Do you ever get frustrated because it seems as though every time you introduce a new skincare product, your skin rebels? You might have sensitive skin. This is different from sensitized skin, which is a condition where your skin reacts to specific ingredients. For example, a lot of people are sensitive to niacinamide, specific plant extracts, or salicylic acid. In contrast, sensitive skin is generally reactive, presenting symptoms of irritation in response to factors such as changes in the weather, fragrance, hormonal fluctuations, or unfamiliar formulations.
As someone with sensitive skin, I can sympathize. There’s always a lot of FOMO from previous failed attempts to enjoy a popular skincare trend, and it might feel as though you can’t deviate in the slightest from your tried-and-true products without your skin launching an insurrection. The easiest way to prevent this from happening is to compile a list of what I like to call “crowd pleasers”—ingredients so mild there’s little to no chance of irritation and that work well with pretty much any skin type.
Without further ado, here are five sensitive skin ingredients to look out for when you want to enjoy some variety in your routine without feeling like you’re playing Russian roulette.
Compile a list of “crowd pleasers”—ingredients so mild there’s little to no chance of irritation and that work well with pretty much any skin type.
The extract obtained from this flower has been an integral part of skincare for a long time, favored by brands like Kiehl’s and Caudalie for its antioxidant, anti-aging, and soothing properties. Calendula extract isn’t exclusive to modern skincare either. On the contrary, it has origins in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda. Because of its mild nature, it features prominently in baby skincare products like wipes and diaper rash creams. If it’s good for a baby’s skin, then this ingredient must be gentle enough for the most sensitive skin types, right?
In addition to its antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antiseptic properties, calendula is an excellent hydrator and soother, excellent for healing breakouts and preventing future ones. You don’t have to look too far to find it, since its popularity as a skincare ingredient means that it features heavily in so many products already. Aside from the Kiehl’s Calendula line, you can also find it in the popular Bio-Oil Multiuse Skincare Oil and Jurlique Calming Mist.
Centella has been in the ingredient spotlight for a solid minute now, and I’m not complaining. Its prominence in skincare began about two years ago in South Korea, where its inclusion in products was inspired by the need to combat the ill-effects of high air pollution levels. You might remember seeing merchandise like the Dr. Jart Cicapair line on the shelves of your local Sephora around that time, and perhaps read reviews extolling the benefits of the Tiger Grass cream for correcting redness. Centella doesn’t feature that heavily in Western skincare quite yet, but hopefully we’ll see offerings from brands other than Kiehl’s and La Roche-Posay as time goes by.
Centella is an antioxidant-rich plant also called tiger grass or gotu kola, known for its ability to treat a wide variety of issues both internally and topically. In skincare applications, centella is highly effective for wound healing, tone brightening, and boosting collagen production, due to the abundance of vitamins A, C, B1, B2, and B3 found in its extract. Centella is an all-rounder when it comes to anti-aging and skin health, imparting high levels of moisture and improving circulation. Fun fact: It’s called tiger grass in Asia because those big cats purportedly rubbed up against the plants when they were injured, and it helped to heal their wounds.
Licorice is yet another ingredient with a long history of use in skincare applications. Favored by the ancient Egyptians, Japanese geisha, and practitioners of Chinese Traditional Medicine, licorice has a whole host of benefits, the most common of them being brightening. Licorice is very effective for fixing hyperpigmentation, sun damage, and scarring. Glabridin, a compound found in licorice, inhibits the activity of tyrosinase, which is the enzyme that determines how much melanin is produced by the body, and thus influences pigmentation.
Other tyrosinase-inhibiting compounds also found in licorice are liquirtin, which works by evenly dispersing the melanin already present in the skin while encouraging cell turnover, and glycyrrhizin, which is antimicrobial as well as anti-inflammatory. These benefits, in addition to licorice’s antioxidant content and UV damage protection, all make this ingredient a great candidate for sensitive skin care.
If you pay close attention to the ingredient lists of your products, there’s a good chance your eyes have scrolled past this ingredient quite a few times. Allantoin is right up there in the ranks of star sensitive skin ingredients like centella asiatica and aloe. Abounding in nature but synthetically crafted for its use in cosmetics, allantoin is derived from uric acid and is a fantastic multi-tasker. It acts as an emollient to protect skin, as a calming agent to soothe irritation and promote wound healing, as an exfoliant to shed dead skin cells, a hydrator to improve moisture content and prevent transepidermal water loss, and more. It’s super gentle and plays well with all skin types, with no known side effects aside from allergies on a person-to-person basis.
More than just an energy-boosting drink, green tea is a powerhouse of polyphenols, which protect against UV damage, help to repair skin, and reverse the signs of aging. Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is a potent antioxidant that rids the skin of free radicals, which could cause damage and rapid aging if left unchecked. For those who suffer from redness and irritation, green tea is a veritable balm that soothes and calms. It’s an excellent component of any good eye cream, as its anti-inflammatory properties brighten and depuff tired-looking eyes.
Green tea’s antibacterial qualities fight acne by getting to the heart of the matter and killing off bacteria. It’s also astringent, which is beneficial for oily skin types, as it regulates sebum production. You can introduce green tea to your routine at any step, as it features in a wide variety of products from cleanser to moisturizer.
What other sensitive skin ingredients have you found that work for you?