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Sensitive Skin? Avoid These 7 Skincare Ingredients

Vanessa Hathaway
Founder, Your Custom Beauty


Did you know that “sensitive” is not actually a skin type?  It’s an issue that must be considered in addition to skin type. Although dry skin tends to be more sensitive than other skin types, that’s not always the case.  People with all different types of skin can suffer from sensitivity.  So, if your skin type is ‘combination’ (oily T-zone, with normal or dry cheeks) and sensitive, you will need to use skincare products designed for combination skin with sensitivities.

And don’t assume that products labeled “for sensitive skin” are good for all people with sensitivities. Look at the ingredients label, being extra cautious when you see any of the irritating ingredients listed below.


Skincare Ingredients to Avoid:


These are at the top of the sh*tlist  for people with sensitivities.  Don’t trust that a product labeled ‘unscented’ doesn’t contain fragrance or perfumes.  Look for the term“fragrance-free.”  Same thing goes for products labeled ‘hypoallergenic’ or ‘dermatologist tested”– these terms are basically meaningless. Look for products labeled “allergy tested.”


Alcohol and Witch Hazel 

These are two of the worst offenders for those with sensitivities.  If you’re someone who enjoys using a toner after cleansing your face, opt for one that will actually improve your skin.  

These are a couple of great toners for sensitive skin:

COSRX Hydrium Watery Toner

DHC CoQ10 Lotion



Although parabens can be problematic, paraben allergies are very uncommon, occurring in less than 5% of the population.  Although there have been conflicting reports on its safety, phenoxyethanol is a good choice for those with sensitive skin. 


According to Paula Begoun, founder of Paula’s Choice Skincare and Beautypedia:

Phenoxyethanol is considered one of the least sensitizing [preservatives] for use in formulations. It does not release formaldehyde. Phenoxyethanol is approved worldwide (including in Japan and in the EU) for use in all types of water-based cosmetics, up to a 1% concentration.



Sulfates (particularly Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, or SLS) are the foaming agents common in many personal care products like facial cleansers and shampoos.  They give products the sudsy lather that makes your skin and hair feel squeaky clean.  But, therein lies the problem.  Sulfates strip the skin of its natural moisture barrier.  The good news?  There are many excellent sulfate-free products available. 

Here are some of our favorite sulfate-free cleansers:


Yes To Cucumbers Gentle Milk Cleanser

Eau Thermale Avène Extremely Gentle Cleanser Lotion

iS Clinical Cleansing Complex


Retinol and Retinoids

Retinol, an over-the-counter derivative of vitamin A, and its more powerful prescription-grade counterparts tretinoin and retinoic acid are the superstars of anti-aging ingredients. Although extremely effective, they can be highly sensitizing. Those with skin sensitivities should start out with an over-the-counter retinol product, using only once or twice a week, slowly increasing the frequency of use.  If you have ultra-sensitive skin, you may want to begin by applying a retinol product after moisturizing to avoid irritation. 

If you’re new to retinol products, start with a well-formulated serum with a low concentration of retinol.  This 0.25% retinol complex by SkinMedica is a highly recommended option:

SkinMedica Retinol Complex .25%

If you have extremely dry, sensitive skin, you’ll love this serum from Paula’s Choice:

Paula’s Choice Skin Recovery Super Antioxidant Serum


Botanical Oils

Contrary to popular belief, organic and natural products can be just as irritating as products containing synthetic ingredients.  Many contain highly irritating plant and citrus oils, as well as preservatives.  Some of the most common irritants are linalool, limonene, peppermint, eucalyptus, cinnamon, ginger, and lemon verbena.  There are plenty of organic non-fragrant plant oils (argan, jojoba, rosehip, grapeseed – to name a few) that do a fantastic job of moisturizing while providing your skin with super beneficial fatty acids and antioxidants.


These are both top-notch facial oils:

Timeless 100% Pure Squalane Oil

Trilogy Certified Organic Rosehip Oil


If you prefer using only all-natural products, check out our Recommended Natural/Organic products to see our top natural and organic recommendations.


Chemical Sunscreens,

Chemical sunscreens can be particularly sensitizing. In fact, the FDA called for additional testing of a dozen common chemical sunscreen ingredients after finding that high levels of four of them (avobenzone, oxybenzone, ecamsule, and octocrylene) can enter a person’s bloodstream and remain in the body for at least 24 hours after the last sunscreen application.  Read more about the FDA standards for efficacy and safety.

But fret not my darlings, there’s a slew of excellent sunscreens containing physical sunblocks.  Look for zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which studies show are NOT absorbed into the skin.

We really like these moisturizers that contain physical sunblock:


MDSolarSciences Mineral Crème SPF 50

La Roche-Posay Anthelios Ultra-Light Tinted Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50


While avoiding the above mentioned, look for products containing these skin-loving ingredients:

Focus your efforts on building your skin’s moisture barrier.  Look for products containing glycerin, jojoba oil, almond oil, niacinamide, squalane, and hyaluronic acid.

Lucky for you dear, sensitive souls, Your Custom Beauty has already taken all of the above into account when recommending the best products for sensitive skin!


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