FAQs about Skincare for Sensitive Skin

Do you find yourself looking at skincare products and thinking to yourself, “Can I use this? Can I use that?” If you have sensitive skin, being nervous about a breakout or irritation is totally valid. Sometimes it feels safer to totally avoid even the most reliable actives. Even though actives are ingredients medically proven to work for a specific skin concern, people with sensitive skin may be told not to use them. But, sensitive skin types should be included in having effective skincare that works as well too! 

Many sensitive skin types (but maybe not 100% all skin types) can use actives as well – just with more caution. There’s a lot of misinformation that causes anxieties around common actives, but in this blog, we’ll address what to be cognizant of and some tips on using actives if you have sensitive skin.

Of course, the best option is always to see your dermatologist so you can get recommendations or a consultation tailored to your skin, but these are general tips for using common actives on sensitive skin. 

Also, as a side note, this blog references these ingredients separately.  Avoid using these ingredients in the same regimen.



Retinoids are not necessarily something you should avoid on sensitive skin. You just have to proceed with caution. If you have sensitive skin, you want to make sure you’re not using an AHA or BHA within the same regimen because it can overwhelm the skin. You might be thinking, “Okay, because I don’t want to use too many exfoliants right?” 

However, retinoids do not actually exfoliate. They speed up cellular turnover, meaning they make the skin shed off its top layer faster. They thicken the bottom layers so the old layer can slough off. On the other hand, exfoliants break apart dead skin cells. For sensitive skin, you probably won’t want to do both on the same day.

L-ascorbic acid

A lot of people people with sensitive skin think they shouldn’t use vitamin C, but that’s not necessarily true. However, as someone with sensitive skin, you may want to be cautious about using L ascorbic acid. L ascorbic acid is one type of vitamin C, and it is prone to degradation. L-ascorbic acid can sting the skin. However, other forms of vitamin C like vitamin C esters may be a better fit for sensitive skin. 

Vitamin C esters are more bioavailable, which means they’re easier for the skin to use. Vitamin C Ester, also known as Ascorbyl Palmitate, is a fat-soluble form of Vitamin C. In contrast to L-ascorbic acid, which is water-soluble, Vitamin C Ester is oil-soluble.The skin is actually covered in a layer of oil or fatty acids called the acid mantle. So, it’s easier for the skin to absorb vitamin C esters and deliver them to lower layers of the skin where they can help with things like hyperpigmentation. 

Glycolic acid

A lot of people use glycolic acid for acne, blackheads, or whiteheads. Glycolic acid is a very tiny molecule so it penetrates deeply into the skin, which for some, can cause irritation and even hyperpigmentation. It is a very potent exfoliant. So, there are skin types irritated by it. However, glycolic acid may be okay if you build your skin’s tolerance up to it, and you use a product with a lower concentration of it. 

Furthermore, many people with sensitive skin also have acne. So, they use benzoyl peroxide cleansers. But, if you’re using benzoyl peroxide, you won’t want to use glycolic acid or any other AHAs in the same routine.   

For lower concentrations, you can try a cleanser with glycolic acid but not as a main ingredient. Plus, cleansers don’t stay on the skin. However, everyone may not be able to use glycolic acid. So, it’s best to visit with your dermatologist. 


“Natural” extracts

It’s a common belief that “natural” is better. However, some skincare based heavily on plant extracts retain their allergic potential, meaning they might cause a reaction or contact dermatitis upon application. However, many products with plant extracts are formulated well, and some of them can be very useful for soothing the skin. 

But, you can patch-test any product with plant extracts to see how your skin responds. It’s important to be aware though that there is a difference between plant extracts and plant oils. Essential oils in skincare can cause a lot of irritation because they can react to UV light and negatively impact your skin.   

Chemical sunscreens 

With any skincare regimen, especially with actives, it’s essential to wear a sunscreen. However, some sensitive skin types may do better with physical sunscreens. Anecdotally, ingredients in chemical sunscreen like avobenzone and oxybenzone have been known to sensitize skin. So, it may be better to opt for physical sunscreens with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. 

This is not medical advice. Always consult with your board-certified dermatologist.