Sensitive Skin? Stay Away from These Popular Ingredients That Aren’t the Best Skincare For Sensitive Skin

Sensitive Skin? Stay Away from These Popular Ingredients


If you have ever experienced redness, rawness, and itching after using some products, you probably have sensitive skin. Contrary to popular belief, sensitive skin is not a skin type, and neither is it a medical diagnosis, rather it is just a description of skin that is more prone to inflammation and reactions to products.

People with sensitive skin often have strong reactions to products that have fragrances and chemicals, and sometimes even friction from clothing can be a cause of irritation and inflammation. Even the best korean cleanser out there could cause a reaction if you don’t check the ingredients well.

Having sensitive skin also means that you have to be super careful with what products you choose, as many skincare products can potentially cause irritation to your skin and dry skin. Many holy grail skincare products might be too strong for people with sensitive skin types, hence instead of the product working the way you might want it to, it might cause increased breakouts of redness, inflammation and even weaken the skin’s moisture barrier.

In this article, we will go through common skincare ingredients that you should avoid, as well as the best skincare for sensitive skin.

woman wearing mud mask

Salicylic acid

Why it’s bad for sensitive and dry skin:

Salicylic acid is a very popular treatment for acne as it is very effective at targeting blackheads and whiteheads. Salicylic acid can easily dry out the oils and stuff that is clogging up your pores, reducing the swelling and redness from pimples.

However, since it is so strong it has the potential to over-dry the skin which might result in irritation and dryness for people with sensitive skin. Addressing acne for sensitive skin is tricky, and this particular ingredient just won’t work. So while you’re still debating the difference between dry skin vs dehydrated skin, it might be best to hold off on using salicylic acid.

What should you use instead:

Witch hazel is a really good natural alternative that is a lot gentler and can soothe sensitive skin. Witch hazel is known for its properties of soothing and healing the skin, while also cleansing it. It works similarly to salicylic acid in the sense that it can unclog the pores through the removal of additional oils and the bacteria that causes acne.

Witch hazel is nowhere near as strong as salicylic acid, so you will need to use it more frequently in order to get the desired effects. What’s more, it’s fragrance free so it won’t cause skin barrier disruption. But at least you won’t have to ask, “why am i breaking out,” while worrying about your sensitive skin!

How you can use it:

Choose a witch hazel toner that has other calming ingredients such as rosewater and aloe vera. Use a cotton pad to apply the toner twice a day by gently patting it into your skin.

Hyaluronic Acid

Why it’s bad for sensitive skin:

This might come as a piece of sad news for many people. Hyaluronic acid, also known as H.A., is one of the best hydrating ingredients for the skin. Its potency is attributed to its ability to retain up to a thousand times its weight in water.

You can find hyaluronic acid in many skin care products today, and one of the most popular products is a hyaluronic acid serum which is meant to impart lots of hydration into the skin. While hyaluronic acid isn’t necessarily a trigger for inflammation in sensitive skin, dermatologists warn that it can potentially cause some irritation.

This is because hyaluronic acid works by increasing the penetration ability of other products for your skin to better absorb them. While this would usually be a good thing, remember that sensitive skin is well sensitive, so this added absorption ability might in fact increase irritation. 

What you should use instead:

Squalene is another super-potent moisturizer that will lower the chances of your skin getting irritated from your other products. Another alternative you can consider is ceramide-3, a well-known mega-hydrator which is very beneficial in strengthening and reinforcing your skin’s barrier, especially if you have itchy skin. 

How you can use it:

Apply your choice of ceramide-3 or squalene product morning and night after your serum or prescription medication. It basically works as a moisturizer, so apply it after your lighter products to lock it all in.


Why it’s bad for sensitive skin:

We’re really sorry to be listing every single gold-standard ingredient, but that’s just the way it is! Retinol is one of the best ingredients for your skin — it can help fight anti-aging, acne, and improve collagen production, hence leading to an overall improvement of the skin texture, tone, and look. It is also one of the ingredients if you’re looking for ways on how to remove freckles, at least to some degree.

However, you might be familiar with how retinol often causes breakouts, irritation, and peeling in the first couple of weeks of usage as the skin cells start to renew at a faster rate. So if you have to ask, “what is peeling skin a sign of,” it may be a sign that your skin does not accept retinol well. This is what makes retinol unsuitable and not recommended for people with sensitive skin as it will only aggravate and cause a lot of inflammation, and irritation.

What you should use instead:

You might not have heard of this lesser-known ingredient, bakuchiol. Bakuchiol is a retinol-alternative, as it triggers the same receptors as retinol but it does not cause the same irritation and redness. You will hence be able to get the same benefits as retinol but without the irritation, making it a perfect alternative!

How you can use it:

Like retinol, bakuchiol works most effectively at night when the skin cells are in their nighttime preparation stage. You should hence use your choice of bakuchiol treatment during your nighttime skincare routine after using a gentle skin cleanser to wash your face.

Alpha-hydroxy Acids (AHAs)

Why it’s bad for sensitive skin and the skin's moisture barrier:

AHA’s are well-known for being one of the best exfoliators on the market, but like every other product above, it is just too strong for sensitive skin. The most popular AHAs are glycolic acid, lactic acid, and malic acid and they are excellent for exfoliating the skin and giving a much brighter and smoother skin appearance. Unfortunately, these acids will cause irritation for skin that is sensitive and it also makes the skin more vulnerable to the sun. 

What you should use instead:

A milder acid called polyhydroxy acids is your best option. They work similarly to AHAs by brightening and evening out the skin, but they do not cause the same sensitive reactions that an AHA would. The molecules of PHAs are bigger, so they do not penetrate the skin as deeply, hence making them a much more gentle option for those with sensitive skin. 

How you can use it:

You can use it as a toner, or find a mask or serum with PHA as an ingredient.


Sensitive skin might seem like a hassle, but it is worth being more careful and using gentler products that can soothe irritation than trying to use all the popular ones and having inflamed, irritated skin. Consult a dermatologist if you are unsure of what products you should be using, and get a prescription if your skin is particularly sensitive.

Other natural ingredients you can also check out include shea butter and vitamin E derivatives to keep your skin hydrated.

Check back with us for more skincare articles, like, “how to hydrate skin from the inside,” “how to pick the best skincare regimen for your skin type,” and more.

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