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One of the key reasons we started Kanvas Beauty was because of the difficulties we encountered when trying to find the right skincare for our sensitive skin. In most cases, skin sensitivity doesn't exist in a vacuum: the causes vary, and it can be accompanied by a whole heap of other conditions such redness, hyperpigmentation and acne. We found that the commonly marketed products for sensitive skin didn't always take this into account. For instance, a typical skin care routine for sensitive skin might not cause any irritation, but it might also do nothing to help zits or fine lines. Not to mention that there's very little out there on what sensitive skin looks like on darker skin tones. That's why Kanvas Beauty thought carefully before compiling the information below. We wanted to provide the guide that we wish we'd had a few years ago, as well as a skincare collection that vary between being targeted skin soothers to multi-faceted solutions that work on a variety of skin types and tones.
Causes of sensitive skin
But first things first: what causes sensitive skin? In some cases, it could be genetic and in others, the cause may be an allergy towards an obscure ingredient that we might have unknowingly developed at some stage of our lives (that's why patch testing first is a must!). There's also sensitivty as a side effect of medications and treatments (e.g. chemotherapy), as well as health conditions (e.g. autoimmune diseases).
Increasingly common however, is the type of sensitivity that's usually brought on by ourselves when we unwittingly destroy our skin barrier. If you wake up one day with bumpy and inflamed skin and think, 'Why is my skin so sensitive all of a sudden?!' - the chances are, you've compromised your skin barrier. Sunburns, chemical peels, excessive laser treatments and overuse of active products such as exfoliants can cause our skin to start burning, tingling uncomfortably and turning red at every turn. But don't fret: that's our sweet spot and having been there ourselves way too many times, we know what products and ingredients can help.
How to know if you have sensitive skin
A common symptom is burning or stinging when you attempt to apply skincare that your skin was formerly happy with. Another is inflammation and redness, sometimes accompanied by a rash or itchy hives. A milder rash can look very similar to subclinical acne. A sensitive reaction can also come with swelling, 'heated skin', excessive dryness and peeling. It's important to note that on dark skin, rashes or contact dermatitis can look purplish or ashy in colour (rather than reddish), sometimes with texture that looks like goosebumps. Skin symptoms present very differently on darker skin tones, a factor which is severely underrepresented on Google for those who can't resist self-diagnosing (so don't get waylaid)!
Can sensitive skin be cured?
The skin is a living, breathing organ. It is constantly in a state of shedding and renewal, although that cycle begins to slow as we age. Therefore (and depending on the cause) the right skin care for sensitive skin can cure it in the same way food poisoning can be cured. But if you're out there always eating undercooked chicken then chances are, it'll happen again! Similarly, skin sensitivity can return if the triggers are repeated. Remember to consult your GP or dermatologist - particularly if the sensitivity is severe. There are a range of prescribed treatments you might be advised to try, and a qualified physician can help you identify any potential lifestyle triggers. When you're ready to embark on a skincare journey, come and see us!
What are the best sensitive skin products?
The answer to this depends on the cause of your sensitivity, your skin type and your most pressing symptoms. But there are some basic tenets. The first to keep it simple. The best care for sensitive skin is basic. If you have a 10-step routine, pare it back to cleansing, toning and moisturizing, and remove any active ingredients. As your skin recovers, you can begin to reintroduce additional steps, starting with a barrier-repair serum and trying 'slugging' if dryness is also a factor. Some of our best products for sensitive skin (tried and passed with flying colours) are just listed below, including our best sunscreens for sensitive skin. And let's not forget about touchy pits! Worth mentioning here is Nuud, hands down our fave deodorant for sensitive skin, made with just 10 ingredients (none of which are aluminium).
What skincare ingredients to avoid for sensitive skin?
Generally speaking, the best sensitive skin care is inoffensive, with simple and soothing ingredients. Abrasives (e.g. facial scrubs), strong active ingredients, fragrances, harsh cleansing agents and even essential oils should be avoided. Instead, embrace a routine that goes hard on barrier repair and SPF. Once your skin starts feeling stronger and less reactive, you can start to gradually reintroduce other ingredients. Is there any suitable sensitive skin exfoliator out there? If you must, we'd recommend starting with an ultra-low concentration of AHAs and BHAs (like the COSRX AHA/BHA Clarifying Treatment Toner) or a mild LHA/PHA formula (try the Sebiaclear Serum from SVR). Use it sparingly and with a barrier-repair serum or facial oil afterwards, and your skin shouldn't protest too much. Also, when it comes to scrubs vs a chemical exfoliator for sensitive skin, always opt for the latter. Scrubs (no matter how gentle) risk micro-tears in delicate skin.
Can you apply makeup on sensitive skin?
Whether or not your skin is ready for makeup really depends on how sensitive it's feeling. If it's at the stage where it's stinging, then best put the foundation down! When your skin barrier starts to repair itself, you can try lighter makeup like BB creams and tinted creams. Because makeup generally contains several ingredients necessary for its optimal application rather than your skin's health (e.g. talc, dyes etc), the best type of makeup to use will tend to be on the natural side. We love Lily Lolo's Natural BB Cream, as well as Purito's CIca Clearing BB Cream. The entire ĀTHR Beauty range is a great option for blushes and shadows, being another clean and vegan beauty brand with minimal 'filler' ingredients. Our favourite sensitive skin foundation is Lily Lolo's Cream Foundation, whose formula is almost good enough to sleep in!
Best skincare for sensitive skin
Some of Kanvas Beauty’s favourite sensitive skin skincare includes:
SVR Laboratories-Sensifine AR Cream: One of the best products we've tried for soothing red and heated skin, this instantly cooling, green-tinged cream relies on the heat-regulating properties of licorice extract and endothelyol to bring immediate relief.
Purito-Centella Unscented Toner: Do you really need a toner for sensitive skin? Yes - and here's why. The right sensitive skin toner (like this one right here) will reduce the pH of your skin after cleansing (critical for preventing irritation), calm and soothe with ingredients like panthenol and allantoin, and improve the ingredient absorption of the rest of your skincare.
SKIN&LAB-Barrierderm Milky Serum: An absolute superstar of a barrier-repair serum that'll heal, hydrate, protect and calm, all at once. When it comes to serums for sensitive skin, this one is a chart-topper.
Purito - Dermide Barrier Relief Moisturizer: When it comes to picking the best moisturiser for sensitive skin, you're spoiled for choice. But we think one brand caters to barrier damage particularly well, and that is Purito. We love the Dermide Barrier Relief Moisturiser because of its versatility - it has never met a skin type it didn't suit! Another great sensitive skin moisturiser is the Purito B5 Panthenol Re-Barrier Cream.
ISNTREE-Green Tea Fresh Cleanser: Picking the right cleansers for sensitive skin matters. You don't want something too weak that doesn't actually cleanse, but at the same time, the last thing a sensitive skin cleanser should be is stripping. Or boring! The antioxidant-rich Green Tea Fresh Cleanser from ISNTREE is free from drying alcohols, essential oils and fragrances. It also contains actual green tea leaves (you can literally see it). For something jujst as gentle but more pared down, opt for Etude House's Soon Jung pH 5.5 Foam Cleanser.
Ingredients to try
SPF What is it: Sun Protection Factor. It's the most important step in every skincare routine, but sunscreen for sensitive skin in particular is a non-negotiable. That's because UV rays reduce the barrier function of your skin, making it more vulnerable to allergies, irritation and infection. The typical sensitive skin sunscreen tends to be physical (i.e using mineral filters like zinc and titanium dioxide) but they're not always dark-skin friendly. Those with a lot of melanin should try a hybrid formula, but there are also a lot of clean chemical facial sunscreen for sensitive skin out there. Best for: Everyone, no ifs or buts! Suggested products with SPF:UnSun Mineral Tinted SPF, Black Girl Sunscreen's Make It Hybrid, ISNTREE's Hyaluronic Acid Natural Sun Cream, Beauty of Joseon Probiotics Relief Sun Essence.
Centella (aka Tiger Grass, Cica) What is it: Beloved by K-Beauty and used in Eastern medicine for hundreds of years, this plant is a rich in amino acids and active compounds such as asiatic acid and madecassoside (see below). Best for: What isn't cica good for? Amongst other things, cica is great for soothing and calming, as well as treating sensitive, acne-prone skin. Suggested products:ISNTREE's Cica Relief Cream, Purito's Centella Unscented Serum and Beauty of Joseon's Revive Serum.
Squalane What is it: Squalane is a plant-derived oil that is very close in consistency and function to our own sebum. When applied on skin, it helps to mimic the function of a healthy skin barrier, keeping moisture in and external irritants out. Best for: Dry, sensitive and over-exfoliated skin. Suggested products: Acure The Essentials 100% Plant Squalane, Purito's Plainet Squalane Oil and SVR's Sensifine Nutri-Balm, which can be used as both a face moisturiser for sensitive skin or at the very last step of your routine for slugging.
Ceramides What is it: Ceramides are fatty acids critical to maintaining a healthy skin barrier and adequate moisture levels. Generally speaking, the best sensitive skin moisturiser will contain ceramides. Best for: Persistently dry, sensitive skin. Suggested products:SVR's Barrier Cream, SKIN&LAB's Barrierderm Intensive Cream and SVR's Topialyse Body Wash for an ultra-moisturizing body wash for sensitive skin.