A Guide to Dealing With Sensitive Skin

A former PR executive with sensitive skin transformed her needs into a line of products that repair irritated complexions. Here, find out how to shop and care for skin that's easily bothered.

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About 10 years ago, former public relations executive Sarah Brown sought an opportunity to start her own skin-care line. Like many, she suffered from sensitivity to a wide array of products on the market, often enduring intense irritation and redness. So she created Pai Skincare, a West London-based brand that now offers moisturizers, masks, cleansers, and more.

"When I started Pai I was blending oils and mixing creams myself to try to create the products I couldn't find as a consumer," Brown says. Most products had ingredients such as sodium lauryl sulfate, artificial fragrances, and parabens.

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Tending to sensitive skin also means gently cleansing your face with soft cotton or your hands to avoid intense rubbing. Photograph courtesy of Getty Images

Brown integrates gentler, healthier ingredients into Pai. "We use lots of soothing organic extracts like German chamomile, which is bursting with matricine and chamazulene to calm irritable skin," Brown says. "We also use plenty of omega-rich oils like rosehip and echium, which are packed with essential fatty acids like alpha-linolenic acid, gamma-linolenic acid, and stearidonic acid."

"It's really important to include ingredients that actively help to repair sensitive skin and not just soothe it."

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All of those acids restructure the outer layer, making it stronger and more receptive to moisture. "It's really important to include ingredients that actively help to repair sensitive skin and not just soothe it," Brown adds.

Since Brown has made a career from her sensitive skin woes, she has some wisdom to share. Find out what you should look for when shopping and other things to keep in mind when reconfiguring your skin-care regimen.

Moisturizing creams and facial oils are great for rehydrating an irritated complexion. Photograph courtesy of Getty Images

1. Look for Good Practices

"The rules around labeling skin care as organic or natural are open to all kinds of false claims, and many still contain chemical irritants," Brown says. Do your research on brands that actually commit to using natural components. "Look out for products that are independently certified as organic by organizations such as the Soil Association (Britain's largest organic trade association) or USDA to be sure what you're buying stands up to scrutiny."

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"When I started Pai I was blending oils and mixing creams myself to try to create the products I couldn't find as a consumer."

2. Always Read the Ingredient List

Products are often mislabeled. "Be wary of words like 'hypoallergenic' and 'suitable for sensitive skin,'" Brown says. "Before I created Pai, I was dealing with my own skin issues and had a bathroom cabinet full of products bearing these claims, but they still caused irritation." She suggests reading the ingredients to know what you're putting on your skin.

Find products that have safe and soothing ingredients such as chamomile and calendula. Photograph courtesy of Getty Images

3. Invest in Two Important Products

When it comes to caring for your complexion, Brown suggests two items that should always be the best quality: "A good cleanser is often the first thing we recommend customers to change as it can help bring skin back into balance," she says. "Opt for one that is detergent- and alcohol-free to protect the skin's natural oils." Brown also recommends a facial oil. "An omega-rich one will help repair and strengthen skin."

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4. Stay Tuned In to Your Emotions

Skin health isn't just about products: it's linked to your internal and mental health, as well. "Our skin is incredibly attuned to our emotions, and spikes in cortisol can contribute to flare-ups of all kinds of sensitive conditions, such as eczema and acne," Brown says. "Keep stress to a minimum, and try yoga or meditation for a few minutes of deep breathing a few times a week and see how they affect your skin."

Here are a few of Pai's most popular products, plus our favorite gentle cleansers, moisturizers, and treatments.

Organic Facial Oil by Boots Botanics, $9, target.com.
Gentle Cleanser, $34, skinceuticals.com.
Seaberry Moisturizing Face OIl, $52, fresh.com.
Skin Cleanser by Cetaphil, $15, ulta.com.
Soothing Face Wash, $43, beautycounter.com.
Lala Retro Whipped Cream, $60, drunkelephant.com.
Good Genes All-In-One Lactic Acid Treatment by Sunday Riley, $105, sephora.com.
Calendula Eye Balm, $42, indielee.com.
The Snow Queen Enzyme Powder Wash by Dr. Oracle, $25, glowrecipe.com.
From: Seventeen
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