Sensitive skincare: 8 ingredients to avoid or embrace

Those of us with sensitive skin know that one minute things might be fine, and the next your skin is having a major break-out or is looking considerably irritated and you don’t know what has caused it.

Check out our helpful guide of ingredients to look out for in your skincare products – which to avoid and which to embrace.


1. Alcohol

Many toners and creams contain alcohol, as it allows the product to dry quickly on the skin. However, it can also seriously affect your skin’s moisture levels, leading to irritated, itchy and uncomfortable skin, as well as eroding the skin’s surface and affecting how the skin replenishes, renews and rejuvenates itself.

The type of alcohol you want to look out for on the ingredient list of your skincare or make up products is a drying type of alcohol, often labelled as SD alcohol, denatured alcohol or isopropyl alcohol on the ingredient list. If these names are listed among the first 6 ingredients on the list, you can guarantee they will aggravate your skin.

2. Fragrance

Scented lotions and creams can react with skin, causing inflammation and weakening the inner layers of skin (meaning you don’t always see the damage on the outside), so it is always best to opt for fragrance-free formulas. Research has shown that fragrance in skincare products is among the most common cause of sensitising and other aggravated skin reactions.

Fragrance in skincare can be labelled as various things, including: fragrance, parfum/perfume/aroma, linalool, citronellol, cinnamal, limonene, geraniol, eugenol, lavender oil, rose flower extract, bergamot oil, ylang-ylang oil, lemon, lime, orange, tangerine, peppermint, spearmint, eucalyptus and cinnamon.

3. Apricot kernels

The tiny granules your face scrub contains are irregular in shape, making them too harsh on sensitive skin. These kind of scrubs are fine for areas like the feet, elbows and knees, but try to opt for something gentle like a gommage peel for your face instead.

Gommage peels are a type of chemical exfoliative that gently remove the top layer of dead skin on the face. They can also be labelled as exfoliating or peeling gels. What makes these formulas different from scrubs is that they do not contain abrasives, instead using enzymes and extracts to exfoliate dead skin.

4. Chemical sunscreen

There are two main types of sunscreen - chemical and physical. Chemical sunscreen uses chemical ingredients like avobenzone, octinoxate and oxybenzone to reflect UV rays. These ingredients are generally fine for normal skin but can cause irritation for sensitive skin.

If you have sensitive skin, opt for a physical or mineral formula like La Roche-Posay Anthelios Shaka Ultra-Light Facial Sun Cream SPF50 for the face.


5. White tea extract

White tea is great for skin when used topically, as it is a gentle and natural antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties.

The two main proteins found in the skin are elastin and collagen. Elastin is responsible for the elasticity of the skin, as well as the quick healing of wounds. Collagen is responsible for supporting the strength of the skin and the elasticity. If these two proteins are broken down, it can result in wrinkles and sagging skin.

Research has shown that white tea extract may prevent this breakdown in elastin and collagen, leading to glowing, youthful-looking skin and protecting the skin from damage. Researchers also believe that the antioxidant properties in white tea extract reduce what is known as “oxidative stress” to the skin. Oxidative stress is thought to promote skin cancer, wrinkles and pigmentation.

6. Green tea leaf extract

The natural formula of green tea is rich in antioxidants and helps with skin circulation. Research has shown that such topical application of green tea leaf extract has anti-aging effects on the skin. The polyphenols found it green tea have potent antioxidant and skin-soothing properties, helping to improve the appearance of sun-damaged skin.

When looking for green tea as an ingredient in your skincare products, it is often labelled as its Latin name, cameillia sinesis.

7. Sunflower seed oil

Sunflower seed oil is high in vitamin E and helps to repair your skin’s moisture barrier, along with emollient properties that help the skin retain its moisture. Vitamin E helps trap moisture inside skin cells, meaning that the skin stays hydrated for longer. 

It is also rich in nutrients, antioxidants and vitamins A, C and D, and is effective in combatting acne, inflammation, redness and irritation on the skin, while the vitamin E helps protect the skin from harmful UV rays from the sun and other environmental stressors, in turn preventing premature aging.

The vitamin E in sunflower seed oil can help protect the collagen and elastin in the skin and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles on the skin. Using sunflower oil regularly can help remove dead skin cells and impurities, leaving you with soothed, smooth and hydrated skin.

8. Chamomile extract

Think of the way that chamomile tea has the ability to soothe an upset stomach – chamomile extract can do the same thing for your skin.

Chamomile extract has powerful anti-inflammatory propertied that can help to heal acne, decrease eczema, soothe dermatitis and increase the skin’s natural glow. It also cleanses and moisturises the skin, while soothing any irritation. When chamomile extract is an ingredient in other skincare products, it can improve how well the skincare product works.