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Sense and Sensitivity

Going to a festival? Here's how to survive if you have sensitive skin

July 21st 2017 / Judy Johnson Google+ Judy Johnson / 0 comment


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Off to Glastonbury or another UK festival? Other than saying ‘Don’t go!’, our sensitive skin columnist advises on how to survive (while still having fun) at a festival

I like to think I’m pretty low maintenance. I won’t stamp my foot if I don’t get my own way, my typical answer to any question is ‘I don’t mind’ (I know, it’s annoying but I really DO NOT MIND) and could go for days without needing attention or company. Unfortunately, my sensitive skin did not get the memo. It is so high maintenance that the thought of hand luggage makes me panic, never mind the thought of a backpack in order to go to a festival. Add to this my beauty obsession, a fear of bugs and the fact that I won’t even pop to Tesco without a swipe of concealer and lashings of mascara and this girl is not camping-friendly. So how does a beauty addict with reactive skin survive a festival?

In the summer of 2014, I had to find out. A friend’s hen party at Latitude festival meant I had to embrace the backpack. (Actually, mine broke just as I’d finished packing so I had to take my large suitcase instead. I looked as high maintenance and diva-ish as you could get, dragging it along the field on arrival. Very Kathleen Turner in Romancing the Stone.) I had to face my fears and go camping; and to make matters worse, it was all in an uncharacteristically long, humid heatwave.

I had a great time (as did the bride, which is genuinely the only thing that matters on such occasions); sadly, my skin did not. While everyone else in the group threw on neon paint and soaked up the sun, I sweltered with some of the worst prickly heat of my life (I threw everything at it, including steroid cream, but it was not happy), a bizarre reaction on my legs that looked a cross between sunburn and cellulitis which my doctor refused to give me anything for even two weeks later, and a painful scalp because I kept forgetting to pick up my hat as well as my lotions, water sprays, illicit booze and antihistamines en route to the stage.

While I will never, ever go camping again (or at least not in a heatwave with no showers), I do love a festival - where else can you wear bright colours, glitter and headbands without anyone batting a sparkly eyelid (i.e., everything I would wear daily if I could)? So here’s what I’ll be doing at the non-camping festivals I’ve got in my diary this summer, and how I would recommend surviving if you have sensitive skin and a tent in a field to contend with…

Protect yourself

  • Sun cream is a must; I use Ultrasun SPF30, £26, for face (which is available in a tint so no need for makeup), and usually their Family SPF30 for body. You only have to apply it once a day so there’s no need to carry it around with you.

  • A hat. Repeat to self: do not forget to take hat. A sore scalp is unbelievably painful, and sunstroke isn’t so fun either. Festivals, thankfully, are where straw hats can officially be declared cool. If it’s good enough for Kate Moss…

  • Fragrance-free anti-bacterial hand gel. You will need this by the bucketload, but don’t rely on others as they will no doubt pick the most fragrant one, which you do not want near your skin.

  • Keeping clean is vital if prickly heat is a problem; shower or wash whenever you can. In desperate times, I found the best alternative was a clean bucket of water with a Johnson’s Extra Sensitive Fragrance Free face wipe. However, I've since discovered the genius invention of the Wash Wizard - just add a drop of water and an aloe vera foam activates so you can wash, then air dry - you don't even need to rinse.

  • I liked having a small can of Eau Thermale Avene’s spring water spray, £7, handy too, to freshen up safely.

Easy sensitive-friendly makeup


  • Travelling light is key here, so make do with your tinted sun lotion and a good, all-rounder concealer that won’t cause reactions or clog your skin. I love Nars Radiance Creamy Concealer, £23 - free of synthetic fragrance and alcohol, plus non-comedogenic, it blends beautifully with high coverage that looks glowy and natural; plus, the shade range is impressive.

  • Hygiene is important for easily irritated skin, which makes festivals and camping a terrifying prospect. Use your (grubby) fingers as little as possible by taking the Real Techniques Miracle Complexion Sponge, £5.99 - blend your concealer into every nook and cranny without touching your skin.

  • Waterproof, sensitive-friendly mascara. You’ll either be melting, or, knowing Britain, drowning in mud and rain so make sure you have a budge-proof mascara to see you through. Clinique’s High Impact Waterproof Mascara, £18, lives up to its name and will stay put come rain or shine, plus it’s fragrance free and ideal for sensitive eyes.

  • Lastly, take a multitasker - no one wants to sit in a stuffy tent putting a whole face of makeup on, but Ilia's Multistick, £30, is great for lips, eyes and cheeks for a bit of colour and glow. It's also 100% natural.

The fun stuff


  • Neon nail polishes. If neon paint is a no-go (it often contains MI or fragrance), brighten up your beauty look with your nails instead - Color Club, a vegan nail brand, do some great shades.

  • Glitter. Others may cover themselves in face paint and sparkles but glitter is the safest option here if you go for loose glitter, such as Topshop's Glitter Pots, £5, that’s not in a base (which is full of chemicals) - apply with Vaseline or simply dust over your face and, as we all know with glitter, it will stick around. Wish Upon a Sparkle's range is brilliantly bright and perfect for show-stopping glitz. Or for something a little more low-key, nothing says sparkle like Urban Decay’s Heavy Metal Glitter Eyeliner, £15.

  • Jewellery tattoos. These are a great way to embrace the party atmosphere without covering your skin in product. Try this starry-eyed option from Orelia, £8.

  • Hair chalks or hair colours. What can you get colourful with that isn’t your skin? Your hair of course - rub in these Pixie Lott Hair Chalks, £4.99 for a flash of fun. Or, for a longer-lasting tint, try vegan haircare brand Maria Nila’s Colour Refresh - a semi-permanent colour that’s SLS-free. It does contain some fragrance so don’t go to bed with your hair wet if you react to perfume (another trick I've learned the hard way).

The repair kit

  • Steroid cream. A necessary evil if things get bad.

  • Care Aqueous Calamine Cream, £2.15. This stuff is magical. It calms and soothes rashes or prickly heat, or even sunburn if that’s your festival woe. I am never, ever without it.

  • MagiCool Prickly Heat Spray, £1.44. Anyone who suffers with heat rash would do anything to soothe it - this does a good job at cooling the skin down at least.

  • A good antihistamine (check with your doctor first, of course). I have some prescribed from the GP or use Piriton, which has always been the best for skin reactions in my experience but makes you drowsy as hell.

And if all else fails…

Keep up the antihistamines and try to enjoy yourself. It’s hard, I know, when your skin is crawling with reactions, bites or prickly heat, but do what you can to relieve it and remember it’s only temporary. Distractions help; my rather alarmed fellow hens took care of me, from making me laugh with their questionable dance moves to sliding ice up and down my arms to cool them off.

My skin took some time to get back to normal but just being home, indoors (oh how I missed the indoors!), with a lukewarm shower and cold compresses improved the situation drastically. Pharmacists are also worth talking to; they’re often more sympathetic than the doctor (but we’ll save that topic for a later date) and tend to take the time to offer a product that could really help. Then wave goodbye to the tents and mud for another year… and make sure your next holiday involves a power shower and air con.

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