The reality of having sensitive skin is that your skin is freaking out every now and then. You could have a good few weeks and keep your dry itchy skin under control. But then, one new product might ruin your efforts, and now you are dealing with hypersensitive skin. I’ve been there so many times as it’s a part of my job to test skincare products regularly. Over the years, I developed my skincare kit to go back to when I needed to soothe my reactive skin.
Disclosure: Everything you read in this post is not medical advice. Often the cause of dry itchy skin could be a symptom of a dermatological problem that you need to discuss with your doctor. I’m talking exclusively about situations when I tested a new product my skin didn’t like, so now I need to recover my irritated skin and get it back to normal.
What is reactive skin?
In a nutshell, reactive skin and sensitive skin are synonyms. Both are not medical but lay terms to describe skin with reduced tolerance and unpleasant sensations related to the application of skincare products.
In cosmetology, there is an entire industry created around sensitive skin concerns. Such products feature skin-soothing ingredients designed to alleviate some reactive skin symptoms. Or feature a lower percentage of actives to provide gentler results.
These are some of the signs that you might have sensitive skin:
- Skincare products burn or sting your skin. From a cleanser to sunscreen, any skincare product could bring unpleasant sensations. If that happens to you often, you might have sensitive skin.
- You have dry itchy skin. Sometimes it’s a sign of a medical condition, sometimes just a reaction to introducing a new skincare product. If you are experiencing this symptom, eliminate a medical cause first and only then conclude if you are dealing with reactive skin.
- You notice redness. Most people with hypersensitive skin experience redness: bumps, rash, flushing, etc. Usually, when you eliminate the irritant, reactive skin calms down. If it doesn’t happen, you might need to consult with a derm on your medical condition.
- You are reactive to fragrances. Frequently perfumes and essential oils trigger people with sensitive skin. Typically, fragrance-free products cause more minor irritation to many people struggling with reactive skin types.
Best products for sensitive skin
Everyone’s skin is different. It might take months or years to determine how your skin reacts to specific ingredients. Some of the typical skin irritants are fragrances, acids, Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), oils, and preservatives.
Depending on what your skin is reactive to, read the ingredients labels carefully and try to avoid such actives. Your dermatologist would be able to assist you with trying to figure out triggers for your reactive skin.
Below, I list some of the most gentle skincare products that work the best for my sensitive skin.
Best face wash for sensitive skin
When it comes to finding the best face wash for reactive skin, I have a few parameters in mind. First and foremost, no acids. Glycolic acid is an ingredient my skin has a love-hate relationship, so I’m trying to eliminate it from everyday usage as much as possible. Second: the formula must be non-comedogenic, i.e., suitable for people with acne-prone skin. Finally, it’s all about the product’s texture; if it doesn’t lather well, I’m not into it.
These are some of the best face wash finds that stand the test of time:
- La Roche-Posay Toleriane Purifying Foaming Cleanser. This gentle gel cleanser for normal and oily sensitive skin has been my favorite for years. It features the most delicate texture, suitable even for removing eye makeup. No fragrance, which is ideal for reactive skin. And naturally soothing, minerals-rich prebiotic thermal water.
- Bioderma Sensibio Foaming Facial Cleansing Gel. I think of this product as micellar water in a foamy cleanser form. Unfragranced and soap-free, this gentle cleanser gently removes makeup and leaves the skin feeling comfortable.
- Fresh Soy Cleanser. This sensitive skin gem comes in a mini size ideal for traveling. I often bring it on a trip as it’s gentle, convenient, and non-irritative, even for the delicate around the eyes area.
What is the best moisturizer for sensitive skin?
A good moisturizer is half the work done if you have dry, itchy skin. It’s also one of the most challenging products to find if you have sensitive skin. I find most reactive skin products are too thick and have an unpleasant scent.
Over the years of dealing with my hypersensitive skin, I found only two products that I can confidently recommend. I use my ride or die Toleriane UV SPF 30 during the day and Sensibio Light Soothing Cream at night. This skincare duo helped me go through the most reactive skin periods I experienced throughout the years.
- La Roche-Posay Toleriane UV SPF 30. Suppose you ask me to name one skincare product that I swear by and always have on hand, this gentle moisturizer and sunscreen combo by La Roche-Posay. It features the most delicate and pleasant texture I can’t get enough of. Most importantly, this non-comedogenic and oil-free product works even when my skin is at its most irritated state.
- Bioderma Sensibio Light Soothing Cream. I purchased this sensitive skin gem in Paris as a part of my try-on for the best products to buy at French pharmacies, and I fell in for it ever since. This gentle, non-greasy moisturizer instantly soothes my skin and leaves it nourished. I often use it as a night cream after irritating Vitamin-C or retinoid serums to help smooth the skin while these actives are in action.
Do you need toner for sensitive skin?
There is a considerable debate in the skincare community about whether you need to use toner. Back in the day, a toner was a must-use step to balance your skin’s pH level after washing your face. Since modern-day cleansers are pH balanced, this step seems redundant. But if you have hypersensitive skin, some of the post-cleanser mists and toners might help you to soothe your reactive skin.
These are mists and toners that help when my skin feels particularly sensitive:
- Avene Thermal Water. Minerals-reach thermal water is a beauty hack that no one seems to follow, but it truly works. Every time my skin is irritated, I’m spritzing myself with this truly magical product every hour or so to accumulate the power of minerals that are clinically shown to soothe, soften and calm sensitive skin.
- Perricone MD Hypoallergenic CBD Rebalancing Elixir. When it comes to skincare, products that contain CBD are new on the market. But this hypersensitive skin-soothing toner convinces me that CBD could be ideal for reactive skin like mine. I keep coming back to this balancing product that calms down my skin’s redness and helps to eliminate dryness.
Cover photo by Miguel Oliver Photography.