For those with sensitive skin, you’ll know that finding the right products can be an absolute chore. Not only do you have to approach new products with caution but you also have to protect your skin from environmental aggressors. While there are a plethora of products available on the market that promise a quick fix, skincare simply isn’t a one-size-fits-all task.

And we’ve all been there: we’ve purchased a new product we were convinced to buy only to realise it has left our skin red, irritated and burnt, or you’re experiencing redness, peeling or small, rash-like bumps despite not having what you think is sensitive skin. But did you know that there are two scenarios that lead to these symptoms? You can struggle with irritated skin (sensitive skin) or you can get sensitive skin flare ups (sensitised skin). So what is the difference?

Sensitive vs sensitised skin – what’s the difference?

“Those with sensitive skin are typically born with it,” says Dr Lauren Hamilton, aesthetic doctor and founder of skin clinic Victor & Garth. “You will have a genetic predisposition to inflammatory skin conditions like rosacea and psoriasis.” When skin is sensitive its protective outer layer lets irritants, microbes and allergens pass through, causing adverse reactions like stinging, pain, redness or flushing. Usually, sensitive skin is considered more delicate because it has a lower amount of pigment, a thin epidermis, and blood vessels close to the skin surface. Those with sensitive skin may also suffer from allergies and asthma.

Sensitised skin occurs over time and relates to the breakdown of our skin barrier making it more susceptible to the effects of environmental factors,” Dr Lauren adds. This can lead to symptoms such as burning, stinging and tightness and signs such as redness, dryness and peeling. Sensitised skin is a reflection of your environment; frequent irritability from lifestyle, irritants, cosmetic ingredients, fragrance and other external factors. However, avoiding these triggers can reduce or eliminate your symptoms.

For anyone with these skin types, Dr Lauren advises that you strip back your skincare routines. “You may be keen to overhaul your skincare routine and try lots of new brands and at-home peels during lockdown but it’s best to gradually add in products, still keeping it simple. This way you can identify any ingredients that don’t agree with your skin.”

When looking for the right products for your skin type, typically you should avoid products with alcohol, fragrances and preservatives, and some essential oils as these can be triggers. “Opt for gentle, calming cleansers and moisturisers that contain soothing ingredients such as jojoba oil, shea butter and squalene.”

And if you have sensitised skin, SPF is a must. “You should be applying a broad spectrum, high SPF, physical sunscreen every day,” Dr Lauren adds. “The key ingredient to look for would be zinc oxide as it is tolerated by most skin types.” However, for darker skin types, Dr Lauren suggests trialling different formulations that include zinc and assess how it blends into your skin tone.

Ahead we’ve tried and tested some of the best products that are suitable for sensitive and sensitised skin so you don’t have to suffer in silence.

Kate Somerville DeliKate Soothing Cleanser

Following the huge success of Kate Somerville’s Goat Milk range, the A-List celebrity’s favourite facialist is back with a line of skincare products specially formulated for sensitised and sensitive skin. This soothing cleanser has a rich, creamy texture that eliminates pore-clogging dirty as it strengths and soothes irritation. It contains a cocktail of peptides, ceramides, ginger root and Tasmania Lanceolata fruit extract which strengthens the skin’s compromised barrier, whilst the cucumber oil calms stressed out skin.

£33 | Cult Beauty

Curél Moisture Facial Lotion

This moisture lotion contains natural lipids and oils that form the skin’s protective barrier making it a great option for those with sensitive or dry skin stypes. Apply 5-6 drops to your face and neck and watch the formula instantly calm your sensitive skin as well as relieve tightness.

£17.50 | Boots

The Inkey List Snow Mushroom Face Moisturiser

The Inkey List is known for its no-nonsense, affordable skincare that comes straight from a chemistry lab. This particular offering is great for sensitive skin. It is formulated with an amino acid based humectant to hydrate and moisturise the skin, as well as tremella fuciformis extract that has a cooling effect on the skin. If you want to up your skin care game by layering ingredients, this moisturiser works well with products containing niacinamide and hyaluronic acid.

£9.99 | Feel Unique

Dermalogica Invisible Physical Defense SPF30

If you’re worried about a sunscreen that is thick or leaves a white residue on your face (darker skin types I’m looking at you) you’re in luck. This invisible, weightless SPF blends easily onto the skin, providing ultimate protection against the sun’s rays while also ensuring your complexion is moisturised and hydrated. The formula contains ultra-sheer zinc oxide which provides protection against harmful UVA/UVB rays and blue light, bioactive mushroom complex to soothe and reduce redness, and antioxidant green tea to fight against free-radical damage. A good tip is to always wear SPF even on overcast/cloudy days and while you’re using your computer screen.

£40.95 | Fragrance Direct

Murad Sensitive Skin Soothing Serum

This gel-like formula is weightless and works with your moisturiser to hold water in the skin, plumping up fine lines and delivering suppleness and resiliency. Containing hyaluronic acid and lecithin to improve your skin’s barrier function as well as protect it from environmental stresses, this serum is the perfect treat for your complexion.

£49.50 | Look Fantastic

Avene Hydrance Rich Hydrating Cream Moisturiser

If you’re looking for a moisturiser that hydrates, protects and restores, Avene’s offering will suit you down to a tee. Containing Avene’s patented Coheterm technology, an ingredient that restores hydration levels and offering longer lasting results than hyaluronic acid, this velvety-smooth moisturiser restores the skin’s hydration levels and minimises fine dehydration lines. It has been formulated for sensitive skin.

£10.87 | Boots

SVR Labaratoire Dermatologique Sensifine Double Cleansing Balm

For fans of double cleansing — perhaps you have combination skin, or want to get the day’s gunk off — look to this gorgeous balm to cream cleanser. Formulated for sensitive skin types, it contains shea butter which gently melts away pollution and make-up when you emulsify with water. It is also suitable for us around the eyes and lips, and leaves your skin feeling soft and moisturised. The cleanser also doesn’t leave a misty film that can cause blurry vision, so suitable for contact lens-wearers!

£12.75 | Cocoon Center

Origins Mega Mushroom Relief and Resilience Soothing Treatment Lotion

This alcohol-free and pH balance lotion is suitable for those suffering with redness and dehydration. Containing superfood ingredients reishi, sea buckthorn and fermented chaga mushroom (known for its healing properties), this lotion refreshes and rebalances the skin whilst replacing hydration levels by 71% and calming the skin. Use after cleansing to rebalance and calm the skin.

£32 | Origins

Trilogy Very Gentle Calming Serum

Containing certified natural skin calming ingredients — calendula and chamomile — this fragrance-free serum hydrates and calms irritated skin, as well as reduces fine lines and wrinkles. The formula also contains maqui berry, a super-oil high in antioxidants that helps target free radicals, and syricalm, a botanical formulation that reduces inflammation and maintains the skin’s barrier function.

£29.50 | Holland & Barrett

Algenist Genius Collagen Calming Relief

Suffering from dry, flaking skin? Look no further. Algenist’s Calming Relief is a treatment that soothes and comforts the skin by tackling the redness and flakiness. The formula contains alguronic acid and calendula as well as vegan collagen to improve moisture retention, leaving skin hydrated and restored bounce. It is great for those suffering with skin fatigue (dehydration, sensitive skin) and suitable for vegans too.

£55 | Space NK

bareMinerals Pureness Gel Cleanser

If you have sensitive skin, you’ll know to avoid any harsh cleansers that could irritate the skin. BareMineral’s Pureness Gel Cleanser has only 15 clean ingredients, including coconut water and coconut milk to hydrate and smoothe the skin, plus prickly pear to nourish. The gentle vegan formula removes makeup and excess oil without stripping or drying your skin out, and it is gentle enough to use around your eye area. If your skin is feeling irritated or particularly sensitive, this cleanser will help to calm and comfort your complexion.

£19 | Boots

Period Faace

If, perhaps, you are going through hormonal changes, or your period has suddenly crept up on you as it does, Period Faace has been specially formulated to soothe sensitive and hormonal skin. It’s packed full of hyaluronic acid to provide moisture, green tea to soothe inflammation and lavender to help balance hormones, whilst zinc reduces sebum production. Swipe this multi tasking mask across your complexion and leave it on the skin throughout the day — or overnight — to work its magic.

£22.50 | Faace

Biossance Squalene Peptide Eye Gel

Biossance is the buzzy new brand that has hit the UK which has sensitive skin types at the heart of its products. This Squalene Peptide Eye Gel, which has sold out numerous times at Sephora in the US, is an award-winning product that contains a mix of plant-derived squalene and swiss apple stem extract which helps tackle puffiness around the eye area. Swipe across your delicate eye area to minimise the look of fine lines, wrinkles and puffiness, as well as brightening your eye contour.

£46 | Cult Beauty

Verdict:

Kate Somerville’s Delikate Cleanser was an absolute gamechanger for us as it soothes both sensitive and sensitised skin — it’s a cleanser we scraped out until the very end. Its ability to cleanse the skin without stripping the face of its natural oils while leaving your face moisturised and soft was impressive. It definitely earned its ES Best top spot and is a bang for your buck. We also adored, to no surprise, Avene’s Hydrance Moisuriser both for its affordability and efficacy — the perfectly formulated moisturiser does what it says on the tin: moisturises and restores hydration levels and soothes irritated skin.

ESBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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