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 • Skincare  • Skincare Guides  • Your Ultimate Guide To Looking After Your Sensitive Skin Like a Pro

Your Ultimate Guide To Looking After Your Sensitive Skin Like a Pro

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Main image – Veralair/Stocksy

If you’re someone who is sensitive in the skin department, you’ll know that it’s an unpleasant and sometimes even painful skin condition. Handling sensitive skin with care is imperative as if you’re too heavy handed with it, it can cause your skin to flare up and freak out. 

But don’t worry. Having sensitive skin doesn’t mean you’re a ‘delicate flower’, or that you’re weak. It actually means you have to put up with a lot more BS than those with a normal skin type and you work extra hard to research which ingredients and formulations work for you. In fact, I’d say that’s pretty bad ass. 

So, to help educate you further about sensitive skin, we’ve put together this comprehensive guide for you to peruse. It’ll tell you what sensitive skin actually is (in case you didn’t know), the sensitive skin signs to spot if you’re unsure about your skin type and, crucially, the ingredients to use (and avoid).

With expert tips from Dr Hamdan Abdullah Hamed, Dr Ahmed El Muntasar and Dr Nowell Solish, just call this your one stop shop for everything you need to know about sensitive skin.


What is sensitive skin?

According to Dr Hamed, sensitive skin isn’t a medical diagnosis, but it’s still a serious skin complaint, nonetheless. “It means someone has a condition where they may experience stinging, burning and itching sensations,” he explains. 


Image – Ohlamourstudio/Stocksy


The signs that you have it

“It may be different for different types of people,” Dr Hamed says. “People with sensitive skin may be more likely to experience conditions such as inflammation, discolouration and irritation.”

If your skin reacts negatively to things like fragrance or certain washing powders and if it becomes itchy or inflamed due to friction from clothing, then it could be considered sensitive. Also, if you notice it flares up quickly in sunlight or extreme temperature changes you might also have sensitive skin. 

“The heat, cold and wind can cause sharp temperature changes which can trigger the release of itch molecule histamine in the skin,” says Dr Hamed. “It will then result in annoying, prickling or itching and cause blood vessels to get dilated, which will cause redness.”


The internal factors that cause sensitive skin

“Sensitive skin can be influenced by various internal factors, including genetics, underlying skin conditions (such as eczema or rosacea), hormonal changes and allergies,” explains Dr Solish

But Dr El Muntasar says it can sometimes be tricky to identify an internal cause. “There is a difference between sensitive skin and skin that is sensitised,” he says.

“For example, a patient could have problems or damage to the skin barrier that makes their skin more sensitive. I always advise everyone to see a medical professional to assess the skin and why it is sensitised.”


Image – Ohlamourstudio/Stocksy


The external factors that cause sensitive skin

Unfortunately, there are a few everyday hazards that sensitive skin types can’t really avoid. “Pollution can cause sensitive skin,” says Dr Hamed

“This is because the particles from pollution can cling to the skin’s surface which can then cause a chain reaction of oxidative stress, causing irritation within the skin.”

Sun exposure has a part to play too. “Similarly the UV radiation from excessive sunlight can also trigger oxidative stress and inflammation in the skin which can lead to unpleasant symptoms linked to sensitive skin.”

As mentioned earlier, as well as temperature changes, there are even a few domestic causes too. “People who have this condition may also have reactions to chemicals, dyes and fragrances once it comes into contact with their skin,” Dr Hamed adds.


The best skincare ingredients for sensitive skin

It’s crucial to get your ingredients checklist just right before you apply anything onto sensitive skin. “Ingredients such as peptides will help with rebuilding the skin barrier,” says Dr Muntasar. “Other ingredients such as ceramides and other hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid and niacinamide are essentials.”

“Opt for mild, fragrance-free cleansers that won’t strip away the skin’s natural oils and look for labels like ‘hypoallergenic’ or ‘for sensitive skin’,” advises Dr Solish. “Hydration is key too so use fragrance-free, hypoallergenic moisturisers that contain soothing ingredients.” For example, chamomile, green tea and aloe vera.

Personally, if my oily skin is ever having a redness flare up, it can sting and is usually down to overuse of retinol on my under eye area. I apply a gentle moisturiser with ingredients like colloidal oats.


Image – Ohlamourstudio/Stocksy


The ingredients sensitive skin types should avoid

If you’ve ever thought twice about a certain ingredient, sensitive skin types should probably trust their instincts. “Strong retinols, potent vitamin Cs and anything that includes major active ingredients,” says Dr Muntasar. 

Beware of chemical exfoliants containing things like glycolic and salicylic acid and be extra cautious when it comes to physical exfoliants as these can be harsh and abrasive on even the hardiest skin types.

“However, this doesn’t mean you can’t use it at all. It just means you need to introduce it a little bit more slowly and gently,” Dr Muntasar explains.

“Stay away from skincare products containing alcohol, fragrances, sulphates and parabens as these can strip the skin’s natural barrier and cause inflammation,” adds Dr Solish.


And 4 tips for sensitive skin

  • “Protect your skin from UV damage by using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher,” says Dr Solish. Whilst this is the advice for all skin types, “look for physical sunscreens containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as they tend to be less irritating than chemical sunscreens.”
  • “Opt for gentle exfoliants like lactic acid or enzymes and limit exfoliation to once or twice a week,” he adds.
  • Go back to basics with your skincare regime. “By using a gentle cleanser, a gentle moisturiser and a physical SPF,” says Dr Muntasar. “These are the essentials that your skin needs. Build these up then you can slowly look at introducing active ingredients again.”
  • “Before using new skincare products, perform a patch test on a small area of your skin to check for any adverse reactions,” recommends Dr Solish.


The takeaway

On the plus side, sensitive skin means having a few less steps in your skincare regime, at least while you figure out which ingredients work for you. 

If you’re finding your regime is overwhelming your skin, stop what you’re doing and start again. Choose a gentle cleanser, moisturiser and SPF and work up from there.

Avoid chemically exfoliating too frequently and skip physical exfoliators altogether. Pick out soothing, calming ingredients like aloe vera and hydrating ones that work for all skin types like hyaluronic acid. 

And address things like your everyday washing powder or fragrance as these could be the surprising culprits making your sensitive skin worse. 

Inflammation, redness and itchiness are the main signs that you have sensitive skin but if you’re unsure, go and see a medical professional who will be able to give you a definitive answer and help you to treat it.


Meet the experts

Dr Ahmed El Muntasar is a GP and award winning aesthetician.


Dr. Nowell Solish is Indeed Labs Dermatologist. He is a world-renowned expert in cosmetic dermatology with 20+ years of experience, co-director of Dermatologic surgery at The University of Toronto, and advisor for skincare brands including Indeed Labs. He continues to work with patients in his Toronto practice.


Dr Hamdan Abdullah Hamed is a board certified dermatologist and co-founder of online haircare shop PowerYourCurls.


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Beauty Editor

The former Beauty Editor of Glamour UK, Philippa has been a beauty and lifestyle journalist for over 16 years, picking up countless tips and tricks from makeup artists, hair stylists, dermatologists and celebrities. In that time she’s written for names like Cosmopolitan, The Sunday Times Style, The Telegraph, Grazia, Refinery 29 and Byrdie. Philippa lives in the UK with her husband, two children and their hyperactive cockapoo, Paddy.

Expertise: Makeup, hair care
Education: Oxford Brookes University

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