Your Ultimate Guide To Sensitive Skin

Soothe red, irritated and itchy skin with these tips.

When you have sensitive skin, spritzing perfume, sampling new prods and sunbaking can be a risky game. Here’s how to deal…


Sensitive skin can be genetic, and it’s more common among people with paler skin. It can also be caused by allergies, hormonal imbalances, and medications that increase skin sensitivity.

The environment can make your skin super-sensitive, too. For example, extreme heat or cold, humidity, air conditioning, and windy weather can cause skin to act up.

Your lifestyle can make your already-sensitive skin worse. If you’re stressed, dehydrated, drinking a lot of alcohol or eating a poor diet, your skin may get inflamed. The same goes for using certain cosmetics or harsh household cleaning products.

If your skin is incredibly sensitive, you may have an underlying skin condition, such as eczema (dry, itchy skin), rosacea (red skin and visible blood vessels), psoriasis (dry patches and rashes) or contact dermatitis (rashes caused by irritants). If these symptoms sound familiar, it’s worth seeing a dermatologist.

sensitive skin


Does your skin react to everything – from the sun and wind to wool and perfumes? If your skin is easily irritated, you might have sensitive skin.

The major signs of sensitive skin include redness, stinging, swelling, burning, itchiness, and blotchiness – especially when you come into contact with a certain product or environmental trigger. You may also end up with rashes, or flaky skin on the nose and cheeks. Some people don’t have any visible symptoms, but their skin always feels uncomfortable and they have a tendency towards hot flushes.

In most cases, sensitive skin is on the dry side. Here’s why: our skin has a protective outer layer, known as a lipid barrier. This layer has two jobs: it locks in moisture, and protects the skin from environmental aggressors, such as heat, chemicals and UV rays. People with sensitive skin typically have a thinner lipid barrier, so it’s easier for all those irritants to get in and cause inflammation. Because of that, they’re usually more prone to sunburn and photoageing (aka age spots and fine lines). And since the lipid barrier works to keep water in, when it’s weak, we end up with dry skin.


To soothe your skin and prevent flare-ups, keep it simple.

Stick to gentle, fragrance-free products that are formulated for sensitive skin. Go for natural products and brands like Cetaphil and Cerave that are free from common irritants such as soap, sulphates, dyes, alcohols, alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and preservatives. When you’re shopping for skincare, look for words like ‘calming’ and ‘soothing’ on the label, then flip the product over and scan the ingredients list. If the product contains goodies like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, ceramides, or linoleic acid, you’re on the right track. The less ingredients, the better.

Avoid abrasive scrubs and mechanical exfoliants, such as microbeads. They can cause tiny tears in your lipid barrier and aggravate your angry skin even more. Use polyhydroxy acids (PHAs) instead. They gently resurface skin and boost your skin’s strength so it’s less reactive.

Steer clear of exfoliating brushes (like the Clarisonic). The same principle applies here. If you want to unclog your pores, double-cleanse at night – first with a cleansing oil or micellar water, and then with your regular cleanser. Your skin will be squeaky-clean, without the need for a rough brush.

Don’t over-wash or over-exfoliate your skin. Cleanse your skin twice a day, and exfoliate 2-3 times a week – and never when your skin is super irritated.

sensitive skin

Use cool or lukewarm water to wash your face. Hot water can cause irritation and break down that precious protective layer. Heat is sensitive skin’s worst enemy, so direct hairdryers and heaters away from your face, too.

Moisturise regularly. This will help your skin to seal in moisture so it doesn’t dry out. Remember, a lack of moisture only increases redness and sensitivity – and dry skin can’t protect itself from irritants. Try using a face oil (like jojoba oil), and spritz yourself with a mist every time your skin is feeling a little dry.

Wear sunscreen every single day. Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or more every day, and cover up with a hat and sunglasses whenever you’re in the sun.

Ditch perfume if it irritates your skin. Buy delish natural body washes, or chat to your derm about using essential oils.

Always, always do a patch test. Whenever you’re trying a new product, apply a little on your arm and leave it on overnight. If your skin isn’t irritated the next day, it’s probably safe to put on your face.

Switch to natural household cleansing products. They do the job minus the chemicals.

Use mineral, organic or natural makeup. They contain fewer preservatives, so there’s less risk of irritation. Don’t use waterproof mascara (it’s obvs harder to take off, and that’s bad news for sensitive skin), and throw out makeup that’s past its expiry date.  


Help your skin from the inside out by eating lots of anti-inflammatory foods, such as ginger, broccoli, leafy greens (like spinach and kale), turmeric, nuts and avocado.

If redness is your main issue, avoid spicy foods and hot drinks. Iced coffee for the win! When your skin is inflamed, cut back on caffeine, alcohol and sugar – aka the fun stuff – to bring it back into balance.

Other than that, do everything you can to relieve your stress. Think yoga, meditation, journaling, puzzling (don’t knock it til you’ve tried it!), napping, swimming in the ocean, pampering, and spending time with your favourite people. Stress can inflame the body, and that can inflame the skin.

Katia Iervasi

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