Skin with a high propensity for redness, tightness, itching—and occasional burning—is usually considered sensitive. Why does skin become fussy? There are a number of reasons: genetic predisposition to allergies, overuse of products with too many active ingredients and in some cases the onset of adult rosacea. So your goal is to fight the signs of aging without causing any surface flare-ups.
THE SENSITIVE MINIMALIST
Cleanse Although it seems counterintuitive (since a thorough cleansing sounds like a recipe for ouch!), it is especially important that you wash very well at day’s end, as oil and makeup can further irritate your skin. But choose a cleansing formula that is mild (think cream or mousse or gentle gels) and “avoid water that is too hot,” cautions Brandt. Then, when you’re finished, pat your face dry—never rub. Use am and pm.
Hydrate Your main objective? To baby your face—literally. Go for a simple, nonallergenic moisturizer; Jaliman recommends baby lotions, which tend to be pure and fragrance free. Use am only.
Protect UV rays can trigger inflammation, upping your skin’s already sensitive state. To combat this, you must use a sunscreen every day—but steer clear of chemical sun blocks, as they are more likely than a physical blocker to cause irritation. “Look for the words titanium or zinc oxide on the label. Also, as a bonus, these ingredients not only block the sun; they actually help soothe inflammation,” says Kolker. Use am only.
Treat If your skin is very sensitive (it gets inflamed if you so much as look at a tube of Retin-A), you need to build up your skin’s barrier layer before you can try any active anti-aging products. For at least three weeks, use nothing at night but a moisturizer that contains ceramides, which fill in gaps in your skin’s barrier layer, preventing moisture loss—and keeping irritants out. Then, once your skin tone is less red and prone to stinging flare-ups, you can dip your toes in the anti-aging pool. You should probably steer clear of vitamin A derivatives (Retin-A, retinol) and deep exfoliators, such as glycolic and salicylic acid, since they have the potential to irritate. Better bets: gentle products with peptides to boost collagen production. Use pm only.
THE SENSITIVE MAXIMALIST
If you’re totally willing to pull out all the stops—and soothe sensitive skin faster—follow the Sensitive Minimalist regimen, then weave in these additional treatments.
Camouflage Redness To conceal redness during the day, top your sunscreen with a sheer green-color correcting lotion. If that leaves behind a tinge of green (hello, Wicked Witch of the West), just color-correct by smoothing on your favorite tinted moisturizer or foundation. Use am only.
Exfoliate Carefully Sensitive skin can’t handle harsh chemical peels. So once a week, use a mild physical scrub made out of almond husk, papaya or rice, says Kolker. “This will gently slough off dead cells, and you can control the pressure you put on your skin so you can use less where you are most delicate,” he says. Or go for a gentle exfoliating enzyme, which dissolves dead cells, making them easier to splash away. Use as needed.
Mask Soreness Soothe and brighten your skin once a week with a homemade mask consisting of equal parts avocado and full-fat yogurt, plus a tiny bit of honey, suggests Ellen Marmur, MD, associate professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan. “You will get slight exfoliation from the lactic acid in the yogurt plus some anti-inflammatory soothing, while the avocado is full of lipids [which help your compromised skin barrier], and the honey fights bacteria.” Leave on for 10 minutes, then rinse clean with warm water. Use as needed.
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