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 adding two or three drops into my daily moisturizer or adding a thin layer under it if everything is looking particularly parched and papery.
BEST FOR EXFOLIATING Zelens PHA+ Bio-Peel Resurfacing Facial Pads
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 these PHA pads on cleansed skin every other day, though you can build up to using them 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 EVERYDAY Estelle & Thild BioCalm Anti-Redness Rescue Serum
If your skin is super-sensitive like mine, consider this organic and natural serum as your new everyday essential to maintain balance (though those with hardier skin should also 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.
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