Everything You Need to Know About Caring for Sensitive Skin

Redness, irritation, and dullness—be gone!

sensitive skincare tips

photography by PHUONG NGUYEN


Having sensitive skin can take the fun out of your beauty routine. You're wary of trying anything new because you never know how your skin might react. It's a frustrating and seemingly endless battle—and one that skincare guru Sarah Brown understands all too well.

Brown founded the incredible sensitive skin brand, Pai, after she developed a skin condition that made her skin hyper-reactive, with severe acne. Frustrated by the lack of high quality, organic sensitive skin brands on the market, Brown created her own line in a garage in West London. Ten years later, Pai has become one of the most trusted and respected brands for sensitive, and non-sensitive skin types alike.

We asked her about exfoliation, dry versus dehydrated skin, and at-home remedies to help event the most delicate of skin types.

Silly question, but how do you know if you have sensitive skin?

Figuring out whether you have sensitive or sensitized skin can be a really useful place to start. There is a difference between the two, and it can be difficult to determine which you have, as many of the symptoms are often interchangeable.

Sensitive skin is genetic and refers to skin conditions that affect the way the skin's barrier functions—such as eczema and psoriasis. These are longer-term conditions, and can be triggered by things like hormonal changes, aging, and periods of illness, which can affect the skin's barrier function and increase inflammation.

Sensitized skin, on the other hand, has undergone some kind of trauma resulting in the damage to the skin's protective layer, which can occur as a result of stress, sun damage, pollution, medication, and so on. These factors can reduce our skin's ability to hold on to moisture and prevent infection, creating an uncomfortable or flushed feeling.

Can people with less sensitive skin benefit from using sensitive skin products?

It really depends on the nature and quality of the product. Pai products are certified organic so they contain very high quality plant extracts, which all skin types can benefit from. These ingredients tend to be rich in vitamins and essential fatty acids (omegas), which really feed the skin.

Do people with sensitive skin have to be careful with other daily activities, too?

There are lots of triggers for sensitive skin, so there are certain activities that can cause flare ups. It's best to monitor your own skin (I used to keep a skin diary), and see if and when you have reactions.

Sun exposure is a known trigger of rosacea flare-ups and washing in very hot water can cause irritation and exacerbate conditions such as eczema and urticaria. As a general rule, hot water can disrupt the skin's natural balance of moisture, stripping natural oils from the skin faster than warm water.

Dry skin: Help!

Firstly, it's important to understand if your skin is dry or dehydrated, as there is a big difference. This will then influence the skincare products you choose.

On a basic level, dry skin is what is referred to as a skin type. It's the skin you're born with, or develop as you age. Dry skin produces less oil than normal skin types. We need our skin's natural oil to keep our pores and the outer layers of the skin protected and conditioned. To treat dry skin, try opting for a moisturizer that contains rich, fattier oils that make up for the lack of natural sebum.

Dehydrated skin tends to be a more temporary state that any skin type can sometimes suffer from. It is simply skin that is lacking in moisture. It will look and feel tight, dull and papery. So, in this case, opting for a richer cream may cause congestion or breakouts. What you want is a moisturizer with high water content that will drive moisture into the skin. Dehydrated skin can often be best tackled from the inside-out, so up your intake of fluids and make sure you're consuming lots of essential fatty acids (omegas).

Redness: How do you treat it?

Those who experience redness are often particularly susceptible to changes in temperature. So if it's very cold, try protecting your face with a large scarf, and if it's very hot, stick to the shade.

There are also other triggers such as caffeine, spicy food, alcohol, sunlight, and sometimes stress. Look at the ingredients lists on your products and stick to soothing and regenerative actives like chamomile and rose hip. Rose hip is a fantastic skin healer and strengthener, while chamomile contains chamazulene, which is a natural anti-inflammatory compound that cools and calms any flushing.

Do people with sensitive skin need to exfoliate?

Yes, it can be helpful for people with sensitive skin to exfoliate, as skipping it can leave skin dull and congested. However, some exfoliators (particularly those containing fruit stone powders or ground rice) can cause redness, irritation, and even breakouts. This is because the jagged edges of gritty scrubs can cause micro-tears in the skin's surface and strip away protective lipids. Our Kukui & Jojoba Bead Skin Brightening Exfoliator is ideal for skin that's usually too sensitive for exfoliation, as the perfectly spherical natural wax beads gently roll across the skin to polish away dead skin cells and impurities, without scratching the healthy cells below.

Chemical exfoliants offer a grit-free alternative, however they are often formulated with high levels of drying alcohols and can be too harsh for delicate skin. Our Copaiba Deep Cleanse AHA Mask uses ultra gentle, naturally-derived AHAs from Pink Pomelo (and absolutely no drying alcohol) to gently loosen dull skin cells and smooth the skin.

Tell us about some superstar ingredients that calm the skin.

We believe that certified organic ingredients are the best way to treat sensitive skin because they are grown without pesticides and extracted without solvents. They are exceptional purity and quality.  

Our Rose Hip BioRegenerate Oil uses a unique blend of rose hip fruit and seed oil. We use CO2 supercritical extraction, as it's the gentlest way to extract these incredible oils, and it allows us to preserve the complete properties of the plant without oxidation or contamination. The result is a beautiful deep orange oil, packed with twice the regenerative sterols and five times more carotenoids than your average cold-pressed rose hip seed oil.

Pai has pioneered some impressive social and ethical responsibilities.

"Pai" means "goodness" in Maori, and that sums up what we believe in. We're the first brand to list our ingredients in plain English, because we actually want our customers to know exactly what they're putting on their skin.

Shopping for sensitive skin can be extremely frustrating, and so we do the best we can to help make it an easy and pleasant experience. We're about to extend our returns policy to 90 days, offering customers their money back on all full size products.

We maintain the highest ethical standards across every aspect of the business. We never test on animals. We use only sustainable plant ingredients and choose recyclable or biodegradable packaging wherever possible.

Any natural remedies you use at home for your skin?

I add dead sea and epsom salts to my bath when I need to relax my muscles and de-stress. I also use drops of lavender essential oil in the bath too.  

I use our Rose Hip Oil in a million different ways in the home. On burns or persistent blemishes with amazing results. My husband has even used it to soothe his scalp.

Sweet almond oil is great for removing my little boys’ cradle cap too.

Any other irritants to remove from your normal day interactions?

There are many different foaming agents, detergents, and 'surfactants' out there, which can be difficult to navigate.

Many conventional face washes and shower gels use sulfates and betaines, which create the rich lather, but can leave skin stripped and irritated. Formulated specifically for sensitive skin, our new Gentle Genius Camellia & Bergamot Body Wash is free from all sulphates, including those derived from coconut. It uses a combination of ultra gentle natural cleansing agents alongside a Konjac sponge to generate a soft non-irritating lather, eliminating the need for stronger detergents.

(Ed note: This body wash is one of our favorite new products this year, an absolute must have for both sensitive and non-sensitive skin types.)

Get more beauty tips:
6 Real Ways Makeup and Skin Care Can Help Your Mental Health
The Best Beauty Hacks Our Editors Swear By
How to Age Flawlessly: Norma Kamali Reveals Her Secrets

Published on August 08, 2017 - 2:00pm EDT

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