For those with reactive skin, the struggle is real, and often unrelenting. My skin has always been sensitive and has become more unpredictable with age. As a result, I have spent over ten years trying to take the heat and redness out of it – both a curse and a blessing when your job is to try every skincare launch out there. I now have an unfortunately long list of products and ingredients that don’t work for my skin, and a short but seriously effective list of those that do. Whether you run a daily gauntlet of sensitivity or suffer from occasional flare-ups, these are the tried-and-tested products you can rely upon.
BEST FOR EXTRA MOISTURE La Mer The Renewal Oil
If there is one reactive-skin rule to live by, it’s that lack of moisture increases redness and sensitivity, and creates a vicious cycle where inflammation leads to more inflammation. Dry skin cannot protect itself against irritants, so I’m obsessed with boosting hydration without overloading my skin, as it easily breaks out. I use this oil every day, either mixing two or three drops with my moisturizer or, if my skin is looking particularly parched and papery, applying a thin layer before my moisturizer.
BEST FOR EXFOLIATING Lixir Skin Night Switch PHA/AHA 10%
Polyhydroxy acids, or PHAs, are the best acids to use for sensitive skin. I’ve completely banished scrubs from my bathroom (they increase redness and irritability) in favor of using this lotion on cleansed skin every other day, though you can build up to using it daily. PHAs don’t just resurface, they actually help boost skin’s resilience so it becomes less reactive (yes, this is an acid that does not make red skin angrier).
BEST FOR AN INTENSIVE TREATMENT Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair Concentrated Recovery PowerFoil Mask
I’ve tried many masks and this is one of few that floods my skin with moisture without causing breakouts around the cheek area (my most sensitive spot). The ten-minute silver foil treatment looks pretty Hannibal Lecter-esque, but noticeably plumps and hydrates skin while dosing it with protective antioxidants that help with damage control. While it says ‘night repair’, you can use it at any time: I find it creates a beautifully smooth base for makeup in the mornings.
BEST FOR REBALANCING Eve Lom TLC Cream
There are times (stress, seasonal changes, allergies) when skin is particularly susceptible to going rogue and the only thing that brings it back in line is a basics-only approach. Eve Lom’s TLC Cream is the skincare equivalent of R&R, restoring balance and hydration. It’s worthy of investment for everyone, not just those on the sensitive end of the spectrum.
BEST FOR FLARE-UPS Dr Barbara Sturm Calming Serum
This strengthens your skin’s natural defenses with purslane so that sensitivity becomes less pronounced over time – since using it, I no longer wake up bemoaning my skin every morning. It’s well worth trying if your sensitivity is triggered by environmental factors such as too much sun, pollution, air conditioning or a long-haul flight. It has no fragrance so it can be used right up to the skin around your eyes.
BEST FOR AN INFLAMED SCALP Philip Kingsley After Sun Scalp Mask
While this mask is designed to nourish a sun-damaged scalp, it is a brilliant treatment option for any time your scalp feels tight and irritated. It soothes angry skin with calming aloe, menthol, chamomile and provitamin B5 and, even better, it couldn’t be easier to use. Dampen your hair, divide it into sections and apply a generous amount of cream to your scalp. Massage it in and leave it to do its work for around 20 minutes before shampooing out. It’s that easy.
BEST FOR EVERYDAY Vanderohe No.1 Nourishing Face Serum
If your skin is super-sensitive like mine, consider this organic and natural serum as your new everyday essential to maintain balance – even those with hardier skin should have it to hand to take the ‘fire’ out of sporadic flare-ups. I love layering it under a light moisturizer, particularly in the mornings, to calm skin and help protect the all-important skin barrier, which keeps moisture in and irritants out.
BEST FOR FIGHTING BREAKOUTS Dennis Gross Skincare DRx SpectraLite FaceWare Pro
Often, sensitivity can be accompanied by breakouts (or your skin is sensitive because of breakouts). This FDA-approved skincare device combines red light to boost collagen and blue light to help destroy the P. acne bacteria [Propionibacterium acne, the most abundant bacterium on human skin] that contributes to breakouts. Use it daily on the three-minute program after your normal cleanser or daily peel – you can choose from three different settings: blue light only, red light only or a combination or red and blue light therapy.
BEST FOR DEEP CLEANSING Elizabeth Arden Superstart Probiotic Cleanser Whip To Clay
This part-mask, part-clay-based cleanser is enriched with skin-calming probiotics to remove impurities while restoring your skin’s glow. To use, leave it on for one minute and then massage it with warm water – it will turn into a creamy lather, cleansing skin without leaving it feeling tight or looking red, and readying it for the next step in your regime. I use it every night and have found the texture of my skin is much smoother.
BEST FOR CLEANSING REACTIVE SKIN Argentum Apothecary Le Savon Lune Illuminating Hydration Bar
There is soap and then there is this next-level cleansing bar from Argentum Apothecary. Infused with anti-bacterial Silver Hydrosol to promote cell regeneration and healing bentonite to restore balance by targeting blemishes without drying them out, it soothes rather than aggravates spot-prone skin.
BEST FOR SUN SENSITIVITY Institut Esthederm Sun Intolerance Protective Face Care
While sun protection is a must for everyone, UV can trigger flare-ups (particularly if you have a skin condition such as rosacea) and additional pigmentation in sensitive skin. Institut Esthederm’s ‘Sun Intolerance’ cream helps boost the tolerance of sun-sensitive or easily burned skin with active ingredients that also help prevent dark spots. It is no replacement for SPF, though, rather an additional protective tool in your repertoire.
BEST FOR SUPPORTING SKIN FROM THE INSIDE The Nue Co Prebiotic and Probiotic Capsules
Scientists have long been telling us that great skin starts in the gut (as anyone with digestive issues can attest to). While more research is needed, a correlation between healthy gut bacteria and the resilience of your skin has been identified – which is where probiotics come in. Different probiotics suit different people, so it’s worth experimenting, but for me, since taking The Nue Co Prebiotic and Probiotic Capsules, my skin has been noticeably less reactive. The capsules are designed to survive the pH level of stomach acid so they absorb efficiently, contain inulin [a prebiotic fiber] to help stabalize blood sugar levels and are boosted with prebiotics, which are vital for feeding all that friendly bacteria in the gut.
The models featured in this story are not associated with NET-A-PORTER and do not endorse it or the products shown.