form a protective barrier to limit the loss of moisture and protect against damage from pollution and other environmental stressors.
In other words, ceramides are necessary for a healthy state of skin. For example, people afflicted with chronic conditions such as eczema have been found to possess significantly lower amounts of ceramides in their skin.
Most Cerave products are formulated with at least three types of ceramides (there are nine in total) and this moisturiser is particularly lightweight, making it a great option for those with oily skin.
Ceradan might not ring a bell but this Singapore pharmaceutical company has garnered a fan base (particularly on sites like Reddit) for their effective, science-focused products, including their signature product, the Skin Barrier Repair Cream.
It may not be the sexiest product but like Cerave, this cream touts ceramides as a key ingredient. What’s more, the brand goes further to state that the ceramides here have been formulated in the correct ratio of 3:1:1 (ceramides have been found to work best with cholesterol and essential fatty acids in the ratio of 3:1:1). This moisturiser can be a bit thick and is likely more ideal for those with dryer skin types.
Sunscreen is non-negotiable – regardless of your skin type or colour.
Ultraviolet radiation (or basically, UV rays) represent one of the most potent sources of environmental stressors that damage and prematurely age your skin (not to mention skin cancer), which is why sun protection needs to be taken seriously.
Japanese powerhouse Anessa is known for its well-formulated sunscreens and the Mild Milk series is excellent for those with sensitive skin, as it omits potential irritants such as fragrance, alcohol and colourants.
French pharmacy brands have a reputation for efficacy (think La Roche Posay and Bioderma), and Avene in particular, has many products geared towards folks with sensitive skin.
If you’ve never tried a shower oil (basically an oil-based cleanser for the body), they’re fantastic for those with particularly dry skin or people with eczema – and they rinse off easily too.
This one by Avene is fragrance and soap-free, adjusted to our skin’s ideal pH level and comes packed with beneficial moisturisers such as evening primrose oil.
Shampoo is another easily overlooked category but it can represent another potential source of irritation as the vast majority of shampoos are typically heavily fragranced.
It’s not easy to find a fragrance-free shampoo but a gentle option is this one from popular “clean” haircare brand Briogeo, which includes anti-inflammatory classics such as aloe vera extract and oats to calm your scalp.
This article was first published in Female.