Avoid These 7 Things If You Have Sensitive Skin

by Miki Hayes
Beautiful woman standing in her bathroom in the morning applying face cream on her cheeks.
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Keeping your skin happy and healthy can be quite a chore. And it can be even more difficult if you have sensitive skin. Because when you're not just concerned with what will clog your pores but also what might cause other types of reactions, your list of what to stay away from becomes much longer. But instead of ruling out types of products entirely, it helps to know what ingredients or subcategories of products to avoid for sensitive skin so you can keep more options open.

So to find out specifically what ingredients are best for sensitive skin-types to shy away from, I emailed with Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, founder and Director of Capital Laser & Skin Care and Associate Clinical Professor for the Department of Dermatology at the George Washington University Medical Center, and Joanna Vargas, celebrity facialist and founder of Joanna Vargas Salon and Skincare Collection. While there are a number of relatively common ingredients and products that are best for those with sensitive skin to avoid, the good news is that there are plenty of alternatives. So you don't have to deal with itchy, red skin from contact dermatitis, here are seven things the experts recommend skipping, and what to try instead if you have sensitive skin:

1. Fragrance

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Fragrance, especially synthetic fragrance, is often responsible for causing flareups on sensitive skin. So to keep everything under control, Dr. Tanzi recommends sticking to products that are fragrance-free.

2. Parabens

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Besides the other reasons you should avoid parabens, Dr. Tanzi says they can also cause irritation in those with sensitive skin. When selecting skin care, body care, and makeup, make sure to choose paraben-free options.

3. Sulfates

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Sulfates can be too harsh for sensitive skin. So to avoid drying or irritating your skin, Dr. Tanzi says to always opt for sulfate-free cleansers.

4. Dyes

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Dyes are another irritating ingredient for those with sensitive skin. To prevent contact dermatitis, Dr. Tanzi recommends sticking with dye-free formulas for skin care and makeup.

5. Chemical Sunscreen

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To avoid irritating sensitive skin, Dr. Tanzi says to avoid any sunscreen with active ingredients other than zinc or titanium. Generally, she says, it's best to stick to mineral sunscreens only.

6. Physical Exfoliants

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According to Vargas, exfoliation is important for all skin types, but it can be tricky to choose the right type for sensitive skin. So you don't inflame your skin but still get the benefits from cell-turnover, she says to opt for an exfoliant with fruit enzymes as opposed to a physical scrub. Dr. Tanzi says using a glycolic wash once or twice per week will also keep skin properly exfoliated without irritating it.

7. Retinol

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Vargas recommends avoiding masks with retinols as they can "cause redness and dry patches when skin is sensitive." Instead, she says to try treatments with arnica as this ingredient can calm skin and reduce redness. And of course, whenever you're in doubt, simply look for products designated for sensitive skin. That way, you'll know red, itchy skin won't be in your future.