The 15 Best Serums for Sensitive Skin - The Dermatology Review

The 15 Best Serums for Sensitive Skin

SKIN CARE REVIEWS

03.30.21DISCLAIMER

Did you ever ask yourself, “Why is my skin so sensitive and itchy?” You’re not alone. Surveys suggest that approximately 60–70% of women and 50–60% of men worldwide report having some degree of sensitive skin. Even though beauty, health, and household products go through rigorous premarket product testing to ensure that it’s free of potential irritants, many people claim such formulas cause their sensitive skin. 

Using the Delphi method — a forecasting process based on the results of multiple rounds of questionnaires sent to a panel of experts — a sensitive skin type can be characterized as “a syndrome defined by the occurrence of unpleasant sensations (stinging, burning, pain, pruritus, and tingling sensations) in response to stimuli that normally should not provoke such sensations.” These unpleasant sensations cannot be explained by lesions attributable to any skin disease. 

It’s important to use sensitive skin products when treating such a condition — including a serum, one of the best ways to provide your skin with a concentrated (and deeper) dose of calming ingredients due to its smaller molecular composition. So, whether you have sensitive skin when touched, dermatitis, or some other form of hypersensitivity, add one of the following calming serums to your routine. 

The List 

Formulyst Advanced Repair Serum, $79

Carrot & Stick The Soothing Serum, $70

Cerave Skin Renewing Complex Vitamin C Serum, $19 

The Ordinary 100% Plant-Derived Hemi-Squalane, $3.95

Dermalogica Ultracalming Serum Concentrate, $60

Murad Revitalixer Recovery Serum, $89

Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Stress Rescue Super Serum, $74

SkinCeuticals Phyto Corrective Gel, $67

Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum, $80

iS Clinical Pro-Heal Serum Advance +, $155 

Phyto-C Signature Serum, $275

Nuria Hydrate Moisture Replenishing Serum, $32

bioClarity Zen, $39.95

exuviance Anti-redness Calming Serum, $68

Kate Somerville KX Active Concentrates Omegas + Ceramides Barrier Defense Serum, $59

What are the Symptoms of Sensitive Skin?

How can you tell whether you have sensitive skin or some other condition? There are a few telltale signs to look out for. 

 

Your Skin Reacts Easily

Sensitive skin reacts easily to certain detergents, soaps, skincare products, fragrances, and household products. The weather, such as intense heat or cold and wine, can also trigger a flare-up. 

 

Rashes

It’s not uncommon for those with sensitive skin to develop a rash when they come in contact with a trigger. Signs include redness, dryness, flaking, and bumps. Note that a rash associated with sensitive skin is different than one stemmed from an allergic reaction — that’s a more serious condition. 

 

Redness and Flushing 

Redness in one form or another is a common trait for sensitive skin types. It can appear as a rash, red bumps, blushing, flushing, or red dilated blood vessels. 

 

Breakouts 

Sensitive skin is prone to breakouts, including acne, pustules, and red bumps that can be sore to the touch. Unfortunately, it can be tricky to treat sensitive, acne-prone skin because typical treatments (think salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide) are too harsh and aggravate sensitive skin. A dermatologist is your best bet for crafting a skincare routine that targets both sensitivity and acne. 

 

Dryness

Tight, dry skin and sensitivity go hand-in-hand, and it can become worse when exposed to cold temperature and wind. Extremely dry skin doesn’t adequately protect the skin’s nerve endings. 

 

You Sunburn Easily 

Sensitive skin is more prone to burning, especially if your skin is highly irritated, cracked, or peeling. While sunscreen is an absolute must (and SPF of 30 or higher), opt for a formula that caters to sensitive skin. 

What Causes Hypersensitivity of the Skin?

Hypersensitive skin —  or very sensitive skin — is a widespread, unpleasant condition caused by environmental, external, and psychological factors. It can also be caused by skin conditions such as eczema, contact dermatitis, or rosacea.

 

Environmental 

  • Cold
  • Wind
  • Heat
  • Sun 
  • Pollution

 

External

  • Alcohol
  • Detergents
  • Certain herbs
  • Fragrances
  • Spicy foods
  • Certain preservatives
  • Cleaning products
  • Paper tape
  • Excessively calcareous water
  • Certain fabrics or dyes
  • Swimming pools
  • Excessive pressure on the skin
  • Certain skincare ingredients

 

Psychological

  • Stress
  • Anger
  • Intense emotions

Why is My Immune System Attacking My Skin?

Aside from the factors mentioned above, sensitive skin can be caused by an autoimmune disease, which occurs when the body’s immune system attacks healthy skin tissue. It’s believed that this happens when the body senses danger in the form of an infection or virus, so the immune system attacks it — this is what’s known as an immune response. Sometimes, healthy cells and tissues get pulled into this response which results in an autoimmune disease. 

The Best Ingredients for Sensitive Skin

Unfortunately, some of the best skincare ingredients can’t be used by those with sensitive skin, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any effective alternatives. 

 

Bakuchiol Instead of Retinol

Retinol is considered the gold standard of skincare due to its ability to stimulate collagen production, even out the skin tone, and treat acne. However, it causes redness and peeling even in those who don’t have sensitive skin, so it’s particularly harsh for people who do. Bakuchiol provides the same results minus the irritation. 

 

Squalane Instead of Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic acid is another powerhouse ingredient due to its ability to hold 1,000 times its weight in water, making it an incredible hydrator. While it isn’t a direct sensitive skin trigger, some dermatologists believe it can contribute to irritation. On the other hand, squalane is an effective moisturizer that mimics the skin’s natural oils, making it an exceptional emollient.

 

Melatonin Instead of Vitamin E 

While vitamin E is an excellent ingredient for fighting off free radical damage, it can cause contact dermatitis in some individuals. Melatonin isn’t just a supplement to help you sleep. When applied topically, it helps flag the enzymes that can set off accelerated or blocked oxidation. 

 

Polyhydroxy Acids Instead of AHAs

Alpha hydroxy acids such as lactic, glycolic, and malic are great ingredients for brightening, toning, and reducing pore size, but they tend to irritate sensitive skin and increase sun sensitivity. Polyhydroxy acids, however, are milder yet produce similar results. Not to mention, they don’t cause the same sun sensitivity and can even be used by those with eczema and rosacea. 

The 15 Best Sensitive Skin Serums

 

Formulyst Advanced Repair Serum, $79
A potent serum with concentrated anti-aging properties, Formulyst’s Advanced Renewal Treatment is specifically formulated to help optimize skin hydration and visibly plump and smooth the appearance of wrinkles. Intensely nourishing while naturally comforting and calming, this rejuvenating treatment delivers rich moisturization, serving as an essential step in your daily skincare regime. As fine lines and wrinkles appear to fade, your skin will look firmer and instantly feel smoother. Active ingredients include a peptide complex, stem cell complex, and microbiome repair complex.

Carrot & Stick The Soothing Serum, $70
The powerful expression of Cannabis sativa — hemp extract and seed oil — is the basis of a uniquely soothing formula that helps skin feel stronger and more resilient. Rich concentrations of naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants work to alleviate irritation and promote elasticity for soft, nourished skin.

Cerave Skin Renewing Complex Vitamin C Serum, $19
Suitable for all skin types, including sensitive, this potent yet gentle serum is formulated with 10% pure vitamin C to brighten the complexion visibly. Additionally, it contains three essential ceramides and vitamin B5 to restore the skin’s protective barrier and deeply hydrate. Cerave for sensitive skin is a favorite drugstore brand among dermatologists. 

The Ordinary 100% Plant-Derived Hemi-Squalane, $3.95
As mentioned, squalane (and hemi-squalane) are effective moisturizers that mimic the skin’s natural oils, making them exceptional non-comedogenic emollients that help strengthen derm elasticity and suppleness. Thanks to its low molecular weight, it spreads easily and feels weightless on the skin. 

Dermalogica Ultracalming Serum Concentrate, $60
This ultra-concentrated serum helps calm and protect even the most sensitized skin, thanks to Dermalogica’s proprietary UltraCalming Complex. Oat and botanicals ease sensitization, while avocado and sunflower seed extracts, peptides, and evening primrose oil defend against environmental stressors. 

Murad Revitalixer Recovery Serum, $89
What’s unique about this serum is that it can be used under the eyes as well. It’s encouraged because caffeine, wild indigo, and niacinamide brighten dark circles’ appearance while reducing puffiness. But don’t stop there. Cannabis and neuropeptide calm inflammation and boost hydration, so don’t skip out on the rest of your face. 

Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Stress Rescue Super Serum, $74
At some point or another, we all have stressed skin, and let’s face it, 2020 put us to the test. Along with soothing niacinamide, ashwagandha and goli fruit extracts protect against environmental stressors and damaging blue light from electronics.

SkinCeuticals Phyto Corrective Gel, $67
This gel-like serum is packed with botanical ingredients to hydrate the skin and visually improve redness and blotchiness as it’s formulated with cucumber and thyme. It’s also a good pick for those dealing with sensitized, acneic skin — including scarring due to the addition of mulberry. 

Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum, $80
Here’s the fascinating thing about this serum: It has what Drunk Elephant calls a “reservoir effect,” which means the product stays active on the skin for up to 72 hours — even if you’ve washed your face or rubbed your skin. It’s desirable for sensitive skin because it has a pH of 3.3, and is void of essential oils, silicones, and fragrance. It contains a powerful blend of l-ascorbic and ferulic acids to promote a brighter, firmer, and more even-looking complexion. The addition of sodium hyaluronate crosspolymer (a modified form of hyaluronic acid) provides a serious moisture boost while pumpkin ferment extract gently sweeps away dead skin cells. 

iS Clinical Pro-Heal Serum Advance +, $155
It can be tricky for those with rosacea to find active products that don’t irritate their condition, but this one hits the mark — even though it’s a bit on the pricey side. Vitamin C and A work together to calm, heal, and restore the skin — everything inflamed, acne-prone rosacea skin needs. Other star ingredients include anti-aging olive leaf extract and skin-lightening kojic acid, which helps repair pigmentation issues.  

Phyto-C Signature Serum, $275
Phyto-C is known for its results-driven line of vitamin-C serums, but this one is at the top of the list. Suitable for sensitive skin, a proprietary peptide and protein matrix deeply hydrates, calms and protects, and softens the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. 

Nuria Hydrate Moisture Replenishing Serum, $32
Additives and preservatives such as parabens, sulfates, phthalates, formaldehyde, mineral oil, coal tar, and triclocarban aren’t suitable for any skin type, but they can trigger a reaction in sensitive skin. Nuria’s products are formulated without any of those ingredients — and then some. Instead, everlasting flower extract (a bloom native to Greece), squalane, and sodium hyaluronate, deeply hydrate, restore, and protect sensitized skin. 

bioClarity Zen, $39.95
This plant-based, non-toxic serum calms and soothes on contact and over time. Key ingredients include bioClarity’s proprietary Floralux blend (chlorophyll, copper, antioxidants, lentil extract, licorice root, and niacinamide, all of which reduce the appearance of red, blotchy irritated skin.

exuviance Anti-redness Calming Serum, $68
Formulated for delicate reactive skin, this cooling, milky serum contains a combination of willow herb and algae extracts to soothe sensitive skin and reduce facial blotchiness. A unique TriPeptide and a powerful PHA blend (polyhydroxy acids, a gentler form of AHAs and BHAs) hydrate and smooth skin texture. It’s non-comedogenic, non-acnegenic, and fragrance-free.

Kate Somerville KX Active Concentrates Omegas + Ceramides Barrier Defense Serum, $59
This restorative serum has been clinically proven to reduce irritation, alleviate dryness, and protect against environmental aggressors in as little as four weeks — but results are visible after one use. Stressed skin is restored, and redness is eliminated due to a potent formula composed of ceramides, bio-active phyto-omegas, and Tasmannia lanceolata fruit extract. 

Sensitive Skin: The Bottom Line

Surveys suggest that approximately 60–70% of women and 50–60% of men worldwide report having some degree of sensitive skin. Even though beauty, health, and household products go through rigorous premarket product testing to ensure that it’s free of potential irritants, many people claim such formulas cause their sensitive skin. 

Sensitive skin can be defined by the occurrence of unpleasant sensations (stinging, burning, pain, pruritus, and tingling sensations) in response to stimuli that generally should not provoke such sensations. These unpleasant sensations cannot be explained by lesions attributable to any skin disease. Symptoms of sensitive skin include rashes, flushing, breakouts, dryness, redness, and irritation triggered by environmental, external, and psychological factors. Some examples include alcohol, detergents, spicy foods, swimming pools, stress, and intense emotions. 

Aside from the factors mentioned above, sensitive skin can be caused by an autoimmune disease, which occurs when the body’s immune system attacks healthy skin tissue. It’s important to use sensitive skin products when treating such a condition — including a serum, one of the best ways to provide your skin with a concentrated (and deeper) dose of calming ingredients due to its smaller molecular composition. So, whether you have sensitive skin when touched, dermatitis, or some other form of hypersensitivity, add a calming serum to your routine

THE BEST SKIN CARE LINES 2021

1

Formulyst

The philosophy of Formulyst is long-term and effective skincare, rather than covering up any imperfections. The comprehensive line of products tackles everything from wrinkles to dark spots and dry skin. While some brands rely on unnecessary fillers and scents, Formulyst focuses on ingredients that help create results, such as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.Read More
2

Carrot & Stick

Carrot & Stick takes a tough love approach to skincare. What does this mean? It perfectly balances the power of plants with innovative science, offering the best of both worlds.Read More
3

Advanced Dermatology

The Advanced Dermatology skin care regimen addresses the most pressing aging concerns.Read More

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