Christmas can be a tricky time if you have skin prone to sensitivity. First come the late nights, parties and stress, which can deplete your protective barrier and leave you especially vulnerable to a reaction. And then – if you’re lucky – you’re gifted an array of exciting new skin products, packed with the latest, most potent actives. You say thank you, but your skin says uh-oh.

So what do you need to know about navigating festive flare-ups, and keeping your skin calm, merry and bright? What are the best soothing ingredients to spend your Christmas vouchers on, and what actives might you need to be wary of putting on your face – yes, even if they DID come in a posh gift set?

We asked skincare expert and Great Skin (£10.30 here) author Ingeborg van Lotringen how to shop for grumpy skin and make 2023 a happy new year for your complexion.

Here's make 2023 a happy new year for your complexion

Shop with caution

This requires more than simply buying a product labelled ‘for sensitive skin’: as anyone with reactive skin knows, those labels can lie. You need to be an ingredient sleuth, and start by kicking out the obvious offenders. Anything that upsets skin’s barrier function by stripping off its lipids and protective bacteria is going to make it vulnerable.

Healthy skin needs a healthy barrier

Alcohol (often hiding in toners and serums) and fragrance (including essential oils) are among the worst offenders, as are sulphates and other harsh surfactants. Clinical aesthetician Pamela Marshall, founder of Mortar & Milk, won’t let her sensitive clients use a gel or foaming cleanser because of them. “Always opt for a milky, creamy, balmy cleanser,” she says. Try Cultured Biomecare Vitality Cleansing Milk, £29 here.

Marshall also warns against products boasting high percentages of ingredients: “Too much is too much for sensitivity. You want a balanced formula of micro-dosed ingredients, never a sledgehammer of one.”

Commit to barrier building

Any form of sensitivity needs to be settled before you can add serious age-defying ingredients. “I recommend a minimum of four weeks, preferably six, of a basic barrier-reinforcing regime to return skin to complete calm,” says Marshall. Any actives introduced after that will pose less risk of irritating your now calmer, stronger skin.

And if they do, it’s easy to pinpoint the offenders and either avoid them or try them in a lower dosage.

Limit your regime to just a few products

The more you mix and match, the more you risk confusing and upsetting skin. Marshall recommends following every gentle cleanse with Clinisoothe Skin Purifier, £14.95 here, a toner that re-sets skin’s pH to neutral to instantly calm and re-balance the acid mantle.

Marshall recommends following every gentle cleanse with Clinisoothe Skin Purifier

Follow with a moisturising serum or cream

“Those with sensitive skin must use one; I’m shocked at how many don’t,” says Marshall. “It creates an essential ‘blanket’ on the skin that prevents water loss and helps reduce inflammation – plus, hydrated skin means you’re maintaining healthy, bouncy, collagen and elastin fibres.”

Look for a hydrator with ceramides, antioxidants and/or polyhydroxy acids (PHAs), says Marshall: “These cosset and heal, keep inflammation down and create a humectant (water-trapping) layer on the skin.” One of her brand’s star products is Mortar & Milk PHA Barrier Repair Serum, £85 here, which exfoliates, soothes and hydrates in one.

One of her brand’s star products is Mortar & Milk PHA Barrier Repair Serum

Always apply SPF

Lastly, “like oxygen, SPF is a daily must for skin and the single best anti-ageing ingredient,” says Marshall. It can be worn over moisturiser or, if it’s a moisturising, ceramide-rich formula such as CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Cream SPF50, £16 here, it can double as one.

Some, though not all, sensitive skins can react to chemical sun filters so should opt for a mineral sunscreen like Avene Tinted Mineral Fluid SPF50+ for Intolerant Skin, £20.25 here.

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By Editor