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Soothing Solutions for Sensitive Skin

Could be something in the air — like pollution — or in the high-intensity products we slather on ourselves, but skin sensitivity is on the rise. Here, the simplest, most soothing solutions.


Sensitive-skin-friendly formulas are now available at all price points — from posh brands like Darphin and RéVive to Walgreens standbys like Cetaphil and Eucerin. The key is to pamper with the fewest possible ingredients. "You want to avoid any product that boasts vitamins, antioxidants, alpha hydroxy acids, and sunscreen all at the same time," says Dr. Diane Berson, adjunct assistant professor of dermatology at New York University.

Solutions for Sensitive Skin productEven after your skin crisis subsides, keep yourself out of the red for good by moderating use of the harsh hydroxy acids and abrasive granulated scrubs and steering clear of alcohol-based toners and battery-powered scrubbers. For those who have a genetic predisposition toward delicate skin, select from the many mild products with minimal active ingredients. And don't forget that products need to change with the seasons: A deep cleanser that helps control oiliness in the summer can also leave skin parched in the icy winter months. Drop it from your ski-weekend travel bag

Of course, I learned the hard way that year-round vigilance is essential. After I finally soothed my full-on flaky skin, I re-inflamed it on a summer beach trip with alcohol-based sunscreen and overwashing. (Applying SPF every morning felt like running a cheese grater over my cheeks.) So I backed off big time on the toners, masques, and scrubs and went with a gentle fragrance-free moisturizer for a few weeks. Ah, relief. And clear, contented skin to boot. Sometimes what sensitive skin needs more of is less.

Some "Natural" Is Better than Others

Solutions for Sensitive Skin productFrom brightening coffeeberry serums to soothing green-tea moisturizers, natural is marketable. Believing anything natural has got to be good for you, Americans spent $62 billion on the stuff last year. But the fact is, flora-based scrubs made from abrasive fruit pits can be irritating, too. If sensitivity is your major concern, these are the ingredients you should be looking for:

  • Rose and lavender work wonders in calming inflammation, according to Michele VanLandingham, ingredient information specialist for Dr. Hauschka Skin Care.
  • New York dermatologist Dr. Dennis Gross suggests seeking out soothing chamomile derivatives, natural toners like witch hazel, and gentle exfoliators like blueberry seeds.
  • Dr. Kay Baxter, a U.K. dermatologist who tends to recommend "bland, unfragranced, nonbotanical products" to patients, uses organic aloe vera on sensitive skin.

For extreme inflammation cases, Manhattan dermatologist Dr. Diane Berson recommends a compress of milk, water, and ice to combat itching and burning.

Originally published on September 16, 2008

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