Whether you identify as someone with sensitive skin or not, everybody’s epidermis flares up from time to time. Be it an allergic reaction to a specific ingredient, hormones, heat rash, sunburn, food allergies or severe dehydration, we’ve all had angry skin at some point. There are literally hundreds of products on the market that claim they’ll prevent these things. Good luck with that. When skin is red, inflamed, and feels like it’s trying to free itself from the rest of your body, immediate relief is key. Prevention is no good when you’re desperate for a cure.
Entire brands have been built on the premise that they offer the remedy for sensitive skin. Many of these fall within the natural or “green” beauty niche. The problem is that what’s natural isn’t necessarily what’s good for skin. Citrus extracts, for example, trigger extreme irritation for many people. Further, what prompts a flare-up for one person might soothe the next.
Case in point: Dr. Andrew Weil For Origins Mega-Mushroom Skin Relief Face Mask ($38). While it earns a solid 4.5 stars from Sephora reviewers, their judgements fall into two categories: love or hate. Many found the relief promised on the label, while others reported extreme redness and irritation. Personally, I do not have sensitive skin, and this product made my skin scream upon contact, making it look and feel as if it were on fire. I’d suspected my skin might not like the Origins mask, because the first rule of avoiding reactions is to stick to products with as few ingredients as possible. “When skin is sensitive, keep products as benign as possible,” celebrity facialist and skincare founder Kate Somerville told Observer. Here are the 50 or so ingredients in Dr. Andrew Weil’s product:
Water, Carthamus Tinctorius (Safflower) Seed Oil*, Butylene Glycol, Squalane, Peg-100 Stearate, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Glyceryl Stearate, Tribehenin, Glycerin, Cetearyl Alcohol, Euphorbia Cerifera (Candelilla) Wax\\Candelilla Cera\\Cire De Candelilla, Kaolin, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Oil** Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil**, Pogostemon Cablin (Patchouli) Oil**, Citrus Nobilis (Mandarin Orange) Peel Oil**, Pelargonium Graveolens Flower Oil**, Boswellia Carterii (Olibanum) Oil ***, Limonene, Linalool, Citronellol, Geraniol,, Hippophae Rhamnoides Extract*, Ganoderma Lucidum (Reishi Mushroom) Extract, Cordyceps Sinensis (Mushroom) Extract, Zingiber Officinale (Ginger) Root Extract*, Ocimum Sanctum (Holy Basil) Leaf Extract, Curcuma Longa (Turmeric) Root Extract*, Olea Europaea (Olive) Leaf Extract, Citrus Grandis (Grapefruit) Peel Extract, Silybum Marianum Fruit Extract, Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract, Menyanthes Trifoliata (Buckbean) Leaf Extract, Ascophyllum Nodosum Extract, Sucrose*, Astrocaryum Murumuru Seed Butter, Asparagopsis Armata Extract, Yeast Extract, Cladosiphon Okamuranus Extract, Behenyl Alcohol, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Sorbitol, Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Hydrolyzed Corn Protein, Trehalose, Caprylyl Glycol, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil*, Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Sterols, Charcoal Powder, Phytosphingosine, Fuscoporia Obliqua Extract, Sodium Hyaluronate, Potassium Hydroxide, Carbomer, Hexylene Glycol, Dextrin, Cellulose, Phenoxyethanol.
One natural product that isn’t sold as a skin soother but does just that is Eve Lom Morning Time Cleanser ($60). This fragrant balm does what its name promises, morning or night. It also works as an ointment that delivers instantaneous calm when skin is raw and screaming for solace. Just smooth it on as a last layer wherever skin is demanding comfort. Contrast the Eve Lom Morning Time Cleanser’s abbreviated ingredients list with the Origins mask’s:
Hydrogenated Polydecene, Cetearyl Alcohol, Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate, Lanolin Oil, Stearyl Alcohol, Ceteareth-20, Phenoxyethanol, Papain, Humulus Lupulus (Hops) Oil, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Oil, Eugenia Caryophyllus (Clove) Leaf Oil, Eucalyptus Globulus Leaf Oil, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Ethylhexylglycerin, Beta-Carotene, Daucus Carota Sativa (Carrot) Root Extract, Daucus Carota Sativa (Carrot) Seed Oil, Ascorbyl Palmitate.
Don’t freak out about the inclusion of cetearyl and stearyl alcohol. These are fatty alcohols, often derived from coconut oil and used to give products viscosity and slip. They’re fine; simple alcohol (under names like isopropyl alcohol, denatured alcohol, alcohol denat, or SD alcohol) is what usually causes issues. The moral of the story is to avoid crazy-long ingredients lists, try samples, and don’t believe the hype about natural products always being better. If you get it wrong, your skin will let you know.
Jackie Danicki created one of the first and most popular beauty blogs in 2004, and has consulted some of the world’s most iconic brands on digital content strategy and innovation. Jackie blogs at http://burnedoutbeauty.com, and you can find her on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat as @burnedoutbeauty.