What skincare recommendations should I give clients with sensitive skin?

Cleansing the skin properly is the first step. Alkaline soaps and hot water set sensitisation into motion, so advice the client to switch to a gentle, sulphate-free and non-stripping gel or cream cleanser that will fortify the protective barrier function without leaving a residue.

If they report that even water makes their skin smart, let them know that the product can also be removed with damp cotton or a soft cloth. Ingredients to look for in this type of cleanser include raspberry.

The fruit is rich in phytochemicals, including ellagic acid, which acts as an antioxidant. Other key ingredients include soothing cucumber and panthenol (provitamin B5), which helps regenerate tissue. 

A spritz of calming spray is a recommended next step for clients with sensitive skin. Suggest a soothing, hydrating mist to relieve irritation. This product can be used by the client throughout the day, at times when the skin becomes irritated.

Advice clients to use products with ingredients that fight neurogenic inflammation, such as red hogweed; oat extract, which has anti-irritant and anti-redness properties and; ginger and bisabolol which, when combined, work synergistically to reduce inflammation-induced itch, redness and irritation. 

Serums speed the healing process at times of severe inflammation and ease the discomfort of long-term sensitisation. Recommend serums that contain acetyl tetrapeptide-15, a peptide that reduces discomfort and pain by lowering proinflammatory mediators – associated with neurogenic inflammation in the skin.

Also recommend products with portulaca oleraca extract, sunflower seed, evening primrose and avocado oils - to reinforce the barrier lipid layer that keeps environmental chemicals from penetrating the skin.

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For sensitised individuals who are fond of exfoliating, you can also suggest the use of an ultra-gentle exfoliant, though only on the condition that the lipid barrier is not damaged. In this case, recommend an ultrafine product that delicately polishes delicate skin with microparticles of rice bran and rice enzymes. Also note that even conventional washcloths and towels can irritate sensitised skin; recommend a microfiber sponge cloth for cleanser and masque removal. 

In terms of moisturisers, a rich, medium-to-heavyweight product often works best, providing substantial barrier protection and hydration in sensitive areas like cheeks, nostrils and cuticles. Sunscreen should be a physical UV block rather than a chemical sunscreen. Let clients with sensitive skin know that they need to monitor this usage carefully, as sun protection is often an inflammation trigger for those with sensitised skin.  

Sally Penford is education manager at the International Dermal Institute (IDI), the education arm of Dermalogica, in the UK. Her responsibilities at the IDI includes overusing the training and development of its team of lecturers, as well as managing operations for the education divisions in training centres across the country. A trained beauty therapist, Penford joined the IDI 15 years ago.