Beauty and sensitive skin are a tricky combo. Whether you have eczema or an allergy, this guide makes it easy to adopt a clean, irritant-free beauty regimen.
What’s the difference between an allergy and an irritation?
Irritation and allergies have overlapping symptoms: both cause your skin to feel itchy, tingly, bumpy, and inflamed. But allergies typically develop 24 hours after exposure whereas an irritant reaction is immediate. If you have sensitive skin, you’re more likely to suffer from irritation, which doesn’t get worse with repeat exposure.
Rules of thumb for a reaction-free beauty routine
- Stay away from parabens. Even if your skin doesn’t freak out from them, they’ve been linked to endocrine dysfunction and breast cancer.
- Carefully evaluate “clean” beauty products. Organic doesn’t equal safe: some all-natural ingredients can trigger reactions in sensitive skin.
- Avoid shampoo bars. They might seem like eco-friendly alternatives to commercial shampoos, but their alkaline formula can wreak havoc on your scalp.
- Get familiar with the pH of your products. Shampoos and face washes with a high or low pH can cause redness, itchiness, and acne.
- Look for the EWG label. Whenever possible, purchase products certified skin safe by the Environmental Working Group.
Consult an expert before you throw out everything
The most definitive way to determine why your skin is acting up? Patch testing. An allergist will swatch tiny amounts of allergens on your back, and you’ll receive your results in a few days. In the meantime, feel free to toss products with these three universal offenders:
- SLS and SLES: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and its twin, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, are too alkaline (drying) for our skin. They pop up in all cosmetic products, even toothpaste.
- Formaldehyde: This allergen, irritant, and cancer-causing preservative appears most often in nail polish and nail polish removers, as well as shampoo.
- Phthalates: Phthalates are in most skincare and healthcare products manufactured in the U.S. They can worsen asthma and trigger skin allergies.
Sensitive skin-friendly products to stock your bathroom
Lip Gloss (in Bare Shimmer)
This gloss is a major glow up without any of the allergens commonly found in lipstick, including lead. Choose from 12 shades. ($29.00, sold by BeautyCounter.)
Hypoallergenic Lip Balm with Shea Butter
Soothe chapped lips with this flavor-free balm made with Shea butter, which doubles as sun protection. ($4.00, sold by Cleure.)
Curiously Clarifying Shampoo: Lemongrass & Argan
If you can tolerate botanical extracts, Acure’s non-toxic clarifying shampoo is a must. Lemongrass leaf oil and aloe vera soothe and hydrate the scalp. ($9.99, sold by Acure.)
SHISEDO Synchro Skin Self-Refreshing Foundation SPF 30
Shisedo’s foundation made the Best of Beauty 2019 by Allure, and with good reason: its natural finish and low toxicity – less than 1% synthetic fragrance, no SLS or SLES, and no parabens – make this one a winner. ($47.00, sold by Sephora.)
The Lash Project – Gluten Free Mascara
If gluten is a trigger, look no further than this intensely pigmented, non-GMO, allergy-safe mascara. ($37.00, sold by Red Apple Lipstick.)
Free & Clear Shampoo and Hair Conditioner
Basic isn’t always a bad thing. This stripped down shampoo and conditioner duo is safe for highly allergic skin. ($10.29, sold by Amazon.)