‘Tis the season to give your complexion the kid-glove treatment. “Some people are born with sensitive skin, other people have it temporarily,” says dermatologist Amy Wechsler of the surge of rough, ruddy faces during winter. “It‘s very common due to the cold climate, as well as stress, travel, or sleep deprivation.”
No matter which camp you fall in—seasonal or year-round sufferer—if your skin is consistently feeling tight, pink, dry, flaky, or inflamed, it’s time to switch things up. From choosing the right formulas to supercharging your complexion, here dermatologists and makeup pros weigh in on how to minimize flare-ups to maintain a remarkably clear glow through spring.
Go Fragrance Free
“Fragrance is one of the most common ingredients in cleansers, creams, and lotions that can lead to redness, itching, burning, or excessive dryness in sensitive-skinned individuals,” explains Dr. Naissan O. Wesley. And that‘s just the beginning when it comes to giving a product’s label a close read, says Gucci Westman, makeup artist pro, healthy-skin obsessive, and founder of clean beauty brand Westman Atelier. “You should look for products with ingredients that are soothing and formulated for sensitive skin.” A longtime sufferer of rosacea, a chronic skin condition that causes redness, Westman steers clear of fragrance as well as sulfates, which can irritate rosacea-prone skin. “Try to pick a product with as few ingredients as possible—the more ingredients [on the label], the more potential for problems,” adds Wechsler. “It can get tricky when most products have a list of 30 to 50 ingredients.”
Cleanse Gently—and Not Too Often
“It‘s important to remove makeup and environmental toxins, but overcleansing should be avoided,” explains Wesley. “It can strip the skin of its natural barrier and fatty acids, potentially leading to excessive dryness and irritation.” For sensitive skin, Wesley recommends an ultra-gentle, sulfate-free cleanser (“Sulfates are typically the ingredients that cause cleansers to foam or lather,” she says) or micellar water, which won‘t dry out the skin. “Sensitive skin really doesn’t need to be cleansed more than once a day unless makeup needs to be removed at another point during the day,” she explains.
Exfoliate Regularly, But Don’t Overdo It
“Exfoliation is essential for sensitive skin during the winter,” explains Manhattan-based dermatologist Francesca Fusco. “It removes dead cells on the surface so that products will penetrate more efficiently.” She recommends choosing a very fine-grained physical exfoliant—but with a major prerequisite: Tread lightly. “Scrubbing is for pots and pans, not your skin, as Dr. [Patricia] Wexler always says!” As for the rest of the body, you can use a chemical exfoliant to treat your physique with a topical treatment that contains an alpha hydroxy acid, such as lactic acid to increase cell turnover while maintaining moisture. This kind of treatment can be especially helpful for those who struggle with keratosis pilaris, whereby individuals affected experience rough bumps, most commonly on the back of the upper arms. ”People who have KP also tend to have more sensitive skin in general or be more prone to dry, itchy skin conditions such as eczema,” says Wesley.
If you have sensitive skin, you must saturate it in hydration daily. Otherwise, skipping just a day will be evident by way of unsavory flaking and sallowness. Your best bet is to double down by incorporating two or more deeply moisturizing elixirs. And come winter, any woman would be remiss not to add a serum that contains hyaluronic acid to her routine. ”When applied to a freshly cleansed face, it‘s like a magnet for retaining moisture in dry skin,” explains Fusco. Afterward, opt for a facial oil packed with omega fatty acids, which are the major building block of the skin barrier. But be very discerning about what kind will work best. “Some oils can be soothing, but some can be irritating,” explains Wechsler. “I always tell someone with sensitive skin that they should do a test spot on their face for three nights or days so if they develop a rash, it‘s not taking up their whole face.“ Finally, to seal everything in, reach for a noncomedogenic moisturizing cream, which tends to be more emollient than lotion formulas, which have watery textures that are more likely to evaporate off the skin. If you want to take exfoliation and moisture to the next level, Wesley recommends a a hydrafacial treatment. “It‘s a facial that combines microdermabrasion to exfoliate, followed by putting moisture back in the skin to make it look nice, polished, and hydrated right after,” she explains. “It‘s a nice procedure to do before events, but also in the winter to help skin-cell renewal without irritation.”
Look to “Clean” Makeup Products
“I tend to stray away from heavier coverage, even when approaching redness-prone areas,” explains Westman. “You end up looking a little too makeup-y when you use too many products, so I like to keep it simple and pat on a buttery, blendable foundation.” When working with clients such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston, and Julianne Moore, Westman only covers the problem areas, then blurs it out to give the skin a natural-looking glow. And because redness can be tricky when working with blush, she recommends starting with a mild tinted formula. “I like to use cream blushes as you can really control the saturation,” she explains, adding that you should focus on the apples of the cheeks and lightly blend the hue until it really mimics a natural flush. While dealing with sensitive skin is often frustrating, there‘s solace in today‘s ever-growing market, which has never been better suited for showing skin TLC while steering clear of irritants. “I know the products that I choose are helping to improve my skin, not just cover it up,” explains Westman, citing her own journey with rosacea. “It really helps me to stay positive and keep confident.”
Don’t Forget the Skin on Your Body
Yes, you need a nourishing skin-care game plan for below the neck, too. “Our skin regenerates and heals while we sleep,” emphasizes Fusco, underlining the fruits of moisturizing your body overnight, especially during the winter. As far as exfoliation is concerned, while the skin on your body (with the exception of your chest) is thicker than that on your face, you still want to proceed with caution. If you use a physical exfoliator sparingly, be sure that it’s safe for sensitive skin and made with finely-milled grains and that you apply a rich body moisturizer right after. You can also consider a gentle chemical exfoliator supercharged with ingredients such as glycolic acid or retinol, the latter being especially beneficial for those that suffer from keratosis pilaris. “I consider it a gold standard in skin care and often explain it to my patients as something that sweeps away dead skin cells, clogged pores, and dull skin,” says Fusco.
Sarah Jessica Parker answers all of our 73 questions: