I’ve Tried Hundreds Of ‘Sensitive’ Skin Products – Here’s What I Recommend

I’m not sure which came first: deciding I wanted to be a beauty journalist or discovering I react to a lot of products. I always wanted to write, but it was the constant battle of shopping for so-called 'sensitive' formulas only to develop yet another rash that started my obsession with skincare.
Frustrated by the lack of clarity, I decided to learn as much as I could, which is a bit of an occupational hazard. I’ve worked in the beauty industry for a decade and testing products is a (privileged) part of the job. Yet while my colleagues can spritz perfume with abandon and apply retinol with barely a second thought, I have to patch test everything religiously or risk another itchy reaction.
The problem is, everyone’s skin is different – and it doesn’t help that there’s no official definition, either. "Sensitivity is not actually a medical diagnosis," London-based consultant dermatologist Dr Justine Kluk tells me. "It’s a catch-all term to describe symptoms such as redness, flushing, burning, stinging, itching, dryness and flaking."
Certain conditions can make your skin more sensitive, due to a compromised skin barrier. "Eczema, rosacea and urticaria (hives) are some of the most common culprits," says Dr Kluk. "Dry skin alone can cause skin to be irritable. In rarer cases, the user may be allergic to an ingredient." But while there may not be a one-size-fits-all solution, there are ingredients that are known triggers, including acids, retinol, fragrance, soaps and foaming agents such as sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS).
Our own beauty dabbling can make matters worse. "Sufferers will often trial multiple products to overcome their symptoms, so agents that may otherwise cause mild irritation are used consecutively or combined, and lower the threshold for severe irritation," Dr Kluk warns.
Therein lies the rub. By trying so many products, I could sensitise my skin further. However, I’ve also learned what to avoid (my number one nemesis being fragrance) and which products I swear by for calmer, more tolerant skin. Of course, not everyone's skin is the same, but here’s my edit of the products I turn to even in the throes of a reaction…
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