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Do You Have Sensitive Skin?

Do you struggle with persistent redness and rashes, sensitivity to the sun, full-blown allergic reactions, or tightness, flaking, and itching? You may have sensitive skin, which is challenging because of all the potential variables that affect it.

Sensitive skin is a lay term, not a medical condition, and is often associated with people who have allergic reactions or experience irritation from a variety of allergens, random substances, and triggers. That said, over-working the skin is one of the main reasons it will ‘act’ sensitive.

If redness and flaking come and go, it might be environmental, lifestyle-related, a skin condition like contact dermatitis, photo-dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis, dry skin, or one of several types of eczema. Auto-immune diseases are becoming more common and come with skin rashes, severe sun sensitivity, and inflammation.

Rosacea can be a ‘constant’ once it appears and is characterized by red flushing, small visible capillaries, watery eyes, and small inflamed bumps. It can be controlled, so take the necessary steps to treat rosacea because it can become severe. Do some research and avoid the triggers that exacerbate it.

Dermographism, which means “skin writing”, is an exaggerated skin reaction to scratching or light friction. The swelling disappears on its own and requires no treatment because it’s part of that person’s individual range of normal.

Shaving reactions make many people mistakenly believe they have ‘sensitive skin’ because they “react” and get razor bumps. Similarly, an acne flare-up may be a reaction to stress, poor food choices, and other factors, but it’s not an indication that your skin is sensitive.

Patch testing isn’t always accurate because many doctors test for only the 24 most common allergens. Some doctors specialize in this kind of thing and may test for over 100 different substances, so do your homework before you resort to allergy tests.

Where to Start

Do some extensive detective work to determine your probable trigger(s), and address sun exposure, fragrances, soaps, products, the weather, chemicals, inflammatory foods, alcoholic beverages, etc.

Keep a journal and log exposure to everything by date and time, including (a) what you put in and on your body, (b) stresses, and (c) flare-ups, breakouts, stinging, flushing, and bouts of itching.

Note: Firm red nodules, sores, moles that change, and scaly growths that develop a crust and/or bleed, but fail to improve, should be evaluated by a dermatologist without delay to rule out pre-cancers and skin cancer.

You Are What You Eat

Omega 3 essential fatty acids and vitamin E improve your health, strengthen the skin’s barrier, and help reduce the inflammation, dryness, and flaking of seborrhea, eczema, psoriasis, and itchy rashes.

Eat omega-rich foods like salmon and other cold-water fish, anchovies, sardines, flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, seafood, fish roe, spinach, and kale. Supplement your dietary intake with flaxseed oil, enteric-coated fish oil capsules, and vitamin E supplements. Check with your physician if you take other medications.

Eliminate inflammatory foods if you have an auto-immune condition like eczema, psoriasis, lupus, diabetes, etc.

These foods include sugar, dairy, fried foods, refined flour and carbs, white rice, white potatoes, corn, vegetable oils, saturated fats, artificial sweeteners, grain-fed meats, artificial additives, lunch meats, nightshade vegetables, trans fat foods, fast foods, MSG, gluten, casein, and omega 6 fatty acids.

Skin Care Products

If your skin is reactive, stop using everything except lukewarm water, a gentle low-lather, sulfate-free liquid cleanser, and a fragrance-free moisturizing cream with a short, simple ingredient list. Apply a sunscreen with zinc oxide formulated for sensitive skin during the day. Introduce new products one week apart.

In the absence of irritation, wean on to mild anti-aging and acne products very gradually and apply very sparingly. To reduce or eliminate stinging, wait at least 15 minutes after cleansing before applying products with active ingredients.

If you must wash your hands often, choose a gentle lotion cleanser. Moisturize with a fragrance-free hand cream hourly. Wear latex-free, powder-free gloves when possible and avoid hand sanitizers that contain alcohol and fragrance.

Stay Fragrance & Dye–Free

Choose fragrance-free products for everything. Perfumes, mixtures of fragrant essential oils or aroma compounds, fixatives, and solvents can be irritating to sensitive skin and very reactive in sunlight.

Make sure all personal care, household, and laundry products say “free of perfumes and dyes”, “unscented” or “fragrance-free” on the label. Safe laundry detergents are easy to spot because of their white containers. Stop using chlorine bleach, starch, borax, and fabric softeners. Try chemical-free dryer balls, which last forever, save money, and are environment-friendly.

Look for dermatitis on the side of your face, neck, and body where you sleep, areas where you perspire, and anywhere clothing is fitted, tight or your skin comes in contact with chemical residue from washing powders, liquid detergents, chlorine bleach, additives, and fabric softeners.

Don’t apply fragrances directly to the skin, especially on sun-exposed skin. Use caution with sprays like cologne, household cleaners, bug spray, hairspray, etc. because overspray can come in contact with the skin.

Everyday products, including cosmetics, personal care products, soaps, and household products contain harsh dyes to make them more commercially appealing. Choose colorless products that clearly state they are fragrance-free and dye-free.

Clothes and Bedding

Choose materials made of natural materials cotton, silk, linen, or blends of these fibers. Chemically-derived synthetic fibers like polyester, acetate, nylon, modal, and spandex can be occlusive and are more likely to irritate sensitive skin. Despite being natural, wool can be scratchy, so it’s best to avoid it.

Steer clear of fabrics labeled static-resistant, stain-resistant, permanent press, wrinkle-free, or moth repellant because extensive chemical processes are needed to produce the finished product. Because imported textiles are shipped in containers sprayed with toxic pesticides and fungicides, launder all new apparel, towels, and bed linens in fragrance-free detergent before use.

Synthetic Hair

The chemicals in synthetic and even some human hair can cause itching, rashes, and acne, and varies from batch to batch. Used for braiding, extensions, and hairpieces, synthetic hair causes the most reactions. As a precaution, soak in an apple cider vinegar solution first. If a reaction begins to happen after you’ve braided your hair, you often have no choice but to take it down.

Use Caution with Acids

Acids found in cleansers and toners can wreak havoc on sensitive skin. Ingredients like glycolic acid, salicylic acid, mandelic acid, and ascorbic acid are added to cleansing products because they exfoliate the skin, help fight breakouts, “cut” oiliness, and perform other corrective functions. More often than not, tightness, flaking, rashy skin, and rebound oiliness are unwelcome consequences. Sensitive skin will improve dramatically with a gentler approach to cleansing.

Avoid Products with Alcohol

Products containing alcohol, also known as ethanol, can strip and compromise the skin’s barrier and cause over-drying, skin irritation, allergic reactions, and rebound oiliness on sensitive skin. Ditch the astringents that contain alcohol and exfoliants like salicylic acid if the formulation contains alcohol. Instead, mist with a water-based hydrating toner.

Limit alcohol consumption too. Drinking alcohol exacerbates conditions like rosacea, causes flushing, and dehydrates the body, which compromises the barrier function of the skin.

Protect Skin from Chemicals

When choosing skincare products, make every effort to avoid as many known irritants as possible. Cosmetic ingredients are known to cause problems. They include sulfate surfactants, fragrances, aromatics, masking fragrances, FD&C dyes, preservatives including parabens, formaldehyde, formaldehyde releasers, lanolin, and its derivatives, and chemical sunscreens.

Switch to nitrile gloves. Vinyl gloves are thick and cumbersome and latex gloves cause skin reactions on way too many people to keep using them, even if they’re un-powdered.

Practice Safe Sun

Sun exposure can cause a rough, swollen, itchy rash called photo-dermatitis on those (1) who are naturally sensitive to the sun, (2) who suffer from an auto-immune disease, or (3) who take one or more photo-sensitizing medications.

Choose physical sun protection formulated with zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide, which are much less irritating to the skin and eyes than chemical sunscreen agents. Before going into the sun, even for a short time, apply a generous amount of physical sunscreen to all exposed skin. It must be reapplied often, even when exposed to indirect sun, and also after swimming, exercising, perspiring, and rubbing with a towel.

Don’t be fooled by cloudy skies. The glare that causes us to squint on overcast days confirms the presence of the longer UVA rays. It’s these longer, skin-darkening, cancer-causing rays that penetrate the cloud layer and car windows, causing the most sun damage. In addition to sunburn and sun rash, the skin can become uneven and blotchy, freckles can multiply, the texture will eventually roughen, and skin cancers can form.

Minerals & Metals

Sensitivity to mineral make-up can often be blamed on bismuth oxychloride, a synthetically-prepared powder created from bismuth, chloride, and water. Used to blur fine lines and add a pearlescent glow to mineral powders, these tiny crystals must be buffed into the skin, which can cause itching and irritation. Though it’s not the only ingredient in mineral cosmetics to spell trouble for sensitive skin, it’s one of the most common offenders.

Metal allergy is common and nickel is usually the culprit. While several metals are safe on their own, some are so soft that small amounts of nickel may be added when making jewelry, grommets, buckles, eyeglass frames, and more. Safe metals include titanium, nickel-free stainless steel, surgical-grade stainless steel, 18-karat yellow gold, nickel-free yellow gold, and sterling silver. Choose plastic or titanium eyeglass frames if a metal allergy is a problem.

Gentle Skin Care

Sensitive skin can be treated successfully by tweaking home care and making simple changes. Modify cleansing and skincare routines during the colder months, in dry climates, and in hard water areas. Non-foaming, sulfate-free cleansers, milder exfoliants, and fragrance-free moisturizers suited to skin type will help restore the glow to compromised skin

Don’t scrub. Cleanse with fingertips only and blot dry. Never rub with a towel. Because so many things, including even gentle active ingredients and professional treatments, can cause superficial flaking and severe peeling, the temptation to “speed up” the process by scouring off dead skin cells can be irresistible. Learn more here.

Grainy scrubs, baking soda paste, sonic cleansing brushes, spa gloves, buffing pads, loofahs, washcloths, and even towel-drying can spell trouble for sensitive skin. Side effects include redness, burning, prolonged scaling, increased sun sensitivity, a thick build-up of keratin, and an uneven, blotchy skin tone.

If you attempt to scrub off flaking and thickened dead skin, it will backfire. The body quickly produces a thicker build-up to protect itself, just like calluses form after repeated friction from ill-fitting shoes and pedicure paddles. Once this behavior is discontinued, sensitive skin will start to improve dramatically.

Hot showers and baths disrupt the skin’s moisture barrier and strip natural oils, leaving it dry, exposed and susceptible to irritation. Help maintain healthy skin by using gentle body washes that won’t add to the dryness. Blot dry with a soft towel laundered in fragrance-free detergent and immediately apply fragrance-free lotion while skin is still damp to lock in moisture.

Hard water can be devastating to your skin and hair, especially during the colder months. Filtered showerheads and handheld sprayers can make hard water feel like rainwater, soften skin and hair, and eliminate hard-to-remove limescale.

Shaving & Hair Removal

Shave with care. Use a fragrance-free shaving cream or foam and a fresh blade and shave in the direction of hair growth. Don’t dry shave, shave with soap, shave too close, or use chemical depilatories. Discard disposable blades after each use. If you can’t use a razor, we can help.  Learn more here.

Make sure your barber follows the required sanitation protocol between clients to avoid reactions that can lead to long-term scalp problems.

When waxing, never use hot wax! Opt for threading, lukewarm wax, or cold sugaring instead. If ingrown hairs and razor bumps are a constant problem, we have products and protocols to help you stop them from forming and brighten up the dark spots they leave behind.

Consider laser hair removal using a Q-switched laser, like the Candela Gentle YAG, that produces a 1064nm wavelength of light. It’s both safe and effective for all skin tones and ethnicities when performed by an experienced technician.


Water intake hydrates the skin from within, improves elasticity, plumps fine lines and wrinkles, and helps achieve a healthy glow. When the skin is well-hydrated, it’s easier to address dry skin, eczema, seborrheic dermatitis, rosacea, and eczema. Caffeine, alcohol, and smoking dehydrate the skin, so it’s best to cut back drastically or just stop.

Run a cool-mist humidifier at night to help hydrate your skin, sinuses, and scalp and help counteract the drying effects of cold weather, dry climate, heaters, and AC. Clean as directed to prevent fungus and bacteria growth.

Don’t overheat your home and avoid heat sources like hot stoves, ovens, hairdryers, fireplaces, space heaters, hot showers, and direct sun. Learn more about dehydrated skin.

Talk To Us

Clinically Clear® is experienced with skin conditions like seborrheic dermatitis, eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, contact dermatitis, photo-dermatitis, and auto-immune disorders. And, we’ll help you explore the roles that inflammatory foods, the environment, and chemical irritants play in making matters worse.

We’re on a constant mission to identify potential irritants and encourage clients to switch to milder skincare, hair, and household products, and explore the many lifestyle issues that challenge those with sensitive skin.

When we ask lots of questions, it’s because we’re trying to get to the heart of your skin problem. Once we understand why your skin is reactive, along with why you think your skin is sensitive, we can help. We have protocols in place and carry drama-free products so we’re able to help our sensitive-skinned clients solve their skin problems, not create them. Schedule a consultation.

When it comes to sensitive skin, everybody is different, nothing is carved in stone, and we learn something new every day. Still, it’s tremendously rewarding to be able to help our sensitive-skinned clients who really want to take care of their skin, but just can’t.

©2021 Kathryn Khadija Leverette and clinicallyclear.com. Reprinted with permission.

The material on this website is provided for educational purposes and is not to be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.