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Sensitive saviours

Cleansing, moisturising and personal care for sensitive skin

Choosing products for sensitive skin can often be a case of knowing what ingredients to avoid as much as what to go for. “Sodium lauryl sulfate is the main offender, it is a petroleum-based chemical added to personal care products to make them foam,” says Niamh Larkin of health store Evergreen in Mainguard St, Galway. “unless you are very familiar with a brand and its ethos, always read the ingredients. If you can’t pronounce an ingredient, do a quick internet search to see if it’s just a fancy name for coconut oil, or something more sinister. Another great way to avoid questionable ingredients is to shop local – many small Irish natural skincare brands specialise in chemical-free skincare.”

“Avoiding synthetic fragrances which can cause inflammation and weaken the inner layers of the skin will help a lot,” says Rowan Green who works with organic beauty and skincare company Pravera. “There isn’t actually a need for perfume in skincare, so opt for fragrance-free formulas.”

“Specific ingredients to actively avoid include the following,” says Dr Joanne Reilly, founder and owner of Kinvara Skincare. “SLS/SLES used in cleansers, scrubs, washes and most shampoos; propylene glycol used as a humectant to help retain moisture, methylisothiazolinone used in cosmetics as a preservative to extend shelf life, parabens which mimic properties of some female hormones and the preservative phenoxyethanol. Reputable established brands operate to best international practice and if they’re claiming to be natural their ingredients should be EcoCert approved. In Ireland we’re lucky to have highly trained health store professionals who should be able to help or contact the brand if you have a specific query.”

Sensitive saviours

“If you have sensitive skin opt for products with calming ingredients that will soothe, nourish and reduce redness and inflammation,” says Rowan Green.

“Green tea extract is a gentle antioxidant with anti-inflammatory benefits. Sunflower oil is high in vitamin E and will help to repair moisture lost.”

“For very sensitive skin I would avoid anything with fragrance, including essential oils, and instead opt for something very gentle or formulated for baby,” says Niamh Larkin. “Look for ingredients such as chamomile, aloe vera, calendula and shea butter.”

“If you have sensitive skin get into the habit of patch-testing any new products,” says Dr Joanne Reilly. “Apply a small amount of product in the crook of your elbow or behind your ear, wait 24 hours and monitor for any sign of redness or irritation.”

Clever cleansing

“For cleansing sensitive skin avoid soap at all costs,” says Rowan Green. “Opting for a face wash with a creamy formula will be much gentler. Avoid really hot water as it strips the skin of its natural oils, promoting dryness – use lukewarm water instead.”

“Use the most gentle, basic cleanser available to you,” says Niamh Larkin. “Avoid products with harsh foaming agents, and exfoliants that can overstimulate sensitive skin. Almond oil makes a great facial cleanser, it’s extremely gentle and removes make-up easily.”

“Oils are nature’s answer when it comes to cleansing your skin without stripping it of its own precious skin oils,” says Dr Joanne Reilly. “Be mindful of your product’s pH – it shouldn’t be too low (acidic) or too high (basic) as it could interfere with your skin’s own protective acid mantle.”

Major moisturising

“If pure shea butter is too heavy for your skin, look for something natural with minimal ingredients,” says Niamh Larkin. “If your skin isn’t too sensitive for essential oils, try a moisturiser containing lavender or rose, which helps to calm and soothe sensitive skin prone to redness.”

“When choosing a moisturiser consider counting the number of ingredients it contains,” says Rowan Green. “Less is more – fewer ingredients mean fewer potential interactions with fragile skin.”

Personal care products

“Go for very gentle soap bars or liquid castile soap with mild to no fragrance, depending in your level of sensitivity,” says Niamh Larkin. “Use a moisturising body balm or lotion after showering to keep the skin soft. Always ask for advice if you’re not sure.”

Final word

“Look at how many products you’re putting on your skin each day,” says Rowan Green. “If it’s more than four, consider cutting back. Can you go without make-up on some days? Simplify to help your skin recover.”

“Keep it simple,” says Niamh Larkin. “If you find your skin reacts to most ingredients then opt for something with only one ingredient (eg shea butter, coconut oil, jojoba oil) or try your hand at creating your own cosmetics – this way you have full control over the quality and quantity of the ingredients.”

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