The skincare ingredients people with sensitive skin should avoid.


For someone with sensitive skin, the relatively straightforward task of shopping for makeup and skincare becomes a frustrating, sometimes painful, often fruitless quest that demands a whole lot of time and money.

The wrong product or wrong ingredient can result in tightness, redness and generally unhappy skin, which isn’t anybody’s idea of a good time.

Debbie Dickson, Director of Education for Danné-Montague King (DMK), says understanding the underlying cause of sensitive skin can be helpful for knowing what will and won’t irritate it.

“Skin itself isn’t actually ‘sensitive’. When it becomes really red and inflamed, it’s actually become reactive because things are out of balance,” she explains.

“You’ve got to look at why that skin is presenting symptoms of being sensitive, and if you treat the ‘why’ then you can get to the core of the problem. If you only calm the skin down and don’t look at why it needed that, you’re going to be calming it down of the rest of your life. ”

Dickson says one of the most common underlying causes of reactivity is transepidermal water loss, where the skin is unable to retain water. “Imagine if there was a fire raging in the skin; you’d need a lot of water to put that fire out and then hold water in there to stop it from reigniting,” she explains.

Watch: Mia Freedman discusses her experience with laser treatment. (Post continues after video.)

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If you want to ensure the products you buy won’t further upset your skin, here are Dickson’s recommendations for the ingredients to try and those to steer clear of.

Ingredients to avoid

Dickson says you’ll want to steer clear of any ingredients that will further provoke your skin by stripping or drying it.

“Any of your astringents, your strong alcohol, your benzoyl peroxides; any ingredient that is going to further strip water out of the skin is going to make it more reactive or sensitive,” she explains. These tend to be common in toners.

Dickson also recommends avoiding abrasive products, such as grainy scrubs, as these could serve to irritate or inflame skin that’s already highly responsive.

“The other thing I would advise is to avoid using any AHAs, because they pull water,” she adds. “So if there already isn’t enough water in the skin because it’s become reactive, you wouldn’t want to use something that’s going to further draw any water out.”


Hydration is key to healing reactive skin. (Image: iStock)

Ingredients to look for

To avoid provoking reactive skin, Dickson recommends seeking out ingredients that perform "barrier repair therapy."

"This is using a combination that will actually put a lot of water and hydration into the skin, but also have ingredient like your essential fatty acids, vitamin E, things that are going help to waterproof the skin and stop that transepidermal water loss," she says.

It's also important to strengthen your skin's immune system to help it become more resilient and less reactive. The way to do this is with ingredients that will help regulate the Langerhans cells, which are responsible for your skin's immune system.

"This would be things like betagluton, and there's some peptides that are also good to help strengthen the skin. Any calming and soothing ingredients, like chamomile, a lot of those are anti-inflammatory and very calming and healing on the skin," Dickson says.


Treatments that focus on improving the flow of oxygen, blood and nutrients to the skin can also be beneficial for reactive skin. (Post continues after gallery.)

Dickson says DMK's signature Enzyme Therapy treatment aims to do exactly this through the use of transfer-messenger enzymes. "It works with the circulatory system, the lymphatics and causes that reverse osmosis effect, so it increases the skin's water levels and gets it functioning optimally," she explains.

This is a unique approach, but generally speaking any treatment that's hydrating will be beneficial because "the more water you can get into skin and lock it in, that's going to stop skin from being reactive," Dickson adds.

What then?

Does having reactive skin mean you're destined for a life of only using specific products? Not exactly, Dickson says.

"If you can start to strengthen your skin, repair it and get it functioning optimally, you'll be able to use things you couldn't use previously when it had impaired barriers and trans-epidermal barrier loss," she explains.

"It's acting out in that way because it's out of balance, so once you get that skin back into balance, you can use different ingredients and won't necessarily have to stick to the ones for reactive skin."

Do you have sensitive/reactive skin? What products do you favour?