Ever feel like your skin reacts to everything, or sometimes, for seemingly no reason at all? You’re not alone. Up to 70% of women and 60% of men claim some degree of sensitive skin. Although there is no clear scientific definition of sensitive skin, it is generally understood to be an unpleasant sensory response to things that shouldn’t normally provoke one. What causes sensitive skin and how it manifests vary from person to person. But with the right skincare routine for sensitive skin, you may be able to find some relief. Read on to learn all about sensitive skin, as well as what our best products are to help soothe and prevent it.
What Causes Sensitive Skin?
Sensitive skin can become aggravated by a range of things. However, there are two common denominators when it comes to why it’s so delicate in the first place: a disrupted moisture barrier and low levels of ceramides, which are tiny lipids that help regulate processes in your skin. The skin on your face is especially susceptible to sensitive skin, because it’s thinner than the skin on the rest of your body, has more nerve endings, and comes into contact with the most skincare products. Women tend to experience sensitive skin more than men; this is primarily because men have thicker skin and women often use more products on their face, increasing the likelihood of coming into contact with an irritant.
As with any mystery, the key to solving (or, at least, helping) sensitive skin lies in identifying what’s triggering it. Be on the lookout for certain ingredients that have been known to provoke sensitive skin, such as fragrances, alcohol, and retinoids. If you’re unsure which ingredient(s) in your skincare products may be causing a reaction, test a small amount of the formulas on the inside of your forearm for a week to see if there’s any reaction. Also, avoid trying new products until your skin is balanced again, since your skin’s protective barrier is already compromised, making it more susceptible to irritation.
Other culprits that may cause your sensitive skin to flare up include, but are not limited to, hormonal fluctuations, the weather, heating or air conditioning, cleaning products, and clothing. Take note of these suspects and see if your skin feels better when you’re not using products that have the above ingredients or in any situation that may cause your skin to become irritated. Also, pay attention to the telltale signs of sensitive skin.
What Are The Symptoms of Sensitive Skin?
Your skin will signal you when it isn’t happy—think of it as its S.O.S. Common signs of sensitive skin are itching, burning, and stinging, as well as tightness and dryness. You may also not only be sensitive to specific things, you may be allergic to them. Allergies are tricky; even if you’ve used a product for a few days, or even months or years, an allergic reaction can pop up out of nowhere. If you develop a red, bumpy, itchy rash, it’s likely an allergy. In that case, you should definitely avoid whatever is causing it and talk to your doctor; a trip to an allergist may be in order. And definitely be sure not to scratch it, as that may lead to permanent scarring.
The secret to calming sensitive skin, and helping to prevent it, is following a proper skincare routine for sensitive skin. Good news: you’re in luck. Ahead, we’ve curated one especially for you.
What Is The Best Skincare For Sensitive Skin?
Now that you know the causes and symptoms, plus what ingredients specifically aren’t recommended for sensitive skin, it’s time to get down to caring for it the right way. Use only gentle skincare products, and be sure to use a soft towel when you dry your face, and only pat, never rub, your skin, which can irritate it further.
Try our below skincare routine for sensitive skin to help soothe and rebalance your skin. It contains some of our skin-comforting favorites.
Cannabis Sativa Seed Oil Herbal Cleanser
Start with a face wash for sensitive skin, like Cannabis Sativa Seed Oil Herbal Cleanser, which harnesses the power of cannabis sativa seed oil and green oregano oil. This gentle purifying, herbaceous-smelling cleanser is specifically designed to clean problem skin that’s prone to visible redness and discomfort. Formulated with 96% naturally-derived ingredients, it won’t strip your skin of moisture—only leave it feeling fresh and comfortable.* It lathers into a skin-calming foam, which you massage onto your damp face in circular motions, and rinses cleanly away. You’ll be left with skin that’s soothed, fresher, and healthy-looking.
*We consider ingredients to be naturally derived if they retain more than 50% of their molecular structure after being processed from a natural source.
Centella Sensitive Facial Cleanser
Alternatively, try Centella Sensitive Facial Cleanser, starring centella asiatica extract (derived from the eponymous plant, which has been used since ancient times). It’s our mildest cleanser to wash away dirt, oil, and impurities, and has been dermatologist tested on only 100% sensitive skin.* The dual formula calms your skin while strengthening its moisture barrier, and leaves your skin feeling clean, moisturized, and better all day with eight-hour hydration. This face wash for sensitive skin is so gentle, you can even use it around your eyes. Plus, it won’t clog your pores and is free of parabens, fragrance, alcohol, soap, and surfactants.
*Tested for tolerance on subjects with self-perceived sensitive skin.
Next, try one of our best toners for sensitive skin: Calendula Herbal-Extract Toner or Cucumber Herbal Alcohol-Free Toner. Both are applied the same way, by moistening a sterile cotton pad and swiping it across your face day or night. There's no need to rinse either of them off. Just let your skin soak up their nourishment.
Calendula Herbal-Extract Toner, which contains skin-loving calendula, allantoin, and great burdock root, has been beloved by Kiehl’s customers since the 1960s. The gentle toner soothes, refreshes, and cleanses skin without any harsh or synthetic drying ingredients. It contains no parabens, fragrance, silicone, alcohol, mineral oil, or dye, and comes in recyclable packaging.
On the other hand, Cucumber Herbal Alcohol-Free Toner contains cucumber extract, of course, as well as allantoin. This non-drying formula is our mildest toner, made from only the finest herbs. It gently balances and tones your skin without drying it out. Safe for all skin types, but especially sensitive or dry skin, it contains no alcohol, parabens, or fragrance. Your skin will be left feeling soft, clean, and elegant.
Use a Serum and/or Face Oil
Don’t stop there. Pamper your skin and give it a healthier appearance in the process with a targeted skin-soothing serum, face oil, or both (we prefer the latter).
Hydro-Plumping Hydrating Serum, as the name suggests, visibly plumps your skin to help smooth the appearance of fine lines and uneven skin texture while deeply hydrating moisture-starved skin. The formula, infused with 15% glycerin and epidermal hydration filler, improves the appearance of dull skin while encouraging your skin’s natural production of hyaluronic acid. It also helps improve your skin’s elasticity to help make it look younger and healthier. Ophthalmologist- and dermatologist-tested, it contains no parabens or fragrance.
Then, give Cannabis Sativa Seed Oil Herbal Concentrate Face Oil, with cannabis sativa seed and oregano oils, a try. It’s uniquely formulated for problem skin that’s prone to blemishes, visible redness, and discomfort. Inspired by Khiel’s apothecary heritage, this lightweight, non-comedogenic, non-acnegenic face oil helps calm the look and feel of stressed skin. The soothing formula helps strengthen your skin barrier to help prevent irritation and helps balance your skin’s hydration level. Plus, it’s made with 100% naturally-derived ingredients for skin that can feel at one with nature.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t reiterate the importance of hydrating your skin to help restore and maintain your skin barrier—your first line of defense against aggravated skin. For this vital step, we recommend our following two best moisturizers for sensitive skin.
First up, Centella Sensitive Cica-Cream, made with D-panthenol (a.k.a. vitamin B5) and sustainably-sourced madecassoside. A cica-cream, it provides intense hydration and is clinically-demonstrated to help to repair and protect the moisture barrier of compromised skin.* This dermatologist-tested, hypoallergenic formula relieves and strengthens your skin to help restore a healthy appearance. It won’t clog your pores and is free of parabens, fragrance, and alcohol, as well as easily-absorbed to help prevent excessive rubbing.
*Based on an instrumental test of the skin barrier and clinical grading in an 8-week study. Tested for tolerance on subjects with self-perceived sensitive skin.
Or, you can reach for Skin Rescuer to save the day (and those that follow), which boasts rosa gallica botanical extract, mannose, and chamomile as its hero ingredients. The ultra-lightweight moisturizer provides all-day hydration while reducing visible signs of stress, including redness and fatigue. It instantly comforts your skin and helps repair its moisture barrier, leaving it less susceptible to daily stressors. Use this paraben- and fragrance-free formula for skin that’s well-hydrated, well-balanced, and healthy-looking.
Apply Eye Cream
We’re willing to bet that if the rest of the skin on your face is sensitive, so is the even more delicate skin around your eyes. Don’t leave it hanging out to dry (pun intended). Try Avocado Eye Cream, containing avocado oil, beta-carotene, and shea butter. It’s clinically-demonstrated to depuff the area around your eyes by 32% and brighten by 11% after just one use.* This luxurious hydrating eye cream instantly improves the look and feel of your skin and provides all-day hydration, which can help keep early signs of aging at bay. The unique oil-in-water formula won’t migrate into your eyes, and is ophthalmologist- and dermatologist tested for safety. There are no parabens, fragrance, silicone, mineral oil, or synthetic dyes, and the packaging is recyclable.
*Results based upon expert grading evaluated with the product in a 4-week clinical test.
During the day, protect all your sensitive skin-fighting hard work with sunscreen. Super Fluid Daily UV Defense SPF 50+, with baicalin and vitamin E, is an excellent sunscreen for sensitive skin. Made with advanced UVA and UVB technology, as well as protection from pollution and free radicals, this lightweight formula won’t clog your pores, absorbs quickly, and leaves a delightful matte finish. The dermatologist-tested sunscreen can help safeguard your skin from early signs of aging, and is paraben- and fragrance-free.
Next: Once you’ve got your sensitive skin under control, learn how to make it radiant with How To Get Glowing Skin: 5 Expert Tips.
Lastly, indulge in some self-care a few times a week with a sensitive skin-focused mask, like Calendula Petal-Infused Calming Mask, with calendula and aloe. Lightweight, refreshing, and soothing, this hydrating gel mask soothes your skin and helps reduce visible signs of distress. When applied, you’ll feel a cool burst of invigorating moisture. It revitalizes your skin over time, leaving it looking soft, smoother, and healthier.