Traditionally, the problem with most sensitive skin products has been that they’re designed to do no more than their basic function in a way that won’t cause irritation. But what if you want all those other skin care benefits that the non-sensitive folk are lucky enough to have? From blemish-busting creams to the latest innovations in anti-ageing , it’s hard not to feel left out when you’re shopping for sensitive skin ; yes, you may need a gentler touch that’s predominately soothing, but how can you fix other issues at the same time?
Cosmetic Dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting says it’s all in the actives; whether you’re spot-prone or suffering with redness, your skin care routine won’t vary too much, but there should always be a step in there that addresses your skin concern alongside the sensitivity.
Step up your skincare with Dr Bunting’s top tips and key product picks…
If you’re… Sensitive and Spot-Prone
"It might seem counter-intuitive, but skin can be dry, sensitive and spot-prone all at the same time. The key points are to support the skin carefully to enable the use of actives that unclog pores and calm inflamed blemishes.
"This means a non-foaming cleanser, an anti-inflammatory agent in the morning and some flexibility with moisturiser, as this skin-type will often vary in how much support they need from their moisturiser. Then at night a retinoid is key for preventing comedones, depending on what can be tolerated. Finally, a non-clogging sunscreen is essential."
So which products should be on your shopping list?
"I should point out that these skincare basics may well apply to more than just the acneic group – they are good all-rounders, in my book,” explains Dr Bunting. “Try La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo , £16, for the morning; Avene TriAcnéal Expert , £23, for evening; La Roche-Posay Toleriane Riche , £16, or Effaclar H , £16, for moisturiser, depending on skin’s needs. For sunscreen, I like Heliocare Gel SPF50 , £21, or Epionce Ultra Shield Lotion SPF50 , £29.50."
Dr Bunting recommends starting your routine slowly, using these products every other night at first. "Build up to daily use over a few weeks; try applying actives over moisturiser, if skin is really sensitive. It should be noted that this is often a tricky one to tackle alone, so it is often worth seeing a dermatologist for the initial routine structuring to avoid irritancy, at least in the first instance.” Check out Dr Bunting’s video on acne-prone skin here .
If you’re... Sensitive and Ageing
Potent anti-ageing creams and sensitive skin may not mix, but there is plenty you can do to ward off wrinkles simply by choosing your active products carefully. "This is a very common skin-type in the UK – thin, pigmentation- and wrinkle-prone skin which is often fair and therefore susceptible to cumulative UV damage,” says Dr Bunting. "The Holy Trinity of anti-ageing is retinoid , antioxidant and SPF use, and this is a highly effective long-term strategy for many of my patients.
"To begin with, we’ll often just start with a retinoid at night combined with daily sunscreen. Gradual introduction e.g. every third night is implemented and it’s a three month project to build up to daily retinoid use. At that point I will often add in a vitamin C serum – I will start with lower percentages (5-10%) than I would with normal skin and again, build up slowly.
"I would tend to use a similar cleanser to the sensitive/acne prone skin-type and a moisturiser like Obagi Hydrate , £37.99, which delivers hydration with oomph but not greasiness. Physical sunblock that’s as elegant as makeup is key – Neostrata Sheer Protection SPF50 , £37.40 is great, as physical filters are much less irritating in sensitive skin."
You can find out more about sunscreen filters and the best SPF ingredients for sensitive skin here .
MORE GLOSS: Everything you need to know about retinol and retinoids
If you’re… Sensitive and dry
This one is very common - sensitive skin is often lacking in hydration. "The first thing with this group is to find a basic cleanser and moisturiser that leave skin comfortable, with no tightness and a smooth surface. I often find Cetaphil Gentle Cleanser and Moisturising Cream , £8.99 work wonders in this group,” advises Dr Bunting.
"Once their barrier is working well, we can consider adding actives, and again it’s one at a time, to avoid creating confusion over what’s not working. If there is a tendency to something like atopic eczema or product reactivity/allergy (as is common in this group), then a clear strategy needs to be put in place for that and a dermatologist’s opinion should be sought.
"I like the ingredient niacinamide in those who are dry and sensitive as it boosts ceramide production, helps with uneven skin tone and can help maintain collagen store. The Olay Regenerist Regenerating Serum , £21.69, contains good levels and is now available in a fragrance-free version. And of course, UV protection is vital. I find a more moisturising formulation works well and Skinceuticals Mineral Radiance UV Defence , £35, is a good option."
If you’re… Sensitive and oily
"This is relatively rare – oily skin is usually thick and therefore tolerant,” explains Dr Bunting. "The main advice is to avoid oil-based products; you may not even need moisturiser. The key is to avoid irritants and maintain and protect skin, without provoking common associated issues like acne. Key actives include retinoids, salicylic acid (which is anti-inflammatory and useful at cutting through excess oil to exfoliate the pores, to keep them clear) and sun protection that doesn’t make shine even more of an issue.”
Top of the list? "I like the Obagi Clenziderm Foaming Cleanser , £31.50, for very oily skin with a tendency to blemishes – otherwise, stick to the cleanser mentioned for those with acne and sensitive skin."
Follow this with a sunscreen. "I like Jan Marini Physical Protectant SPF 30 , £53, as it’s super-matte, behaving more like an oil-reducing primer."
If you’re… Sensitive and redness-prone
"Those who are prone to redness commonly suffer from rosacea or are on the rosacea spectrum. If there’s any doubt about this, it would be worth seeing a dermatologist as there are a number of other causes, and diagnosis is important,” Dr Bunting advises.
“In those with rosacea-prone skin, we are dealing with a tendency to react to certain skincare products so it’s wise to build a routine slowly, adding one new product at a time, rather than blitzing skin and making it angry.
"Again I like simple, non-foaming products for cleansing (physical exfoliants are an absolute no-no in my book) and a supportive moisturiser as barrier function is often impaired in this group,” says Dr Bunting. Try Eucerin Anti Redness Soothing Care , £20.50.
“My active agent of choice is azelaic acid – it reduces redness, inflamed spots and is a good chemical exfoliant. This is best found on prescription; I mostly use Finacea with Obagi’s Professional-C 10% serum."
This article is an extract from my downloadable e-guide, A Beginner's Guide to Sensitive Skin . Need more advice for reactive, hypersensitive skin? Download your copy now for product recommendations and much, much more. You might also like my list of the best cleansers for sensitive skin types
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