I don’t have any skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis, thankfully, but that doesn’t make it any easier to manage. I patch test everything at least three times, and despite multiple allergic reactions I am none the wiser as to what exactly I need to avoid; I steer clear of synthetic fragrance (perfume is guaranteed to give me a rash – experts claim it’s ageing, anyway), avoid chemical SPF (better for both sensitive skin and the planet, hurrah) and use essential oils sparingly, but otherwise it’s a case of trial and error.
I have a bit of an occupational hazard. As a beauty journalist I have the chance to try all sorts of skincare, haircare and makeup in order to report on the latest products that are worth adding to your bathroom shelfies – but I also have ridiculously sensitive skin. And I mean really sensitive. While the term has been overused to describe a skin type (often on the drier side and prone to redness), when I say sensitive I essentially mean reactive. I’ve been known to innocently slather on a hand cream only to then have an angry, itchy, bumpy red rash spreading down to my wrists within hours simply because I didn’t check the ingredients carefully enough – something I now have to do religiously with every product that hits my desk.
I remember my skin reacting from my early teens, which I’m sure is no coincidence given that’s when I got into skincare and makeup – though back then it was more a case of spot-clearing face washes and clear mascara – but since then I have made it my mission to learn more about my own sensitive skin and others’. Unfortunately for me, trying new products and frequently changing up your skincare isn’t recommended if you have oversensitive skin; finding a soothing, strengthening routine is the key.
I won’t be switching careers any time soon, but I do have a go-to routine that forms the base of my skincare to keep things on an even keel if I’m trying something new. If I’ve been particularly stressed (it’s an important factor in how reactive my skin will be, as is gut health), I’ve had a reaction or there’s a dramatic change in the weather (winter = a whole new batch of problems), here are the tried and trusted favourites that help me keep calm and able to carry on testing…
Pai Camellia & Rose Gentle Hydrating Cleanser, £30
If you have sensitive or dry skin, look first at your cleanser as the possible culprit. This was one of the first beauty lessons I learned as an oversensitive journalist, and ditching the face wipes (I know, I know) and switching to Pai’s nourishing creamy cleanser made all the difference. The organic brand is designed specifically for sensitive skin and the hero cleanser has been exactly that – it’s rescued my dry, sore and sometimes itchy skin many a time. Heaven.
Vichy Mineral89, £22
French pharmacy skincare should be your first stop if you’re looking for sensitive-friendly products, and Vichy’s Mineral89 serum is a definite must-have. If you’re not sure what you react to, paring back your routine is a good idea but it’s even better to choose products with minimal INCI lists. Formulated with just 11 ingredients, this serum uses hyaluronic acid – AKA the ultimate skin-plumper – to hydrate the skin and boost the delicate barrier. If reactions are an issue, strengthening the outer skin barrier is the goal (because a better barrier means healthier, more resilient skin) and this lightweight bestseller is my go-to.
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Ultra Fluid, £17.50
Another French favourite, the Toleriane range is a no-brainer if you have sensitive, dry or reactive skin. I use this super thin fluid every morning (they have a great night version too) for smooth, soothed skin. For barrier-boosting bonus points, spritz their Ultra 8 Daily Hydrating Soothing Concentrate throughout the day – instant relief in a bottle.
Ultrasun Family 30 SPF, £25
It took me years to realise that the reason I spent every holiday covered in a hot, itchy rash was not simply down to prickly heat, but to the very sunscreens I was slathering on to protect my fair skin in the sun. I ditched perfume-laden products that I used to buy on offer at the airport and now swear by this once-a-day SPF from Ultrasun. It’s free from fragrance and oils, doesn’t clog pores (so chances of heat rash are reduced) and is of course broad spectrum – protecting your skin is vital if your barrier is thin or compromised. I wear it daily come rain or shine.
Superdrug Simply Pure Hydrating Night Serum, £3.99
The best thing about being sensitive is that often the most gentle brands are budget-friendly ones – such as Superdrug’s own range. Another hyaluronic acid-filled serum, Simply Pure drenches skin with moisture and has an impressive ingredients list that includes glycerin and squalane. It leaves my complexion feeling instantly soothed and I recommend it to everyone, regardless of their skin type.
Dr Sam Bunting Flawless Moisturiser, £25
Can’t afford to see a derm? Try the next best thing, with skincare created by one of the best cosmetic dermatologists in the business. Dr Sam Bunting has been on my beauty speed dial for skincare advice for years, and her own range is a safe bet for sensitive types. I love using the moisturiser at night – it’s rich, non-comedogenic, and contains 5% of the wonder ingredient niacinamide for that all-important barrier building.