Women waste £148m on products they can't use. Here's how to make sure your cash is well-spent if you suffer with sensitive skin

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How much money have you wasted on skincare and makeup that's left you red in the face? In research released in 2014, sensitive skin experts and organic brand Pai Skincare  revealed that women are wasting an estimated total of £148m on products that they can't use, with 50 per cent of women admitting that they've had some form of reaction to cosmetics and skincare.

“These are dismaying results that show that skin reactions to beauty products are becoming increasingly normal for British women," says Pai Skincare founder Sarah Brown , who set up the company after frustrations with her own skin allergies. “The difficulty for many shoppers is that seemingly reassuring terms such as ‘hypoallergenic’ or ‘dermatologically tested’ actually mean very little."

The research did not surprise me one bit. Back in my teens, while other girls were buying shoes and Beyonce CDs, I was busy trawling Boots and Superdrug for the latest makeup - a slight addiction - and newest skincare in the hope it would suit my skin (OK, and the Beyonce CDs. I wasn't completely uncool).

From apricot scrubs - shudder - to anything tough-looking that promised to kill spots and everything labelled with 'sensitive skin', I tried them all; but I only tried them once. Most of those impulse buys left my skin unhappy, red or irritated; in fact, even products that I had used for years, such as face wipes (I know, never again - but that's another story), deodorants and shower gels gradually had to be swapped as my skin continued to become sensitised and tolerated even less than before.

I hate to think how much of my hard-earned pocket money, and later, wages, went on products which ultimately went in the bin or to a good home elsewhere. But sensitive skin doesn't have to take the fun out of beauty shopping (and you'll still find me wandering the aisles, eyes lighting up as soon as I see something shiny and new), but it pays to do your homework before you part with your cash; here are my top three ways to avoid expensive disappointment.

Know your return rights

Depending on where you shop, you might not have to lose out if a product doesn't suit your skin. Sarah, for example, offers a Satisfaction Guarantee at Pai  which has been recently updated from 30 to 90 days, whereby you can return unsuitable products for a refund or exchange.

Other brands with similar common sense include REN, who allow you to return items within 30 days; QVC, who offer the same deal; Avon, who have a 28-day no-quibble guarantee; and many makeup and beauty counters will usually cooperate if you've bought something you can't use - Clinique and Estee Lauder tend to play fair if you go in store. Debenhams online also have a ' Try Me Guarantee ' on some skincare and fragrances, which means that if you're trying something new they will send you a sample as well as the full size so you can try before you commit to buy - and return the product if it doesn't suit.

Always check the returns policy, but don't be afraid to try if it's not stated; if you don't ask, you don't get.

Do your research

Many customers who buy beauty online or in store do so after having researched online through Facebook and Twitter, and there's an increasing trend of using the internet before purchasing ( Mintel ). Make sure you're one of them if you have sensitive skin because a bit of Googling really does pay off. Whether it's right here on Get The Gloss, where you can check out our Gloss Reports  or this column for sensitive skin suggestions , or on blogs elsewhere, there's an encyclopaedia of beauty knowledge out there to help you make an informed decision.

My current go-to site for new products I'm trying is Paula's Choice , where her Beautypedia reviews are pretty cut-throat in stating the Best, the Good, Average and Poor products based on what's in them and what they try to do. Detailed ingredients listings and glossaries make it easy to find what will work for you before you whip out the plastic.

Get appy

In a world where there really is an app for everything, there's sadly not one to tell you directly whether the product you're about to buy will give you a rash. However, there are a few that are getting there - one of the best is Think Dirty ; the free resource allows you to put in the name of your products (or scan its barcode, though I've had limited success with this) to see a 'clean' rating, with a focus on how many chemicals and toxic ingredients are in there. Despite feeling quite clued up I was sad to see a few of my favourites were close to the 10 mark (i.e. full of chemicals) so it's quite enlightening.

It's also worth keeping a list that's with you at all times for recording either the products you've reacted to and their ingredients, or for simply listing the ingredients you know you don't want on your face .

"If you regularly react to products and don’t know why, keep a product diary so you can monitor the products irritating your skin and more easily identify common ingredients amongst them," advises Sarah. I use Evernote , a brilliant app as it's synced across my work and home computers plus my phone, and keep note of anything I want to avoid so that I can do a quick check when I'm shopping.

Over to you! What tricks do you use to avoid reactions? Do you stick to the same brand or insist on samples for patch testing? Let me know in the comments!

Follow Judy on  Instagram  and  Twitter  @JudyJourno. This article was updated in Oct 2017