How to Find the Right Makeup for Sensitive Skin


Kelli Miller

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Recent research has uncovered some surprising information about sensitive skin.

What to Avoid With Sensitive Skin

It’s difficult to identify the triggers that might bring about sensitive skin flare-ups. Try these tips to minimize irritations.
woman applying makeup

When putting on makeup, we often strive for glowing skin – just not the kind that comes with dry, red, and itchy irritation. Sensitive skin on the face is really common, and it’s a problem that's increasing as more and more cosmetics come to the market.

If you struggle with sensitive, reactive skin, makeup can help banish blotches and irritation and make skin look more even. But if you choose the wrong type of makeup, your skin symptoms could get worse.

How do you know which type to choose or avoid? Follow these tips when shopping the makeup aisle.

Say no to fragrance. Cosmetics include many different ingredients and it's often hard to know which one is causing your skin to become red and sore. But most of the time, the culprit is fragrance. It may be labeled vaguely on your makeup bottle – just listed as fragrance, or maybe "parfum."  The American Academy of Dermatology says fragrance is the leading cause of red, itchy skin, called allergic contact dermatitis. You may have to go on a makeup "elimination diet" to determine the product to blame. When in doubt, opt for a fragrance-free product.

Know that natural isn't always better. If fragrance makes your skin crawl, you might want to steer clear of scented plant extracts, too. Products made with citrus or lavender, for example, could cause the same reaction. If you’re not sure, test the product on your inner wrist first and wait a few days before making your purchase.

Don't be swayed by antioxidant or hyposensitivity claims. Some types of makeup contain antioxidants that are believed to tame inflammation and soothe sore skin. An example is tea leaves (tea polyphenols), sometimes called tea tree oils. This can work well for some people, but in others it may cause sensitive skin symptoms to become worse.   

Avoid "cooling" products. Ingredients touted to "cool" or "soothe" your skin can actually dry it out, making your skin red and angry. So skip foundation or any makeup that contains alcohol, witch hazel, menthol, peppermint, and eucalyptus oil.

Ditch the makeup if it burns or stings. This is your skin's way of telling you it doesn't like the makeup you've chosen. Immediately wash your face with a fragrance-free cleanser and cool water to remove any of the products you've applied. 

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Dec 21, 2015

© 2016 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

View Sources

Medical References

  1. Fan, L. International Journal of Cosmetic Science. October 7, 2015.
  2. Atopic dermatitis. American Academy of Dermatology.
  3. Allergy to Cosmetics. Allergy UK.
  4. Park, M.E. Dermatology Clinics. January 2014.
  5. Skin Care and Cosmetics. National Rosacea Society.

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