Skincare products + tips for irritated or sensitive skin
While I don’t normally have sensitive skin, I’ve had my share of irritated skin from over-exfoliating, and both scenarios require the same gentle products to restore and reinforce my skin’s barrier. Here are my products and tips to help you start building your ultra-repairing skincare routine.
Cleanse – Cerave Hydrating Cleanser
Reviewed here. Not the most fun or luxurious cleanser to use by a long mile, but it’s gentle, affordable, and perfect when your skin is having a meltdown. For oily skin or those living in humid climates, the Cerave Foaming Cleanser is still super gentle but cleans a bit better thanks to the foaming action
A few more products I enjoy:
- Lily de Mai Renew Calming Cleanser* lives up to its name and is and full of skin-restoring ingredients, but it’s also 10x the price.
- Bliss Rose Gold Rescue Gentle Foaming Cleanser* is similar to the Cerave Foaming Cleanser but sparks much more joy without breaking the bank.
- Glossier Milky Jelly Cleanser uses the same cleansing agent as contact lens solution so you know it’s super gentle. It’s the more fun-to-use version of the Cerave Hydrating Cleanser, but still relatively affordable.
- Live Botanical Aer Fresh Complexion cleanser is a great non-foaming “green” option that uses apple amino acids as its only cleansing agent. It’s also pH balanced (as with all the other cleansers listed here).
- Bioderma Sensibio Micellar Water is a HG for me – extremely gentle but still effective enough to remove light makeup., While it doesn’t leave a film behind, I still recommend rinsing with water afterwards.
Tone – Tunemakers Moisture Lotion
Reviewed here. This has replaced my favorite Klairs Supple Preparation Toner as the new hg due to its simpler yet equally skin-beneficial ingredients: honey to nourish, hyaluronic acid to hydrate, and ceramides to repair, all which are crucial when your skin barrier is compromised. I also used this during my post-facial laser recovery without any issues!
A few more products I enjoy:
- Lily de Mai Bliss Mist* is a calming and hydrating mist that makes me feel bougie af whenever I spray it. The botanical extracts also makes it smell like cotton candy!
- La Roche Posay Thermal Water is about as gentle as you can get. It’s plain H2O that’s full of micro minerals that are beneficial to the skin. Great for layering between skincare steps!
- Klairs Supple Preparation Facial Toner Unscented has the exact same hydrating and calming ingredients as the original version, but without the sensitizing essential oils. This also feels lighter than the original, so good for combo/oily skin!
- Odacité Aloe + Immortelle Hydra-Repair Treatment Mist is soothing, hydrating, and just an all-around beautiful mist that I truly miss having in my routine! Reviewed here.
I’ve tried my fair share of repairing/hydrating serums when my skin was irritated, and this one delivers the best all-around usage experience, ingredients, results, and value. The lightweight gel texture absorbs quickly and layers well under products, but most importantly it keeps my skin hydrated all day long. Key ingredients include hyaluronic acid and collagen for retaining moisture, aloe + colloidal oatmeal + licorice root extract +panthenol to soothe.
A few more products I enjoy:
- Skin Actives Every Lipid Serum is a thicker oil, but it’s full of wonderful fatty acids & ceramides that will help repair your damaged barrier. They also have a vegan version! Use my referral link to get 10% off your first order
- Darphin INTRAL Redness Relief Soothing Serum* was literally made for sensitive skin and using it has made my skin more resilient in the long rum! It’s expensive and it feels expensive, a good option if you have deep wallets and bougie tastes. Reviewed here.
- Odacite Ca + C Camelina Chamomile Serum Concentrate is actually a booster oil, and just a few drops in your moisturizer will help tremendously with calming down redness and inflammation. Expensive and tiny, but a little goes a long way.
- COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence is an affordable soothing serum that’s been especially useful for treating sunburned skin (not me, my husband, because that man refuses to wear sunscreen). Plus it’s super affordable! Reviewed here.
- SKIN&LAB Barrierderm Repair Ampoule* is specifically designed to repair a damaged moisture barrier while moisturizing the skin. It’s affordable and has a lovely texture, but I do wish they didn’t include the ylang ylang essential oil, even if it’s at the end of the ingredient list.
- Cerave Skin Renewing Gel Oil* is a lightweight oil that contains fatty acids and 5 types of ceramides to restore our skin’s moisture barrier. An affordable options if you have dry skin and want that extra moisture.
Moisturize – La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Baume B5
Reviewed here. Literally cannot NOT have this cream in my stash, as its soothing and repairing abilities are second to none. A thick layer of this and my skin feels instantly soothed, and by next morning my skin looks and feels much better already. Plus I love that it’s multipurpose – you can use this on any skin irritations (rash, burns, bug bites) and it’s gentle enough for kids too.
A few more products that aren’t bad:
- Creme de La Mer – Before you burn me at stake for including this, I swear it works, and it works well. Skin feels soft, supple, and soothed after using this and if I ever win the lottery I wouldn’t mind making this my regular night cream.
- Nivea Creme isn’t quite the dupe for La Mer as people claim. It doesn’t have any repairing/soothing properties, but it does an amazing job at locking in moisture when your skin’s own moisture barrier is compromised. And it’s $1. Reviewed here.
- SKIN&LAB Barrierderm Repair Balm* feels thick at first but melts into a beautiful oil when massaged into the skin. It has the same restorative and calming ingredients as the ampoule, minus the essential oil, and is a a nice option for those who prefer the luxurious balm texture without the hefty price tag.
- Rovectin Barrier Repair Cream Concentrate* actually reminds me more of the La Mer than the Nivea Creme, in that this not only helps lock moisture in but it also has antioxidants, ceramides, and fatty acids to protect and repair the skin.
Ingredients to look for and avoid
Of course you don’t have to follow the above routine to a tee, you don’t even have to use any of those products! What’s important is knowing which ingredients will help your situation, and which will only make things worse:
- Centella asiatica extract not only has wound healing and anti-inflammatory properties, it can also help increase hyaluronic acid production in our skin, boosting our skin’s natural moisture retention ability. Also look for asiaticoside, madecassoside, asiatic acid, and madecassic acid in the INCI, these are the active compounds in this plant extract.
- Aloe vera is often used on sun burns for a good reason, it’s anti-inflammatory and has wound healing properties, plus it’s commonly found in products!
- Colloidal oatmeal, aka oat kernel extract or avena sativa kernel extract, is commonly used to relieve eczema symptoms. It’s actually considered an “active ingredient” by the FDA, which means its soothing and skin-protecting properties have been well-studied and proven to effective!
- A compromised moisture barrier often goes hand-in-hand with sensitive/irritated skin, so look ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids (found in oils) to repair and reinforce that barrier!
- As a result of the compromised barrier, our skin’s ability to retain moisture also suffers, so humectants like hyaluronic acid, beta glucan, sodium pca, or collagen will help keep your skin from drying out.
- Niacinamide is an amazing ingredient all-around, but especially for sensitive/irritated skin because it’s anti-inflammatory and can help repair our skin barrier by increasing ceramide production!
- Alcohol is often used to enhance product texture and penetration. While normal skin might tolerate it, I definitely would avoid this if you have sensitive or irritated skin. Also labeled as ethanol in INCI, but don’t get it mixed up with the good alcohols like certeryl alcohol!
- Any actives like retinol, AHAs (glycolic, lactic, mandelic, citric acid), BHAs (salicylic acid), and ascorbic acid are usually fantastic for your skin, but not so much when your barrier has been compromised. Overusing these is often what leads to irritated skin in the first place!
- Fragrance and essential oils can enhance the sensory experience of a product, and usually I’m all for that, but not when skin is sensitive or irritated. Stick to fragrance-free if possible
A few more skincare tips
When it comes to irritated and sensitive skin, less is always more. Or as I like to say “mo’ products, mo’ problems“. Each new ingredient you’re introducing is another possibility of irritation, so slow down, and give your skin what it actually needs, not what you think it needs.
Patience is key. Some products may provide instant relief, but it takes time to restore and reinforce your moisture barrier back to its healthy state. So just because the redness is gone doesn’t mean we should start piling on the products again. Personally I like to give myself at least 3 weeks before I slowly start introducing old products back in my routine.
I hope you found this post helpful! What are your go-to products when your skin isn’t at 100%?