Sort your pH
The skin surface is usually slightly acidic, as this helps protect our skin from bacteria. This should be about 5.5, says dermal therapist and founder of Dermal Distinction Dr Giulia D'Anna.
Whenever we use a product that lowers the pH dramatically (like a strong AHA) or raises the pH (like soap), our skin will sting, breakout or become red as it tries to get the skin pH back to 5.5 again. Fight back by using only skincare products that are based around the pH of 5.5 to keep the skin surface as normalised as possible.
Get professional advice
Sensitivity can also occur with immune conditions like eczema and psoriasis, where the skin barrier and surface is impaired. See a dermal therapist or dermatologist and learn which are the best products for your skin, says Dr D'Anna.
There are so many great products on the market these days but some are not suitable for reactive skins. Learn which to avoid (and which to use) from a professional.
Protect your barrier
We all have a protective fatty outer layer on our skin, explains Dr D'Anna. This is called the lipid (fat) barrier, and it performs two main jobs: keeping water in, and keeping potentially damaging things, (think UV rays, wind, heat, and harsh chemicals), out.
In people with sensitive skin, this barrier is typically weaker, thinner, and more easily damaged, making it easier for irritants to penetrate the skin and cause inflammation. This fatty layer can be stripped from the skin by over-exfoliating, using harsh cleansers. This makes the skin less resistant to the environment.
Skip the harsh cleansers and the manual exfoliators too.
One of the most irritating ingredients within skincare (especially some of the big name brands) are fragrances - including essential oils.
"I know it makes the product smell good (and make the product smell expensive), but those pesky ingredients can cause skin irritation that can be very troublesome," says Dr D'Anna.
The ingredients you do want to see are those that retain moisture (including emollients and humectants like glycerin and hyaluronic acid) and replenish the the lipid barrier (including ceramides and fatty acids). We want to try and trap in the moisture and create a protective layer.