My AM and PM Skincare for Sensitive Skin

skincare for sensitive skin - image shows hands holding pot of lotion with some on finger with pink background

The All Natural Skincare Myth – Skincare for Sensitive Skin

This year, I’ll be turning 35. Since I started this blog when I was 24, it’s safe to say that my skincare needs have changed in the last decade. I have shared my skincare favorites in parts over time. But today I want to break down every product I use on my sensitive skin.

Like most people in their 30s, my skin is starting to show more obvious signs of aging.

I have fine lines around my eyes and on my neck, some loss of elasticity noticeable around my eyelids, and more skin spots.

I also have reactive and sensitive skin that doesn’t take well to certain ingredients in sunscreen, heavy fragrance, or resurfacing acids (like those found in chemical peels).

Should You Use All Natural Skincare?

For many years, I believed that I needed to use only “all natural” skincare. These products claim to be safer for skin and better for the planet. But the all natural market is largely unregulated. Many brands claiming to be all natural have poor formulations that can cause significant reactions and safety risks.

For instance, some all natural products claim to be preservative free. But any water-based product will begin to harbor dangerous bacteria if formulated without preservatives.

A few years ago, Herbivore face cream was recalled for exactly this reason, when mold was found in their product. In fact, mold is a very common problem across brands purporting to be all natural.

Other all natural brands include reactive ingredients or fail to balance PH levels in their skincare, resulting in chemical burns. Be aware of products that include essential oils. These can cause allergic reactions and rashes if the product is not formulated well.

top-down shot of person holding tub of lotion with pink pajamas sitting cross-legged on floor

Should You Avoid Chemical Sunscreen?

There is a heavily repeated myth that chemical sunscreens kill coral reefs. But the research is incomplete.

First, tests for certain sunscreen ingredients were done in the lab at much higher concentrations than one would find in the environment. Secondly, not all chemical sunscreens were deemed to be high risk for ecological damage.

Cosmetic scientist Lab Muffin Beauty suggests that most sunscreens approved by the FDA are safe to use. She also argues that many “physical sunscreens” – containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide – actually include chemical sunscreens in their ingredient lists.

This is because physical sunscreen is often less effective than chemical alternatives. It also leaves a “white cast,” which is residue on the surface of skin that doesn’t blend well.

But this doesn’t mean you should automatically switch to chemical sunscreen. Some chemical sunscreens, like oxybenzone, are known to cause skin irritation in some people (read: me). You may need to experiment with formulations to find what works best for you.

Whatever you do, don’t trust EWG (Environmental Working Group). EWG’s rating system, and even baseline information about ingredients, have been found to be inaccurate by industry experts, over and over again.

skincare for sensitive skin - clear lotion pot with jade roller on marble

Skin Reactions from Chemical Exfoliants and Active Ingredients

Of course, all skin is different. Even if you’re avoiding less credentialed, “all natural” brands, your skin can still react.

Chemical exfoliants like lactic acid, glycolic acid, and retinols/retinoids are effective at smoothing skin and reducing signs of aging and skin damage. But they need to be used sparingly, because they can disrupt the skin barrier and cause significant irritation.

With skincare “actives,” start slow and make sure your skin can handle it.

My Skincare Concerns

My main skincare concerns right now are:

  • dryness on my cheeks and body
  • skin sensitivity
  • fine lines, especially around my eyes
  • sun damage

I’m going to list every product I use – day, night, and weekly – and then explain how I use these products. My hope is that you’ll get some ideas for your own routine.

I’m linking almost exclusively to Target, because I think they have the best range of affordable and sensitive-skin friendly skincare. And many of these items are sold in stores, too.

Or, maybe you know about a product that might work better for me?


hands holding serum dropper with marble backdrop

This post contains affiliate links and I may be compensated should you purchase through them, at no additional charge to you.

AM Skincare Routine

  1. Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser: A classic for a reason, this cleanser is about the gentlest thing I’ve tried. But it doesn’t remove makeup well, so I only use it in the morning.
  2. Cetaphil Moisturizing Lotion: My go-to for full body moisturization. Fragrance free and a great texture that’s neither too thin nor too thick.
  3. Sunscreen (sparingly): I go back and forth between Elta MD UV Clear and Babo Botanicals Mineral sunscreen because I have an allergy to chemical sunscreens and experience irritation with physical sunscreens, too! I only apply sunscreen when I know I’ll be driving in the car or going outside for more than a few minutes. (And I always wear a brimmed hat when outside.)

PM Skincare Routine

  1. Cerave Hydrating Cream to Foam Cleanser: This stuff is great. It’s gentle and effectively removes makeup, even sticky mineral sunscreen. It works best if you massage it into skin for at least 30 seconds.
  2. Neutrogena Acne Stress Control Toner (except when using Differin): A very gentle toner with salicylic acid, which clears up the small bumps I get on my forehead, nose, and chin. The fragrance is off-putting, but hasn’t caused me any irritation.
  3. Bybi Bakuchiol Booster Serum, mixed into lotion: Bakuchiol needs to be studied a bit more, but it’s a botanical alternative to retinol that some people find less irritating (and some people find MORE irritating). Fortunately, it’s been great for me, and the texture of this serum is lovely.
  4. Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream: I love this stuff. I started using it when I lived in Connecticut, because my thinner lotions just weren’t cutting it in the winter. Now that I’m in Houston, I face issues with air pollution and dryness from constant air conditioning, so it’s still a great pick.
  5. Vaseline around eyes and on lips and tattoo: I started using Vaseline again on the advice of some beauty vloggers. As a byproduct of the oil industry, I’m not too concerned about its sustainability at this point in time. It creates a really good moisture barrier in areas that need more attention.

Weekly

  1. Differin Adapalene Gel on face and neck, 2x a week: Differin is marketed for acne, but it’s also anti-aging. I use this stuff about twice a week to avoid irritation and notice immediately smoother and softer skin in the morning. I don’t know for sure how well it’s keeping fine lines at bay, but it’s a good product.

Monthly

  1. Province Apothecary Regenerating Mask/Exfoliator, as needed: This seems super simple, but my skin looks better after using it. And it doesn’t cause any irritation.

What are your recommendations? And please send your non-irritating suncreen picks!

Leah Wise

Leah Wise is the founder of StyleWise Blog. She has been writing, speaking, and consulting on sustainable fashion, the fair trade and secondhand supply chain, and digital marketing for over ten years. An Episcopal priest, Leah holds a B.A. in Religion from Florida State University and an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. When not working, you can find her looking for treasures at the thrift store.

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