6 Ingredients to Avoid for Sensitive Skin | Skin Virtue
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6 Ingredients to avoid if you have sensitive skin

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If you think you have sensitive skin, we understand your troubles. You never know what’s going to cause flare-ups, red spots, rashes, stinging or another weird reaction. And the thought of testing new products is downright frightening. But just because you have sensitive skin, it doesn’t mean that skincare has to be difficult. You just have to be a little careful and know which ingredients to avoid. This is why our founder and resident skin guru, Nina Gajic, has made a quick guide about ingredients to avoid for anyone who has sensitive skin.

But before we dive in, it’s important to know if you’re actually dealing with sensitive skin or just some irritation. Let’s take a look at some common signs of sensitive skin.

How do you know if you have sensitive skin?

If you find that active products like retinol and vitamin C always cause stinging, redness or other reactions, this could be a sign that you have sensitive skin. Inflammation and adverse reactions are common with sensitive skin. With sensitive skin, you'll find that it's readily irritated and reactive. Symptoms can include redness, itching, stinging, burning, peeling, and flaking. It's also possible that you're having more breakouts than usual.

Our experts say that there is a way to determine the type of sensitivity you’re dealing with — however, self-diagnosis isn’t exactly easy. To determine the type of sensitivity you are dealing with, you need to figure out if you are having an allergic or an adverse reaction.

To figure out whether you’re having an allergic or adverse reaction, you need the assess three factors:

  • the response (the reaction)
  • confinement (the area in which the reaction is present)
  • the developmental time frame of the reaction (how fast or slow did the reaction take to occur)

This is not a simple task as both allergic and adverse reactions can be experienced simultaneously and can occur from many sources. The first source you need to investigate is the products or ingredients you were using.

We recommend consulting a dermatologist to get a proper diagnosis of your skin. This is because you'll most likely try to address your sensitivity without realising you're exposing your skin to the same substance that's causing the irritation in the first place. And the more you expose your skin to a certain substance, the more sensitive it becomes.

What can irritate sensitive skin?

The most common contributors to both allergic and adverse reactions are outside factors like fragrances, soaps and detergents that can harm your skin barrier. When you’re establishing a skincare routine for sensitive, irritated and allergy-prone skin, you should always choose products that are formulated with the least irritating ingredients.

Here’s a list of ingredients you should avoid for sensitive skin. While there’s a long list of things that may cause a potential reaction, these are the most common ones to look for.


Fragrances are considered the most common irritant in cosmetic products and can cause allergies. Whether they are naturally or synthetically derived, fragrances can cause irritation or allergic reactions.

Fragrances are a complex mixture of various scent substances, and anyone can be sensitive to these substances.

Often products listed as ‘fragrance-free’ are formulated with alternative fragrances that do not need to be labelled as fragrance. These alternative ingredients can be more irritating than regulated fragrances.

The solution is to opt for sensitive skin products that have allergen-free fragrances. These are fragrances that do not contain any of the 26 substances recognised as allergens by the current regulations. So, instead of looking for products that are ‘fragrance-free’, go for products that have allergen-free fragrances. With these products, you will know that you are using a product that is least likely to provoke a reaction. If you know that you are allergic to fragrances (you cannot use perfume or foundation), then it is best to avoid those ingredients altogether.”

At Skin Virtue, we include fragrances in all our formulations, other than the eye creams. However, to be safe we utilise allergen-free fragrances, as they are least likely to trigger reactions.

Propylene glycol

Propylene glycol is another ingredient to look out for if you suffer from sensitive skin. Propylene glycol can be an irritant and can induce allergic reactions. According to our experts, if you become allergic to this ingredient you’ll likely show signs of contact dermatitis that include patches of redness or a rash with or without hives. This ingredient can inhibit skin cell growth and damage cell membranes, causing rashes, dry skin, and surface damage.

Removing products with this ingredient from your skincare regimen can have positive effects. All of Skin Virtue’s formulations are also made without this ingredient.

Benzoyl peroxide

This ingredient is a chemical compound that is commonly used in acne-fighting products. But it is incredibly harsh on the skin barrier and for those with sensitive skin, it is way too strong to use. Benzoyl peroxide works by drying out pimples, and basically strips the skin of moisture. It removes the protective layer that hydration provides. This makes sensitivity worse for people whose skin is already prone to irritation and inflammation.

If you have sensitive skin but also experience breakouts and acne on the regular, our experts suggest skipping this ingredient and looking for soothing and calming ingredients, such as marine active laminaria saccharina or botanical edelweiss extract – both have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antioxidant activities. Lactic acid is another excellent option for those with sensitive skin because it is a gentle acid that will help clear your skin without compromising your skin barrier. Even with milder ingredients, be careful not to overdo it and stick to smaller concentrations.[

Vitamin A

When it comes to active ingredients, vitamin A is the gold standard. However, for many, it can cause irritation and there are a few specific forms you’re better off avoiding. This makes vitamin A a tricky ingredient.

According to strength, retinoic acid (a prescription vitamin A) is the most potent form. Once applied to the skin it has a direct effect, and it also has the highest potential for irritation. Within the skin, they only need one enzymatic conversion to turn into retinoic acid. The downside is that your skin needs some time to adapt. This process can cause flaking and scaling, as well as photosensitivity and transepidermal water loss (TEWL) in the skin. Skin that is allergy-prone or too sensitive can get irritated by vitamin A.

This means that vitamin A is one ingredient where not all types of retinoids are equally irritating. Our experts say that you need to look out for retinyl palmitate – a different form of vitamin A that converts to retinol and retinoic acid. It’s basically just a less-potent version that won’t mess with your sensitive skin. Since it is less irritating, it is more suitable for daily and consistent application without concern of irritation. Therefore, your skin is receiving a gentler form of vitamin A without the uncomfortable side effects of its more potent forms.

Vitamin C

Despite the antioxidant being such a powerhouse ingredient for free radical defence and Wrinkle Filling, vitamin C is another active ingredient you might want to avoid. It can cause irritation and skin sensitivity that can result in red bumps and itchy skin.

When looking for sensitive skin products, find a gentle form of vitamin C in the right concentration. For dry and sensitive skin types, look for ingredients such as ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate and ascorbyl palmitate, as these will be less irritating. Ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate is an esterified derivative from vitamin C. It has the most stable among all types of vitamin C, which makes it non-acidic and gentle to use. Ascorbyl palmitate is also a gentle and stable form of Vitamin C. With its enhanced penetration ability, you can choose this as an effective option.

Over-use of physical scrubs

Going too hard on the exfoliation is a very common error the people with sensitive skin types make. By over-exfoliating your skin, you can end up doing more harm than good. If you’re over-exfoliating your skin, you’re more likely to see symptoms of sensitivity such as redness, burning or dryness. So, it’s best to keep your exfoliation with physical scrubs to a minimum.

Using physical scrubs daily is not necessary, nor is it any more effective than scrubbing once or twice a week. The skin has a natural renewal cycle of approximately 28 days, and exfoliation helps to support this natural biological cycle (by breaking down oil, debris and dead surface skin cells). Limiting exfoliation to once to twice a week is more than sufficient. Even if the exfoliant is gentle, it is best to not over do it.

Make sure you steer clear of abrasive facial scrubs (such as those with apricot kernels) and instead look for exfoliating products that are gentle and safe for sensitive skin. Skin Virtue’s Pure Exfoliating Mask is a good option. If you find yourself tempted to exfoliate your skin on the regular, you might be better off incorporating a chemical exfoliator into your routine – specifically those that hero hydrating and soothing ingredients.

Choose the right sensitive skin products

Other ingredients to avoid for sensitive skin include preservatives, parabens, sodium lauryl sulphate (the stuff that makes your cleanser or shampoo foam) and mineral oils.

Because your skin is unique, what works for someone else may not work for you. With sensitive skin, it's important to take it slow and steady when adding new products to your routine. Introduce one product at a time if you're trying something new, and if your skin shows no signs of irritation, you're ready to add another product in your skincare routine.

Our fantastic skincare approach consists of three steps: restoring and nourishing your skin barrier, tailored therapy for specific difficulties you may have, and skin cell longevity to ensure your skin stays healthy, bright, and attractive throughout time and grows with you. All of our collections are designed with this in mind, as well as ensuring that they are not hazardous to the environment or involve any form of animal cruelty.

**Do you have any tips for ingredients to use and avoid when it comes to sensitive skin?

Share your views with us at skincare@skinvirtue.com

To learn more about our range, get in touch with our team today.

By Gary Williams, Bio