The Skin-Care Trends You Should Try If You Have Sensitive Skin

Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
There’s no denying that skin care itself is a trend now. When I was at school, I had friends who saw it as a badge of honor to have a routine consisting of only tap water and a glob of toothpaste on a zit. These friends now proudly post photos of their latest skin-care haul, send me late-night texts asking at what step in their regimen a toner goes, and join the waiting list for new serums. It’s not all down to a shift in responsibility, as we’re all still in our early 20s and consider ordering anything other than the house white at happy hour sophisticated: It’s because the veritable boom in the skin-care sector has made facials, lotions, and tools as desirable as luxury handbags.
This is all well and good (for our complexions and for the brands that shill us products), but if you’ve got sensitive skin, it’s easy to feel sidelined. While millions of people across the world have rosacea, information on sensitive, reactive skin and how it might respond to these buzzy treatments isn't so plentiful. So I asked cosmetic doctor and rosacea sufferer, Dr. Sarah Tonks of The Lovely Clinic, how she navigates the waters. "If you have rosacea, you just need to be more careful. You can’t be flinging things on your face with abandon," she explains. "The skin of many rosacea sufferers may also be sensitive and easily irritated." But, she says, there are still lots of products and treatments the sensitive-skinned can use.
In terms of things to avoid, Dr. Tonks name-checks peppermint oil, witch hazel, clove oil, and salicylic acid, so make sure the face mask you just bought at the suggestion of your favorite blogger isn’t about to give you a fright. "If you’re not careful, you can end up with something called perioral dermatitis as a reaction to a treatment — I’ve had it and it’s a pain to get rid of. I always advocate a more softly-softly approach," Dr. Tonks adds. She also cautions against peels, both at home and in-clinic. "It does depend on the health of the skin, but I probably wouldn’t suggest a peel to a client because it’s only going to irritate the skin and make it worse," she says. "If you can get the rosacea under control a bit first, then you can do it. That’s exactly what happens to me — when I have a flare-up, I don’t use those products, and when it’s under control I do."
Then, my personal favorite: micro-needling. I use the GloPro at home twice a week, but according to Dr. Tonks, if you have rosacea, that’s not such a hot idea. "The smaller the needles, the smaller the risk; however, I still wouldn’t really suggest micro-needling on active rosacea because it can cause irritation. If you’re not having an episode, try with 0.1mm needles and see if your skin can handle it," she explains. "Laser therapy would be a better option for tackling visible blood vessels or extensive redness."
It’s not all bad news — Dr. Tonks said injectables like Botox or fillers are fine, as is Instagram’s favorite facial: Platelet-Rich Plasma, aka the "Vampire Facial". Retinol is also fine to use, but again, start very gradually. SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5% is a good place to begin, once or twice a week.
If you’re looking for a real radiance-imparting treatment, mesotherapy, which Dr. Tonks offers in her clinic, might work for you. It involves a number of minuscule injections of vitamins and hyaluronic acid into the skin, and it’s nowhere near as scary (or painful!) as it sounds — most people say it feels like using a gritty face scrub. One often-used ingredient is glutathione, which has proven brightening capabilities. Of course, you might experience some redness immediately after the treatment, but it’ll be much kinder than a peel.
I know I’m forever saying this, but it bears repeating: always go to a reputable, doctor-led clinic. This is universally true, but especially if you have a condition like rosacea. You need to see somebody who knows exactly how to handle your skin type. That SkinCeuticals retinol was the first I ever used and I can attest to its brilliance, so scoop that up, and think about mesotherapy if you want a dramatic result for a big event. If it’s your bag, injectables and PRP are all okay, too. Just remember the golden rule: Go easy. Your skin is not the enemy.

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