What types of facial cleansers can I use for sensitive skin?

Dr. Ellen Marmur, MD
People with sensitive skin run the gamut from those with a fair-skinned, delicate complexion, to someone with rosacea or with dark skin that is prone to hyperpigmentation. Essentially, when dealing with skin that gets red and irritated easily, burns quickly in the sun, or is susceptible to dark spots, you must use care and caution. Minimize your use of products to the point of applying nearly nothing to your skin. A less-of-everything routine doesn't tamper with the barrier function of the stratum corneum. As with dry skin, don't wash it more than once per day, and use gentle formulations (cleansing lotions or milks) with the mildest surfactants. Gels and oil-free washes usually clean away too much oil, but a creamier cleanser will replenish the healthy lipids on the surface. (Most people with sensitive skin tend to have rosacea or dryness too.) Occlusive emollients in a cleanser or moisturizer help protect sensitive skin by creating a stronger surface barrier. It's also important to look for anti-inflammatory ingredients, such as soy, allantoin, aloe vera, or chamomile. These will soothe the skin and calm redness.
Patients with even slightly sensitive skin need to always patch test a new product before using it on the face. (This goes for any new cleanser, sunscreen, moisturizer, makeup, scrub, anything at all.) Remember they could interact with each other and irritate your skin. Try it out on your inner wrist or forearm, since the skin there is thin and more similar to facial skin. And be patient: you need to test a product for four days in a row. This way, if the product doesn't trigger a reaction immediately, you'll be able to see if repeated applications cause irritation. It is not unusual to have a delayed allergic reaction that may not show up for weeks. Also, realize that your cheeks have a higher concentration of blood vessels, so you might react differently there no matter how much pretesting you do. The creases around the nose and eyes are particularly sensitive because products accumulate there in higher concentrations.
Simple Skin Beauty: Every Woman's Guide to a Lifetime of Healthy, Gorgeous Skin

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Simple Skin Beauty: Every Woman's Guide to a Lifetime of Healthy, Gorgeous Skin

What if a leading dermatologist just happened to be your best friend and you could ask her anything? DR. ELLEN MARMUR, a world-renowned New York City dermatologist, answers all your questions with...

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.