Best & Worst Ingredients for Sensitive Skin

When you have sensitive skin, it’s going to take a little label hunting to figure out which skin care ingredients will and won’t lead to irritation. Common ingredients found in a ton of beauty and skin care products can cause redness, itchiness and irritation, and exacerbate already sensitized skin. But before you let yourself get defeated, just know that there are plenty of wholesome natural ingredients on the market that will help soothe and nourish your skin. You just need to know what to look for. And that’s where we come in …

Below you’ll find a guide to the ingredients you might want to try—and the ones you should avoid—when dealing with sensitive skin. By being vigilant about what’s in your skin care products, you’ll have a greater chance of fighting flare-ups.

Not Recommended for Sensitive Skin

We know this is a tough pill to swallow when you’re used to reaching for heavily perfumed products. But even one artificial fragrance in one product can contain around 200 chemical compounds1 that might cause a reaction with your skin—namely, inflammation.2

Reach instead for fragrance-free products. You may even find that these products still have a light and enjoyable scent; it just doesn’t come from added chemicals.

They may give your product a longer shelf life, but preservatives like parabens can cause an allergic reaction in certain people, especially those with skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis and contact dermatitis.3

Popular sulfates, such as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), are responsible for creating the rich lather that you find in a ton of skin care products—face wash, body wash, shampoo, etc. Though a good lather may feel luxurious to many of us, these chemical agents are known irritants. They can actually strip skin of its natural oils, causing redness, dryness, flaking or other reactions.4 Sensitive skin sufferers beware!

Burt’s Bees Says No to Parabens & Sulfates
Questionable ingredients are no stranger to the health and beauty industries. But Burt’s Bees picked a different path and made a stand to only source the ingredients that help skin thrive. So all of its products are formulated without parabens, phthalates, petrolatum and SLS. Because your skin is worth so much more.

Harsh Exfoliants
Exfoliating isn’t off limits for those with sensitive skin, but you do need to be very careful about what kind of exfoliator you’re using. Some experts recommend using light powders like rice and oatmeal5 instead of particle scrubs; others suggest using your normal cleanser with a brush or washcloth to gently exfoliate.6

Unlike the known irritants above, powerful natural ingredients like aloe and shea butter can work (non-irritating) magic on sensitive skin. The following ingredients are chock-full of vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants that help calm inflammation and repair your skin’s protective barrier.

Recommended for Sensitive Skin

Aloe has been trusted for generations for its ability to sooth and hydrate skin, reducing inflammation and irritation. This succulent plant’s gel (found inside its thick leaves) has more than 75 nutrients and 200 active compounds, including 12 vitamins, 20 minerals and 18 amino acids. Good for more than just sunburns!

Rice Extract
You may have heard about people washing their face with rice water to reduce acne. That’s because as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, rice extract is super soothing to the skin. Kind of crazy for something we usually associate with food, right?

Shea Butter
Chances are, you’ve seen or used a lot of shea butter moisturizers—and for good reason. Sourced from the fruit of the African karité tree, shea butter contains natural fatty acids that help nourish and moisturize the skin, even reducing the appearance of fine lines.

Cotton Extract
Your favorite T-shirt fabric works wonders for the skin too. Thanks to the water-retaining sugars found in cotton (read: hydration!), not to mention vitamin E, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids7, this fluffy fiber helps soften, soothe and shield your skin from potential irritants.

We’re not suggesting eating more sugar, but sugar and sugar derivatives are actually beneficial when used in skin care products. Since sugar is a natural humectant8, it helps preserve moisture to keep your skin’s barrier function strong and healthy.

This stuff is the bee’s knees. Naturally soothing, antibacterial (seriously!), and rich in nutrients and antioxidants, honey is a lifesaver for sensitive skin. It keeps your skin moisturized, while protecting it from the free radical damage that can weaken your skin.

Beet Extract
When it comes to sensitive skin, you don’t just want to treat symptoms, but prevent future irritation. That’s where beetroot comes in handy. Its antioxidants and phytonutrients protect against environmental toxins and free radical damage, which means healthier skin overall.

The name says it all! This small plant is a miracle worker on delicate eye skin. Thanks to its tannins and antioxidants, eyebright helps reduce inflammation and protect against environmental stressors.9 The result? Totally soothed, younger-looking skin.

Read more about these and other naturally powerful ingredients.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for sensitive skin. But you can start by eliminating the questionable ingredients we called out—even one at a time—and introducing the ones known to be soothing, strengthening and protective for your skin.

Luckily, nature has provided us with plenty of options for giving our skin the vitamins, nutrients, antioxidants and anti-inflammatories it needs to stay healthy.