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5 Skincare Mistakes to Avoid for Sensitive Skin

April 17, 2021

5 Skincare Mistakes to Avoid for Sensitive Skin

Does your skin easily become red and inflamed, or does it sting, itch, or burn easily? You most likely have sensitive skin.

The sensitive skin category covers a variety of skin conditions, such as rosacea and eczema. However, someone can have sensitive skin without having a specific diagnosis from a dermatologist. In some cases, sensitive skin can be genetic, while in others, it’s brought on by particular factors, such as age, hormones, or even certain medications.

No matter where you may fall on the spectrum, it’s important to ensure that you’re following a skincare routine that helps to soothe your sensitive skin, rather than work against it. Keep reading to learn about 5 skincare mistakes to avoid as well as some better alternatives to keep your complexion calm and nourished.

Mistake #1: Using Harsh Products

This might seem obvious, but using too harsh of products can really take a toll on sensitive skin. Using scrubs and strong treatments are obvious no-go’s, but there may be particular ingredients hiding in your products that are harming your skin.

Some ingredients you might want to watch out for include:

  • Fragrance: Many skincare products contain fragrance. While this can create a pleasant experience when applying the product, fragrance can be very irritating to skin, especially if you are more prone to flare-ups. To be on the safe side, it’s best to search for products labeled as “fragrance-free.” This will ensure you’re avoiding fragrance and any of the other chemicals that may be associated with it.
  • AlcoholAlcohol is commonly found in toners and is known for its ability to dry down quickly. This ingredient can have its place in a skincare routine, but it may be too harsh and drying for sensitive skin types. If you notice that alcohol creates a tight, dry feeling in the skin, avoid it altogether. There are plenty of products specifically formulated for sensitive skin, many of which are alcohol-free.
  • SulfatesSulfates, such as sodium lauryl sulfate and ammonium lauryl sulfate, are what make skincare products foam and lather. These ingredients have become controversial in the past few years, as they have been shown to clog pores and cause acne for those with sensitive skin.
  • Coconut Oil: Some skin types are able to handle coconut oil, but it may not be the best choice for those with sensitive skin. Coconut oil is highly comedogenic, so it’s likely to clog pores and lead to breakouts and irritation.
  • Crushed Walnut & Fruit Pits: Crushed walnut particles and fruit pits, like ground apricot kernels, are commonly found in natural scrubs. No matter how tiny they are, the irregular shape of these particles are too abrasive and can create microscopic tears in the skin. Over time, this can cause damage to the skin’s protective layer.

Alternative: Fortunately, there are many skincare products on the market today that are formulated specifically for sensitive skin. Always do your research and choose products with a simple list of gentle ingredients. When in doubt, consult with a dermatologist for specific product recommendations.

Mistake #2: Switching Products Too Often

If you’re a skincare junkie, it’s hard to pass up the latest and greatest products to hit the market. However, if you have sensitive skin, switching products too frequently or using too many different ingredients can cause irritation and throw off the skin’s natural balance.

When introducing new products into your routine, start slow. This will help you to identify how each product interacts with your skin, and if irritation occurs, you’re more likely to know which product caused it.

Plus, many skincare products require consistent, long-term use to see results—so if you’re switching out products too often, you’re most likely slowing your progress and not getting your money’s worth for each product.

Alternative: When it comes to treating sensitive skin, the more simple your routine, the better. Avoid combining too many products with active ingredients, and be sure to give each product a full run before moving on to the next (unless you have an allergic reaction, of course).

As a general rule of thumb, some dermatologists say it’s best to use a product consistently for four to six weeks before expecting results. Of course, this depends on the potency and strength of the product. For example, a peel may lead to softer, clearer skin almost immediately, whereas the promises of a sunscreen will be seen over time. 

Mistake #3: Not Cleansing Properly

Being gentle with your skin doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be cleansing and exfoliating. In fact, cleansing is especially important for sensitive skin types, as it will remove dirt, oil, and dead skin cells from the surface of the skin—which can all lead to irritation.

The key to cleansing sensitive skin is to use the right cleanser. Rather than using a formula that will strip the skin, look for a gentle hydrating formula. Cleansing balms, oils, and gentle foaming washes are all great options. Just be sure to steer clear of the harmful ingredients mentioned above.

It’s also important to exfoliate the skin anywhere from one to three times per week. This will help to give your skin a deep clean and slough away dead skin cells, revealing fresh skin underneath.

Depending on your preference, you can use a physical exfoliator (like a light scrub) or a chemical exfoliator, such as one formulated with glycolic acid. This will remove dead skin cells, aid in the regeneration of new skin cells, and minimize the appearance of pores.

Alternative: It’s best to cleanse your skin morning and night. If your skin is very sensitive, you can skip the cleanser in the morning and use just water, or even a gentle micellar water. No matter what, always take the time to cleanse your skin at night and never sleep with makeup on, as this can lead to a variety of skin issues. 

Mistake #4: Picking at Your Face

Whether it’s from a dermatologist or your mom growing up, you’ve probably been told to not pick at your face. Doing so can lead to irritation and infection, and over time, scars and wrinkles.

Our hands have germs on them, and even if you wash them, they aren’t 100% clean. Every time you touch or pick at your face, you transfer those germs from your hands to your face. This bacteria can cause additional breakouts and further irritate and interfere with the healing of existing spots. This is especially the case for sensitive skin, as it’s much more prone to irritation.

Alternative: If you have the urge to pick at your skin throughout the day, try to keep your hands busy, such as by squeezing a stress ball. In addition to this, focus on ways you can really take care of your skin, which will prevent the formation of spots you’re tempted to pick at. For example, instead of picking at a pimple, apply a spot treatment to the area and let it be.

Mistake #5: Using the Wrong Sunscreen

Using sunscreen is a critical step in any skincare routine. If you had to narrow down your regimen to just one step, this would be the most important one.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) suggests using a broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher for adequate protection. This can be either a chemical or physical sunscreen:

  • Chemical sunscreens protect the skin by absorbing the sun’s rays
  • Physical sunscreens protect the skin by deflecting the sun’s rays

While both formulas have been shown to be effective, those with sensitive skin may benefit from using physical sunscreens. Typically, physical sunscreens contain zinc or titanium dioxide, which are better options for sensitive skin. Chemical UV blockers like oxybenzone and avobenzone, on the other hand, can cause stinging, burning, and red, itchy bumps.

Alternative: Physical sunscreens have gotten a bad rap because of the famous white cast they tend to leave behind on the skin. However, these formulas have come a long way, and many on the market now have a lightweight, barely-there feel.

If you’re not sure which product is right for you, look for a sunscreen labeled for sensitive skin. These formulas tend to not have fragrance, oils, or active ingredients—so they’re safe for delicate, easily-irritated skin types.

Sensitive skin can be tricky to treat, but you’re not alone. Luckily, there are plenty of products and methods you can try to soothe your skin and keep it looking and feeling its best. If you’re not sure where to start or suspect you have a particular skin condition, always consult with a dermatologist.

The process of finding a skincare routine that works might take some trial and error, so be patient. The results will be worth it!