There’s nothing like the misery of close friends to spur you into action. And when two of my closest gal pals mentioned the same problem — the difficulty of finding makeup for sensitive skin — it was time to look for solutions.
Sensitive skin that reacts to even the mildest beauty products, which means they have almost given up on makeup. When the lightest application of mascara or foundation brings up rashes, redness and horrible itching, that seems to be the only solution.
As I delved into the world of makeup for sensitive skin, speaking to dermatologists and makeup experts, it appears that the problem is very real but not unsurmountable.
With the number of brands focusing on creating makeup for sensitive skin, there are so many options that nobody needs to feel deprived of choices.
Because remember what I always say? The best beauty is one that’s totally democratic. So, sensitive skin or not, everyone gets their best choices. All you need is to make a few tweaks to your beauty routine.
Read on for the best makeup products and tips for sensitive skin, so you can create stunning looks while keeping your skin happy and healthy. If you or someone you know experiences sensitive skin, you’ve come to the right place.
What is sensitive skin?
But first, what is sensitive skin? And why does it happen?
Sensitive skin is just what it sounds like: Skin that reacts quickly to certain ingredients or environments, causing redness, inflammation, stinging, burning, rashes or itching.
There are several factors that can trigger sensitive skin, like the following.
Skincare and makeup products
Harsh chemicals, fragrances, and alcohol in skincare products can cause redness, itching, and burning sensations.
Sun exposure, cold temperatures, and pollution can lead to dryness and irritation.
High levels of stress can trigger inflammatory responses, leading to breakouts and increased sensitivity.
Individuals with specific skin conditions, such as eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, or allergic contact dermatitis may also experience increased sensitivity.
I had super sensitive skin for months after my cancer surgery and radiation, where all my makeup was replaced by Clinique, IT Cosmetics, Le Roche-Posay, Bare Minerals, and Tower 28 Beauty!
Weakened skin barrier
The skin’s outermost layer, known as the stratum corneum, functions as a barrier that retains moisture and shields the skin from harmful irritants, allergens, and bacteria.
When this barrier is compromised (due to harsh products, environmental toxins, stress, or hormonal changes), it reduces the skin’s ability to protect itself from external aggressors.
This makes the skin more reactive to everyday stressors, such as temperature fluctuations, cosmetics, and pollutants, ultimately leading to sensitivity, redness, and discomfort.
With passing years, our skin undergoes various changes, including decreased production of collagen and elastin, which leads to thinning and less resilience. This can make it more sensitive to irritants and environmental stressors.
And then, there are some of us who simply inherit thinner skin, which is more susceptible to irritants and allergens (thank you, grandma!).
What’s the best type of makeup for sensitive skin?
When searching for makeup products suitable for sensitive skin, it’s crucial to pay attention to the labels and check out the list of ingredients. Opt for products that are free from irritants and packed with skin-soothing ingredients.
Here’s a list of what to look for and what to avoid.
Look for the following ingredients in your makeup
- Hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic formulations
- Fragrance-free (whether it’s natural or synthetic fragrance)
- Soothing ingredients like aloe vera, chamomile, and calendula
- Nourishing oils such as jojoba, almond, or argan oil
- Antioxidant-rich ingredients like green tea and vitamin E
Avoid these ingredients at all costs!
- Synthetic fragrances and dyes
- Harsh chemicals like sulfates, parabens, and phthalates
- Alcohol-based products
- Comedogenic ingredients that can clog pores
- Abrasive physical exfoliants
- Essential oils
- Chemical sunscreens (that are often included in foundations); opt for mineral-based SPF instead
Is hypoallergenic makeup good for sensitive skin?
Hypoallergenic products are formulated without ingredients that cause allergies or irritation — such as essential oils, fragrance, and certain preservative.
However, the common myth that hypoallergenic products will solve all your sensitive skin problems is not true. That’s because the label “hypoallergenic” is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
This means that brands are free to call their products hypoallergenic when they see fit. They are not bound by any FDA regulation or approvals.
Hence, a makeup product that’s labelled “hypoallergenic” may still contain ingredients that can trigger skin sensitivity.
Is mineral makeup good for sensitive skin?
While products comprising of finely milled minerals such as zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, and iron oxides may sound scary, mineral makeup is actually one of the best options for sensitive skin.
Unlike traditional makeup, it is free of harsh chemicals, fragrances, and synthetic dyes, which can aggravate skin and exacerbate existing conditions.
Bare Minerals Loose Powder Mineral Foundation is the OG choice for sensitive skin due to a simple reason — it contains just pure, finely milled minerals that give a smooth, flawless finish to even the more overreactive complexions.
The best makeup products for sensitive skin
With this ingredients list in hand, let’s explore some makeup options that are ideal for sensitive skin.
Best primer for sensitive skin
Look for a silicone-free primer, which can help create a smooth canvas for makeup application without causing irritation.
Best primers for sensitive skin (click to buy): IT Cosmetics Your Skin But Better Primer+, First Aid Beauty Hello FAB Coconut Skin Smoothie Priming Moisturizer, Too Faced Hangover Replenishing Face Primer, Tatcha The Silk Canvas Protective Primer
Best foundations for sensitive skin
To find the best foundation for sensitive skin, opt for a mineral-based, liquid or powder formula that is fragrance-free and non-comedogenic. A stick foundation tends to create too much friction on the complexion, which can result in irritation.
Best foundation for sensitive skin (click to buy): BareMinerals Original Loose Powder Foundation SPF 15, Clinique Even Better Makeup SPF 15, Neutrogena Healthy Skin Liquid Makeup, Tarte Amazonian Clay 12-Hour Full Coverage Foundation SPF 15, Jane Iredale Glow Time Full Coverage Mineral BB Cream, Tower 28 Beauty SunnyDays SPF 30 Tinted Sunscreen Foundation
Best setting powders for sensitive skin
If you need a setting powder to blur the pores, stop greasiness, create a matte finish, prevent makeup from sliding off, or just because you like the feel of one, look for products that are free of talc, parabens, and fragrance.
Best setting powders for sensitive skin (click to buy): IT Cosmetics Bye Bye Pores Pressed Powder, Tarte Smooth Operator Amazonian Clay Finishing Powder, BareMinerals Original Mineral Veil Finishing Powder, Dermablend Loose Setting Powder, Physicians Formula Mineral Wear Talc-Free Pressed Powder, Hourglass Veil Translucent Setting Powder
Best concealer for sensitive skin
Choose a creamy, hydrating formula that will cover dark spots and under-eye circles without settling into fine lines or causing skin irritation.
Best concealers for sensitive skin (click to buy): Jane Iredale Active Light Under-Eye Concealer, BareMinerals BARESKIN Complete Coverage Serum Concealer, IT Cosmetics Bye Bye Under Eye Full Coverage Anti-Aging Waterproof Concealer, NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer
Best blush and bronzer for sensitive skin
Go for mineral-based, pressed powder products that are easy to blend and gentle on the skin.
Best blush for sensitive skin (click to buy): BareMinerals Gen Nude Powder Blush, Clinique Cheek Pop, Tarte Amazonian Clay 12-Hour Blush, Almay Healthy Hue Blush, Burt’s Bees 100% Natural Origin Blush, Neutrogena Healthy Skin Blush, Tower 28 Beauty BeachPlease Lip + Cheek Cream Blush
Best bronzer for sensitive skin (click to buy): Clinique True Bronze Pressed Powder Bronzer, Physicians Formula Murumuru Butter Bronzer, BareMinerals All-Over Face Color in Warmth, Tarte Amazonian Clay Matte Waterproof Bronzer, Jane Iredale So-Bronze Bronzing Powder
Best eye makeup for sensitive skin
The eye area tends to be the most fragile and is therefore more reactive than anywhere else on the face. So, it pays to go the extra mile and search for ophthalmologist-tested, hypoallergenic, fragrance-free mascaras, eyeliners, and eyeshadows that are specifically formulated for sensitive eyes.
Best eyeliners for sensitive skin that are ophthalmologist tested (click to buy): Almay Intense i-Color Gel Smooth Liner, Clinique Quickliner for Eyes, Neutrogena Nourishing Eyeliner
Best eye shadows for sensitive skin that are ophthalmologist tested (click to buy): Clinique All About Shadow, Almay Shadow Squad, Neutrogena Nourishing Long Wear Eye Shadow
Best mascara for sensitive skin that are ophthalmologist tested (click to buy): Clinique High Impact Mascara, Almay Thickening Mascara, Neutrogena Healthy Lengths Mascara, Tower 28 Beauty MakeWaves Lengthening + Volumizing Mascara
Best lip products for sensitive skin
Stick with hydrating, fragrance-free lipsticks and lip balms with natural ingredients like shea butter and beeswax.
Best lipsticks for sensitive skin (click to buy): Burt’s Bees 100% Natural Moisturizing Lipstick, BareMinerals Mineralist Hydra-Smoothing Lipstick, Tarte SEA Color Splash Lipstick, Clinique Pop Lip Colour + Primer
Best lip liners for sensitive skin (click to buy): Tarte Tarteist Lip Crayon, Clinique Quickliner for Lips
Best lip glosses for sensitive skin (click to buy): Tower 28 Beauty ShineOn Lip Jelly Non-Sticky Gloss, BareMinerals Moxie Plumping Lip Gloss, IT Cosmetics Vitality Lip Flush Butter Gloss, Tarte H2O Lip Gloss, Burt’s Bees 100% Natural Lip Shine
The 11 best makeup brands for sensitive skin
Many beauty brands have recognized the need for sensitive skin makeup. Here are the best options to explore.
A dermatologist-developed brand with fragrance-free and allergy-tested products, Clinique offers a wide range of options for sensitive skin.
A brand known for its mineral-based makeup that is free from harsh chemicals, preservatives, and synthetic fragrances. Bare Minerals has one of the best — and pioneering — foundation for sensitive skin.
Tower 28 Beauty
A clean, vegan, and cruelty-free makeup brand designed for sensitive skin, following the National Eczema Association’s guidelines.
A brand developed with plastic surgeons and dermatologists, focusing on skin-friendly formulations.
Neutrogena offers dermatologist-tested, non-comedogenic makeup products suitable for sensitive skin.
A natural skincare and makeup brand that avoids harsh chemicals and synthetic fragrances in its products.
As a hypoallergenic, skin-friendly brand, Almay offers a variety of makeup options that are gentle on the complexion.
Tarte’s products are formulated without parabens, mineral oil, phthalates, and other potentially irritating ingredients, making them suitable for sensitive skin types.
A skincare and makeup brand developed with dermatologists, offering gentle products for sensitive skin.
This mineral makeup brand focuses on clean, natural ingredients and offers an extensive range of products designed for sensitive skin.
RMS Beauty focusses on organic and natural ingredients, with makeup products formulated to be gentle on sensitive skin.
Additional tips for sensitive skin
When it comes to sensitive skin, the key is to be gentle, patient, and consistent. Here are some tips to keep your skin feeling its best at all times — whether you are applying makeup or not,
Always patch test
Even if its universally known as the best foundation for sensitive skin, its worth going the extra mile by conducting a patch test for allergic reaction before trying out a new makeup product. Apply a small amount of the product on your wrist or behind your ear and wait for 24 hours to see if any irritation occurs.
Avoid hot water
Hot water can strip your skin of its natural oils, causing dryness and irritation. Take off your makeup with lukewarm water instead.
Apply a broad-spectrum, mineral sunscreen with at least SPF 30 daily. Don’t forget to reapply every two hours and wear a hat and sunglasses for added sun protection.
Drinking plenty of water helps to maintain healthy, supple skin. Also incorporate a good moisturizer into your routine, preferably one with hyaluronic acid, which helps retain moisture.
Get your beauty sleep
Adequate sleep is essential for healthy skin. Aim for 7-8 hours of quality shut-eye each night.
Practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing, yoga, or meditation to keep stress levels in check. Remember, a calm mind (usually) leads to calm skin.
Consult a professional
Seek advice from a dermatologist if you’re unsure about your skin’s needs or if you’re struggling with persistent sensitivity.
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