Caring For Sensitive Skin – Tips + Ultimate Skin Care Regimen

Written by Morgan Covington, MD, Board Certified Dermatologist on April 7, 2023 One Comment

woman sensitive skin

Did you know that approximately 70% of people self-report having sensitive skin? Although everyone’s skin may react  after interacting with certain substances, people who are diagnosed with sensitive skin often experience chronic and persistent reactions to certain substances that should not otherwise cause the reactions. Dermatologists describe the condition as irritant contact dermatitis.

While there is no way to completely change the sensitivity of the skin, there are many simple and effective ways to manage even the most sensitive of skin. In this post, we will take an in depth look at sensitive skin including sound tips on reducing unnecessary and unwanted irritation.

What Causes Sensitive Skin?

Although an exact cause of sensitive skin has not been identified, many cases are related to subtle differences in the outermost layer of the skin. Referred to as the skin barrier, the stratum corneum is the outer part of your epidermis. It is designed to protect the deeper layers of the skin, keep your skin hydrated, and store important nutrients, such as fatty acids, cholesterol, and ceramides. People with sensitive skin may have a weak skin barrier. As a result, irritants reach the deep layers, and the skin is more likely to be dry with minimal nutrients.

Symptoms of Sensitive Skin

Signs to watch for include tingling, stinging, discomfort, and burning. People with sensitive skin may also experience intense, persistent itching that causes them to scratch their skin. Because these symptoms may be caused by a range of conditions, seeing a dermatologist for an accurate diagnosis is the best way to know if you have sensitive skin.

Sensitive vs. Irritated Skin

Having sensitive skin indicates that your skin is hyperreactive to certain substances. Irritated skin is different in that any person will have a reaction when normal skin is subjected to certain substances and practices. Excessive exfoliation is one of the more common reasons why people have irritated skin. Before you change your skincare based on the assumption that your skin is sensitive, consider changing your skincare routine and how you take care of your skin.  As resilient as it may be, skin relatively delicate and should be treated gently.

7 Sensitive Skin Care Tips

For those who have sensitive skin, here are seven tips for how to prevent stinging, burning, itching, and other symptoms.

1. Understand Your Triggers

Like psoriasis and eczema, people with irritant contact dermatitis have triggers that worsen symptoms, such as redness, irritation, and itching. Work with a dermatologist to identify your individual triggers. The most common triggers for sensitive skin include ingredients in skincare products, such as fragrances, dyes, and parabens. Others include environmental substances, such as smoke. It is also common for sensitive skin flare-ups to be related to a lack of sleep, stress, and nutrition. Once you understand your triggers, work to reduce and manage them in your life.

2. Use Products Designed for Sensitive Skin

Skincare products need to provide a balance between enhancing skin health and reducing irritation. First, look for products that are labeled for sensitive skin. This may include being hypoallergenic, gentle, or mild. Next, read the label. You want products that contain just a few all-natural ingredients. Avoid products that contain sodium lauryl sulfates, petrochemicals, parabens, phthalates, and synthetic dyes. Essential oils and botanical extracts should also be avoided if you have sensitive skin. The best products are those that contain ingredients to calm your skin, such as aloe vera, shea butter, coconut oil, hyaluronic acid, chamomile, sunflower seed oil, and Vitamin E.

3. Limit the Number of Products You Use

Using certain products in combination, including those that are designed for sensitive skin, may trigger symptoms. The best approach is to limit the number of products you use on a routine basis. Keep your regimen simple. You only need a cleanser, moisturizer, and SPF product. If you want to use an exfoliator, choose one that uses gentle chemicals rather than physical exfoliators like granules. Follow the same selection process as your do for your other skincare products.

4. Follow Best Practices When Adding New Products

Go slow when you are adding new products to your skincare. This not only reduces the likelihood of a flare-up but also helps you identify any products that may be causing symptoms. Start with a patch test. Use the new product every few days, and does this over the course of two to three weeks. Start in a discrete area, such as under your jawline. The skin along the jaw is like the upper face, and any reaction will be hidden. If your skin does not react, apply the products along your jawline for testing for another two to three weeks. Continue this process until you are comfortable with using the product over your entire face.

5. Be Gentle with Your Skin

Cleansing and exfoliation are the most likely practices that irritate sensitive skin because they remove essential proteins and lipids that are necessary for the skin barrier. Using a gentle touch is the best approach. Resist any desire to use firm pressure or scrub your face. Remember that you have a weak skin barrier, and unnecessary pressure enables substances to penetrate the deeper layers of your skin. Only cleanse one time per day. You can exfoliate one to two times per week using a gentle product that is appropriate for sensitive skin. Again, use a chemical-based exfoliator rather than one that contains granules.

6. Take Short, Warm Showers

Long, hot showers and baths may help you relax, but they will damage sensitive skin. It is best to limit your bathing time to 10 minutes using lukewarm water. This will protect your skin barrier and prevent the loss of natural oils. Use a mild soap that is made for sensitive skin and free of dyes, fragrances, and other harsh ingredients. For daily bathing, focus on areas with sweat glands, such as your underarms, buttocks, and groin area. Other areas should be bathed only one to two times per week. Do not use loofas or washcloths. Apply a moisturizer over your entire body after bathing.

7. Take A Break After Bad Reactions

Even when you take steps to protect your sensitive skin, you may have some poor reactions. When this happens, stay calm. It may be a sign that your skin needs a break from routine care. If you have added a new product recently, stop using it. Give your skin time to return to a balanced, healthy state. If you want to reintroduce the new product, do so at a slower pace. If your skin continues to be irritated, consult with a dermatologist to determine specific triggers and practices that are causing the reactions.

The Ultimate Sensitive Skin Routine

The ultimate sensitive skin routine keeps your skin barrier intact while keeping your skin healthy. A comprehensive skincare routine for sensitive skin includes cleansing, toning, moisturizing, and exfoliating, as well as sun protection.


Use a cleanser once per day. Using one more frequently may break down the skin barrier, and using one less often increases the risk of accumulating dead skin cells and clogged pores. Gel and cream formulas work best for sensitive skin. Avoid using a washcloth or skincare tool. Apply the cleanser using a gentle, circular motion with your fingertips. Rinse with cool water, and pat your skin dry with a soft, clean, dry towel.


Astringent toners, including those made with alcohol, contain ingredients that break down a delicate skin barrier. A better option for sensitive skin is to use a facial mist that contains ingredients to calm and soothe your skin.


Choose a moisturizer that is formulated for sensitive skin and is high in fatty acids and humectants, such as coconut oil, shea butter, Vitamin E, hyaluronic acid, and jojoba oil. Use the moisturizer after cleansing your skin and again at bedtime. It is not necessary to cleanse your skin at night before applying the moisturizer.


You can exfoliate no more than one or two times each week. Use a chemical-based exfoliator rather than a product that contains granules. Use your fingertips and a gentle touch. Rinse your skin with cool water.

Sun Protection

Most sun protection products contain ingredients that are harsh on sensitive skin, such as parabens and chemicals. Sensitive skin responds best to sun protection via a physical sun block that contains natural minerals, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

Face Masks to Soothe and Calm Your Skin

Facial masks are great for soothing your skin. Look for a product that contains calming ingredients, and use it once per week.

Anti-Aging Treatments for Sensitive Skin

Sensitive skin responds well to certain types of anti-aging treatments. Consult with a dermatologist before adding oils or serums. Not only will you find out if the product is right for your skin, but a dermatologist will also recommend the best products for your anti-aging goals. Introduce the products slowly and perform a patch test. Initially, use less than what is recommended on the label to determine how your skin will respond.

Morgan Covington, MD

Dr. Morgan Covington received her medical degree from the Pritzker School of Medicine at the University of Chicago. She completed her intern year training at Presence Resurrection Hospital and stayed in Chicago for her dermatology residency at the John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital. Dr. Covington is a member of the American Academy of Dermatology, Skin of Color Society, and Texas Medical Association.

One Response to “Caring For Sensitive Skin – Tips + Ultimate Skin Care Regimen”

  1. Avatar Jaiya says:

    Great post on caring for sensitive skin! It’s so important to be mindful of the products and ingredients we use on our skin, especially if we have sensitive skin. Your tips for managing sensitive skin and creating a skincare regimen that works are practical and easy to follow. I particularly appreciate your emphasis on patch testing new products and choosing gentle, fragrance-free options. Thank you for sharing your expertise and helping us take better care of our skin.

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