While it’s very easy to determine if you have dry or oily skin, sensitiveness, on the other hand, is very tricky. ‘Sensitive skin type’ and ‘sensitized skin’ are two terms often used interchangeably but completely different. The former is a skin type determined genetically while the latter is a skin condition, meaning your skin is not reacting well to a certain ingredient. Still, at some point, due to different factors, your skin suddenly feels reactive.
Even though different, these two (skin type and skin condition) have similar symptoms, and it’s equally challenging for people to find the right products to use because they can react to anything.
If you go on Google search bar and search ‘Products to avoid if you have sensitive skin”, (almost) every article will say something along the lines of: don’t use harsh active ingredients like vitamin C, exfoliating acids and retinol. However, these are all excellent ingredients that can treat various skin concerns!
Nowadays, skincare formulations have advanced and many great products can effectively deliver active ingredients without causing irritation.
With that in mind, we have rounded up several products to find the best serums for sensitive skin types.
How to tell if you have sensitive skin?
Some of the key symptoms of sensitive skin types include:
- Itching or Burning
- Acne and breakouts
Sensitive skin is mainly caused by a damaged skin barrier. Check out our recent article on how to repair a damaged skin barrier.
8 of the Best Serums for Sensitive Skin
Best Hyaluronic Acid Serum: Paula’s Choice CALM Repairing Serum
This serum is designed for those struggling with very sensitive skin and persisting redness. It has an amazing blend of botanical extracts that help calm and soothe the skin, as well as barrier-strengthening ingredients. It has a thin and lightweight texture suitable for every skin type and perfect to layer.
- Hyaluronic acid and Sodium Hyaluronate – are great humectants. They hydrate the skin and are especially useful for dehydrated skin types
- Beta-glucan – has skin-soothing benefits and can reduce all the symptoms related to sensitive skin.
- Essential ceramides – act as emollients, increasing the skin’s water levels on the skin. Ceramides are the most abundant element in the skin. Sensitive or sensitized skin has a broken barrier, and products formulated with ceramides help to repair it. Ceramides perform better combined with other replenishing ingredients like cholesterol (also present in this serum).
- Plant extracts – such as sea whip extract, Licorice Root Extract and Willow Herb – have calming and soothing benefits and add value to the serum.
Who is it for?
It’s suitable for every skin type struggling with redness and irritation, even acne-prone and rosacea-prone skin.
Best Vitamin C Serum: Tribe Skincare Brightening Vitamin C Serum
Vitamin C can be tricky for people with sensitive skin because it can cause flushing, but Tribe’s Vitamin C Serum makes an exception. It’s formulated with a Vitamin C derivate, niacinamide and plant extracts that fight discolourations and have antioxidant properties. Consistent usage of this serum will even the overall complexion and fade hyperpigmentation.
- Ascorbyl Palmitate – an oil-soluble form of Vitamin C. It has good antioxidant properties, able to neutralize free oxygen radicals and prevents premature aging. It fights discolourations like dark spots and post-acne marks. However, research shows that his form of Vitamin C does not perform as well as pure vitamin C or other derivatives, but it’s more suitable for sensitive skin types.
- Niacinamide – is a trendy ingredient especially for oily skin types because it balances oil production and reduces pore visibility. It also has anti-redness, brightening and antioxidant benefits for the skin. It can strengthen the skin barrier and reduce redness in sensitive skin
- Plant extract – such as Aloe Vera gel and extract- calm and hydrate the skin. It is formulated with Orange Oil which can be a skin sensitizer.
- Lactobacillus Ferment – a probiotic that helps and strengthens skin’s ‘good’ bacteria and contributes to its overall health.
Who is it for?
It’s suitable for every skin type looking to fade dark spots and hyperpigmentation. Be careful if you have a known sensitivity toward Orange Oil.
Learn more about this skincare range by checking out my Tribe Skincare Review.
Best Retinol Serum: La Roche-Posay Redermic Retinol B3 Serum
Retinol is the golden standard when it comes to anti-aging. But its benefits aren’t limited here; it’s great for acne, hyperpigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles. But with great benefits also come risks, and retinol is known for causing sensitivity and dryness during the first few weeks of usage. Thanks to La Roche-Posay, even sensitive skin types can use retinol, for example, Redermic Retinol Serum, which has a slow-release technology for retinol.
This serum has a lightweight texture that feels comfortable on the skin and doesn’t pill under other skincare products. Consistent usage of Redermic Serum reduces fine lines and wrinkles (including Crow’s feet) and diminishes hyperpigmentation especially dark spots from UV damage.
- Vitamin A (retinol) – is a great ingredient that targets multiple skin concerns. It increases cell turnover and collagen production resulting in smoother skin and fewer wrinkles. It also fades dark, red and purple spots.
- Lipo-Hydroxy Acid – has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-fungal properties. It gently exfoliates the skin and treats acne.
- La Roche-Posay Thermal Spring Water – a core ingredient of La Roche-Posay products; it’s thermal water with soothing properties for the skin.
- Fragrance – a common skin sensitizer (the only downside of this product).
Who’s it for?
It’s suitable for anyone looking to target signs of aging like wrinkles and discolouration, as well as to treat acne and post-acne hyperpigmentation. The general rule of stating retinol is starting slow (a couple of times a week) and then gradually increasing frequency.
The Best Soothing Serums For Sensitive Skin
Aveeno Calm+Restore Triple Oat Serums for Sensitive Skin
A lightweight serum, great for soothing sensitive skin and replenishing it.
It’s formulated with Triple Oat Complex + Feverfew, which repairs the skin barrier, reduces inflammation and contributes to healthy skin. In addition, it has Centella Asiatica, a great soothing and calming ingredient that also promotes wound healing.
It’s suitable for every skin type, especially sensitive skin and doesn’t contain fragrance.
Jurlique Calendula Redness Rescue Restorative Treatment Serum
"A miracle worker"
The Calendula Redness Rescue Restorative Treatment Serum from one of our favourite Australian beauty brands, Jurlique is considered to be a “game-changer for sensitive skin”.
This gentle, yet effective serum is a must-have for anyone who struggles with redness or irritation. It contains natural plant-based ingredients, such as Calendula, Chamomile, and Echinacea extracts, that work synergistically to calm and soothe sensitive skin. These active ingredients work to fortify the skin’s barrier function, protecting it from environmental stressors.
This serum is a perfect addition to your daily routine, providing your skin with a much-needed boost of hydration and protection.
La Roche-Posay Cicaplast B5 Serum
La Roche-Posay’s most famous product, Cicaplast Balm it’s also in a serum form.
This serum is designed to be used daily and protect the skin against everyday aggressors. It’s especially suitable for dry and sensitive skin types. Cicaplast serum it’s formulated with a high concentration of Panthenol, which keeps moisture in the skin and soothes it, HEPES which gently exfoliates the skin and unclogs the pores, resulting in smoother skin, and Aqua Posae Filiformis (APF), prebiotic that balance skin’s microbiome and contributes to healthier skin.
Medik8 Calmwise Anti-Redness Elixir
A minimally formulated serum that targets all symptoms of sensitive skin.
Improves the skin barrier, reduces redness and calms down irritations. Teprenone, Medik8’s patented ingredient, strengthens the skin barrier and reduces redness, while Sage extracts soothe inflammation. It has an oily texture, so it may not feel comfortable on oily skin types.
How To Choose the Right Serum For Your Sensitive Skin
According to Dr. Rosmy Barrios, MD, a medical advisor for the Health Reporter, “Choosing the right serum for sensitive skin types can be a bit of a challenge…it is important to look for those that are formulated with gentle, non-irritating ingredients that will not cause inflammation or irritation on the skin.”
“Some of those ingredients could be aloe vera or green tea extract, as these can help to calm and nourish the skin” she added. Ultimately, you will want to opt for products that strengthen and nourish the skin barrier like essential ceramides, niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, beta-glucan, panthenol, allantoin etc., and soothing ingredients such as Centella Asiatica, green tea, mugwort and oat extract.
One such product would be the La Roche-Posay Toleriane Ultra Sensitive Skin Face Serum which Dr. Rosmy Barrios recommends for sensitive skin types; “This serum is specifically formulated for sensitive skin and is designed to help soothe and hydrate it, while also reducing redness and inflammation”. She adds “it contains a blend of soothing ingredients such as glycerin, niacinamide, and La Roche-Posay’s proprietary Thermal Spring Water, all of which work together to help improve the health and appearance of sensitive skin”.
In terms of what to avoid Dr. Barrios cautioned against products that can irritate the skin barrier and cause flare-ups like “fragrances, essential oils, and harsh exfoliants”.
Some Dos and Don’ts:
- DO use a calming serum
- DO keep your skincare routine simple
- DO check the ingredients list
- DO use lukewarm water when washing your face
- DON’T use irritating ingredients
- DON’T over-exfoliate
- DON’T use harsh cleansers
In general, when it comes to sensitive skin, less is definitely more. Keep your skincare routine simple with a cleanser, soothing serum, moisturiser and sunscreen. Know your skin first, before you start experimenting with active ingredients. Start slowly and listen to your skin. If you notice irritation, make sure to cut back on the actives and focus on repairing your skin barrier and soothing the irritation.
8 of the Best Serums for Sensitive Skin: Hydrate, Soothe, and Protect
Discover the 8 best serums for sensitive skin to hydrate, soothe, and protect. Say goodbye to redness, irritation, and inflammation for a glowing complexion.