Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on August 11, 2021

Sensitive skin is a hard-to-define condition. As a general rule, if your skin stings or burns after using skincare products, it’s considered sensitive. Sensitive skin might also feel irritated after sun exposure, exercise, or after being out in extreme temperatures. Underlying conditions can also cause sensitivity, such as eczema, rosacea, or psoriasis. Allergic relations might also trigger skin irritation and sensitivity.

Managing sensitive skin is essential so that you don’t make any conditions worse. Using the right skin care products will improve the look and feel of your skin. Learn more about caring for sensitive skin.

Ingredients for Sensitive Skin

Sensitive skin needs gentle, soothing ingredients. You don't want anything astringent or abrasive that will add to irritation. Look for ingredients like these in your skin care products:

Aloe Vera. Aloe vera is well-known for its skin-soothing properties. It’s helpful for sunburns and other mild irritations. You can find aloe as an ingredient in skin care and hair care products. You can also purchase pure aloe vera gel that you can put directly on your skin.

Green Tea: This is an antioxidant that can slow the signs of aging. It also has skin-soothing effects. Researchers found that it improves skin moisture levels and may calm inflammation as well.

Hyaluronic Acid. This polysaccharide is found naturally in your hair and skin. It is commonly used as an ingredient in moisturizers because it combines with water to swell and hold moisture in the skin or hair. It’s gentle enough to use on sensitive skin without causing irritation.

Glycerin. This ingredient is derived from plants. It’s a humectant that attracts and holds water. It's often used in hair and skin care products to promote moisturizing. It’s considered very safe and unlikely to irritate the skin.

Ceramides. Ceramides are lipids that make up part of the protective outer skin barrier. If that barrier is damaged, it can cause skin sensitivity. Products that contain ceramides help repair some of the bonds in your outer layers of skin so it's less likely to become irritated. ‌

Dimethicone: This silicone is used in many skin and hair care products. It’s very gentle on the skin while still providing excellent moisturizing effects. You can use it on your hair without worrying about triggering a reaction on your scalp. 

Be Gentle With Your Skin

Sensitive skin needs sensitive treatment. If you are prone to redness, irritation, breakouts, or painful dryness, you need to treat your skin carefully. Avoid using very hot water to bathe or wash your face because heat can dry out your skin. Use a soft towel to pat your skin dry instead of rubbing it after taking a shower. Wear soft, breathable fabrics that you wash with gentle detergents so your clothing doesn’t irritate your skin.

Avoid Fragrances

The ingredients that make products smell nice are also a common irritant. Many people have reactions to fragrances, including respiratory issues or skin irritation. More than 100 fragrance ingredients are known to cause irritation. Not only are they found in skin and hair care products, but you may also encounter them in laundry detergent or household cleaning products.

You will need to read skin care product labels for information about fragrances that might be in the formula. Look for products that are labeled fragrance-free instead of unscented. Unscented products may still have ingredients called “masking fragrances” that cover up the scents of other ingredients.

Always Wear Sunscreen

Sun is a potential trigger for conditions like rosacea or eczema. People with sensitive skin may find that being out in the sun, heat and humidity causes redness and irritation.  The sun also puts your skin at risk for premature aging and skin cancer. Using sunscreen regularly will protect you from flare-ups of skin conditions as well as reduce your cancer risk.

You may benefit from sunscreens that use ingredients like zinc for a physical barrier against the sun. Chemical sunscreens are also effective for UV protection, but some components of them can be irritating. Wearing protective clothing, hats, and staying in the shade will also protect skin from the sun.

Talk to Your Doctor

If you have a skin condition such as psoriasis, eczema, or rosacea, you may need prescription-strength skin care products. Sometimes, you may need a steroid medication to manage a severe flare-up of one of those conditions. Follow your doctor's directions about prescription products.

If you have unexplained sensitivity, you might need to talk to an allergist. They can perform tests to see if you are allergic to particular ingredients in skin care products. Once you know what ingredient is causing skin irritation, you can avoid using it in the future.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Dermatology Association: "SKIN CARE TIPS DERMATOLOGISTS USE."

American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology: "Skin Allergy."

American Journal of Clinical Dermatology: "Fragrance contact allergy: a clinical review."

Cleveland Clinic: "Prescription Skin Care."

Cosmetics Info: "Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice," "Dimethicone," "Glycerin."

Current Allergy and Asthma Reports: “Skin barrier defects in atopic dermatitis.”

Dermatology Therapy: "The use of green tea extract in cosmetic formulations: not only an antioxidant active ingredient."

Mayo Clinic: "Allergy skin tests," "Moisturizers: Options for softer skin."

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