Skincare routine for sensitive skin: an easy guide to the right care and products

We spoke to an expert for tips on the best skincare routine for sensitive skin, plus what ingredients to look for and which to avoid

skincare routine for sensitive skin
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Trying to find the right skincare routine for sensitive skin is overwhelming, to say the least. But according to Joanna Vargas, celebrity facialist, Founder of Joanna Vargas Salons and Skin Care, and author of Glow From Within, it’s best to keep things simple. Granted, this can be especially hard to do in colder or drier weather, when dry skin flareups make you want to reach for the thickest cream around to slather all over your face. But if you pare down your routine and only stick with products you know and trust, you can easily introduce new products to see if it works with and for your skin type.

For sensitive skin, it's important to know how to go about the proper step-by-step routine, alongside which ingredients to look for and conversely, which ones to avoid.

Skincare routine for sensitive skin: AM

Generally speaking, to properly start off the proper skincare routine for sensitive skin (and pave the way for the best foundation for your skin type), Joanna says simplifying your regimen is important because “using too many products can be a trigger” in and of itself. Focus on serums, moisturizers, and SPF in the day time. 

“Cleanse or simply rinse your face with tepid (lukewarm) water,” suggests Joanna. Then add a serum, moisturizer, and sunscreen. No cleanser for day? Joanna suggests sticking with a gentle cleanser only at night to remove makeup and impurities collected on skin throughout the day.

Skincare routine for sensitive skin: PM

At night, Vargas suggests a routine of just “a gentle cleanser and serum.”

You should still exfoliate if you have sensitive skin (and all skin types), but it should only be done once a week. “Exfoliate very gently with an exfoliating mask,” she suggests, since it contains “lactic acidosis and pineapple enzymes, which are great for sensitive skin.” She’d also recommend “exfoliants with fruit enzymes as opposed to a scrub, so you don't inflame the skin but get some nice cell turnover.”

What ingredients to look out for

For gentle cleansing, Vargas crafted Joanna Vargas Cloud Bar, a bar for sensitive skin that contains chamomile and shea butter to help soothe the skin. “One of my favorite ingredients is galactoarabinan, derived from the larch tree, which causes more cell turnover than a glycolic acid but it’s also anti-inflammatory, so it doesn't cause irritation even in sensitive skin,” says Joanna. “I also encourage people with sensitive skin to wash their face with chamomile tea water to keep the skin calm,” she adds.  

Arnica is another recommended ingredient “because it calms the skin and reduces redness.” As a general rule, avoid “scrubbing the skin or using intense acids on the skin as they will both increase redness and sensitivity,” says Joanna.

A final tip: stop touching your face

Hopefully we've all broken this habit due to Covid-19, but if you still haven’t learned your lesson, Joanna says to stop now for the sake of your skin. “Touching the face is something we sometimes do unconsciously, but it results in skin irritation and breakouts on sensitive skin,” she says. Make sure to keep your skincare routine simple, look for the above ingredients, and avoid touching your face and you should be on the right track to caring for your sensitive skin. If you’re experiencing a breakout, inflammatory skin, or extremely dry skin, it’s always a good idea to see a dermatologist who can get your extreme symptoms under control before you start out a new skincare routine.

woman&home thanks Joanna Vargas for her time and expertise.