There’s a world of make-up and skincare targeted towards sensitive skin, but choosing something that’s right for your complexion can leave you feeling lost. You might be afraid to try something new in case it causes a flare-up, but on the other hand some of your staple products might be making your skin have a meltdown.

If you feel like you’re treading on egg shells when it comes to your skin, there are steps you can take to ensure that you’re doing the best you can for it in your skincare and make-up. Everything that you put on your complexion makes a difference to its mood, so we’ve got expert advice on how to choose the right products for your skin’s condition – and which ones to ditch.

Back to basics

Re-addressing your basic skincare routine is essential for tackling sensitive skin, and according to Axa Toyloy-Ashi, brand ambassador for Ren, it starts with stripping back your skincare regime. ‘To avoid over-stimulation, I would suggest scaling back on the number of products that you are using. The goal is to reduce the irritation and protect the skin, until it is normalised.’

There are a few essentials you can’t go without, which means that choosing the right formulation is key to calming and controlling flare-ups, and it can make all the difference between skin being soothed or irritated. At the heart of any skincare routine is a cleanser, and for sensitive, dry skin types, the key is to choose one that won’t strip your skin of all its natural oils and leave it feeling tight and uncomfortable. Axa advises choosing a formulation that’s gentle yet effective: ‘I would favour a milk or oil formulation over a foam or gel. Ren’s Evercalm Cleansing Milk has omega oils 3 and 7, which nourish and soothe the skin, as well as fennel, which is an effective antioxidant to help protect against pollution.’ Alternatively, if you’re looking for a cleansing oil that’s effective without compromising your skin’s sensitivity, Caudalie’s Make-Up Removing Cleansing Oil gets rid of the day’s build-up without stripping your skin of moisture, as it’s full of grape seed and almond oils – perfect for not drying out your skin.

A moisturiser targeted to sensitive skin is equally important. Axa adds that ’the environment can play havoc with sensitive skin types, so it’s important to moisturise daily with a product that will help protect your delicate complexion from overbearing weather conditions and pollution.’ Look for rich, calming formulas – we like S.O.S Emergency Cream from Elemis, which is infused with an a array of different oils like chamomile flower oil, patchouli oil and myrrh essential oil, and Ren’s Global Protection Day Cream, which locks in your skin’s moisture and protects it from free radical damage.

Stepping up your skincare

With the basics down, you may find that a cleanser and moisturiser are the only products you need in your routine. However, you might need extra help from time to time. If you’re having a flare-up, Axa recommends Ren’s Evercalm Ultra Comforting Rescue Mask for its soothing, hydrating properties: ‘If my skin is feeling particularly reactive, I will apply a generous layer and sleep in this mask,’ she says, as it ‘reduces irritation, soothes, calms, and accelerates skin healing and recovery.’ Decleor’s Harmonie Calm 2-in-1 Mask is another comforting treatment that can be used as either a mask or an intensive moisturiser, so you can tailor it to suit your skin’s needs.

And, if your skin sensitivity extends to areas other than just your complexion, Axa reassures us that there are comforting solutions out there. ‘Unfortunately for me, my sensitivity extends to my eye area and they often feel tight, sore and irritable. When this happens, I like to use Liz Earle Eyebright Soothing Eye Lotion – a super cooling eye solution that instantly calms down my irritated eyes. I soak some cotton wool pads in the liquid, pop them into the fridge and then apply the on top of my eyes for ten minutes.’ It’s about the way your skin feels, as much as the way it looks, so it’s important to pay attention to areas that itch, hurt or feel dehydrated, and choose products especially designed for those areas of sensitivity. If it’s your lips that easily get dry and irritated, you might want to try a lip balm that’s free from chemicals, like Evolve’s Lip Treat Lip Balm, which boasts a 100% natural, organic formula that will intensely hydrate your lips, without the harsh ingredients that could make them sore.

What to avoid

You may not even realise that some of the skincare you’re using is doing more harm than good, but ridding your routine of harsh, abrasive formulas will work wonders for soothing angry complexions. ‘When experiencing sensitivity, I advise avoiding exfoliation, clays, retinols, over-stimulating essential oils and vitamin C-based products,’ Axa advises, as they can leave your sensitive skin feeling aggravated and sore.

If your skin is particularly dry or damaged, you might be tempted to avoid new formulas in case it makes your skin worse. But it needn’t be something to fear as long you’re careful beforehand. For Axa, there’s only one rule: ‘Patch test, patch test, patch test! I try every new product behind my ear before applying it to my face. Visible reactions are just not worth it’. She adds ‘I love QVC, as you can return any product you react to!’ This is a great way of finding out which products work for your skin’s specific condition, without having to deal with another full-face flare-up every time you try something that your skin doesn’t like.

Shake up your make-up

It’s not just your skincare that makes a difference to the way your complexion behaves. The make-up you wear, especially foundation and concealer that sits directly on your skin for hours, can aggravate an underlying skin condition without you even realising it. Stripping down your make-up collection to include products that won’t irritate your skin is a key step to achieving a calmer complexion.

SJ Froom, International Make-up Artist for Bareminerals, says that if you suffer from sensitive skin, all your make-up products should be ‘free of harsh chemicals and unnecessary additives’, such as ‘parabens, phthalates, chemical sunscreen, mineral oil and coal tar, plus anything you can’t pronounce, as this is usually a harsh chemical or unnecessary additive.’ Firstly, SJ recommends a mineral-based foundation. ‘My favourite product for evening-out skin tone and redness is the Original Foundation SPF 15 from Bareminerals. It helps you achieve a flawless, clean finish to the complexion with no redness,’ which means it’s perfect if you suffer from redness or rosacea.

Alternatively, if you’re not ready to ditch your liquid foundation yet, skincare-based foundations like Bobbi Brown’s Skin Serum Foundation offer a cooling effect on sore, dry skin and will keep your complexion feeling fresh. SJ swears by make-up that’s ‘full of good-for-skin ingredients’, so choosing a formula that mixes skincare actives with coverage is best for sensitive skin.

SJ suggests that when taking stock of your make-up bag, you should make it a rule to rid it of anything that’s full of nasties. She says, ‘whether you have sensitive skin or normal skin, I would always make sure that everything in your make-up bag is full of what’s good, and free of what’s not good when it comes to ingredients. The problem with using products that are full of chemicals is that they could make your skin become sensitive over time.’ So even if you don’t notice an immediate reaction to a product, this doesn’t mean it’s not aggravating your skin. If it’s full of chemicals and unnecessary additives, it’s best to cut it out of your routine – you never know, it might even be one of the main causes of your skin’s sensitivity. Brands that carry an ethos of pure, naturally-sourced ingredients and no nasties are your best bet for ensuring that your make-up bag isn’t cluttered with harsh chemicals, and for that, we love Bareminerals and Nude by Nature, who both reject parabens, phthalates and other unnecessary additives that SJ advises we avoid.

Now you know what to look out for and what to avoid when it comes to your sensitive skin, you can feel a bit more confident choosing products that will soothe and comfort your temperamental complexion, rather than making it worse. Skincare and make-up needn’t scare you as long as you bear these tips in mind when you’re clearing out your stash. Plus, patch-testing everything before you commit to it will take out the worrying hit-or-miss aspect of trying something new.

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