Know the rules to buying products for easily-irritated skin

Finding suitable products can be tricky if you’ve got easily-irritated skin — but it is possible, once you know the ‘rules’, experts tell Katie Wright.

Know the rules to buying products for easily-irritated skin

ARE rashes, itchiness, blotchiness or stinging all too common whenever you try out a new skincare product, or do they flare up with environmental changes or stress?

Then it probably won’t come as news to hear your skin is classed as ‘sensitive’, and as such, it requires extra TLC.

So what causes these irksome flare-ups?

“There are three potential initiators,” explains Sally Penford, education manager at Dermalogica.

“Allergens that may stimulate an immune response, chemicals that stimulate a nerve response, and emotional and physical stress that can induce a nerve response.”

That means you need to choose the products you use carefully, in order to avoid irritating ingredients and soothe stressed-out skin.

“What’s interesting is that besides common allergens like artificial fragrance, anyone can become sensitised to anything at any time,” Penford adds, which is why it’s useful for everyone to know the common causes.

We asked three experts how to ensure a daily skincare regime that’s effective but not aggravating...


Whatever the product, there is, unfortunately, a whole laundry list of potentially harmful ingredients it’s best to steer clear of.

“As a general rule for sensitive skin, I’d avoid sodium lauryl/laureth sulphate, soap, AHAs/BHAs, salicylic acid, high fragrance, colourants and alcohol,” says Kendra Flockhart, at Darphin Paris.

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is commonly used in skincare, particularly in cleansing products, due to its lathering effect.

“However, I’m of the option that you should avoid harsh chemicals such as SLS, as they strip the skin of its goodness,” says Dr Justine Hextall, dermatologist on behalf of The Harley Medical Group.

“Alcohol strips the skin of its natural oils and leads to a loss of water in the skin’s upper layer. Use water-based products instead.”

“For reactive skin, I prefer to recommend a three-in-one product, such as Darphin Azahar Micellar Water, as this reduces the [number of] products/ingredients being introduced to skin, and there’s no need for water, which can also lead to skin sensitivity,” Flockhart adds.

* Darphin Azahar Cleansing Micellar Water, €29.95 (, plus p&p)

* Aveda ‘All-Sensitive’ cleanser, €25 (

* Burt’s bees ‘Sensitive’ facial cleanser €9.33 (


“Excessive exfoliation is a common sensitizer,” Flockhart warns. “And some ingredients can be very active, such as AHAs, which are very stimulating and sometimes too aggressive for sensitive skin.”

Hextall advises: “Switch from a physical scrub — one that contains ingredients like grains and salts that help manually scrub or scratch the skin to dislodge dead skin cells — to a ‘chemical’ scrub, if your skin is acting up after using a physical scrub.”

* Beauty Kitchen Miracle Mother Nature Facial Konjac Sponge, €6.99, Holland & Barrett (

* Dermalogica Daily Superfoliant, €67.99 (


Applied after cleansing and before moisturising, a serum can help to calm inflammation and counteract redness.

“Dermalogica has developed a proprietary blend of botanical extracts coined UltraCalming Complex, which contains key actives that target the symptoms of immunogenic and neurogenic inflammation, to help reduce and prevent future sensitivity, redness and irritation,” Penford says.

Always test new products before applying liberally to your skin, Dr Hextall recommends.

“Place a small test patch on your skin at least 48 hours before using to check for any redness, irritation or inflammation.”

Dermalogica UltraCalming Serum Concentrate, €58.99 (

Avene Hydrance Optimale Hydrating Serum, €24.99 (


The final step in your skincare routine should be tailored to your particular sensitivity, Flockhart says: “If it’s an allergic/reactive skin concern, always opt for products that are light in texture and readily absorbed, and avoid moisturisers which contain fragrance and colour.

“If the sensitivity is more associated with high colour/flushing, I’d opt for a product which contains a green hue to counteract redness, such as Darphin Intral Redness Relief Recovery Cream.

“If the skin is more prone to irritation/dryness, I’d suggest a richer texture to protect skin from environmental aggressors.”

* Avene Rich Skin Recovery Cream, currently reduced to €16.50 from €22 (

* Darphin Intral Redness Relief Recovery Cream, €57.50 (

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