Here’s how to keep temperamental sensitive skin calm and happy. 

By Kaitlin Clark
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
Advertisement
Getty Images

Dealing with impossibly sensitive skin can feel like you’re playing a game of Russian Roulette with Vegas-style odds. You never know what’s going to tip the scale and cause your skin to become red, irritated, or both.

Holding your breath while blending in that new foundation everyone seems to love could be totally fine or it could feel like you just splashed tabasco sauce all over your face.

But the truth is, even the most sensitive skin types can typically tolerate makeup — as long as you’re choosing the right formulations with ingredients that will keep your skin healthy and stress-free.

To share the best tips with you, we asked two celebrity makeup pros to reveal all of their application tricks as well as their favorite products designed specifically for sensitive skin.

What is Sensitive Skin?

The term “sensitive skin” can seem like a convenient catch-all for any number of issues. But according to celebrity makeup artist Lisa Aharon, what it actually means is that your skin reacts quickly, usually causing “redness or some type of visible irritation to touch, friction or active products.”

So if you find yourself constantly battling with skin that has redness, bumps, inflammation, itchiness, dryness, or a sensation of overheating, then you could have sensitive skin, explains makeup artist and founder of CTZN Cosmetics, Naseeha Khan.

“Finding what is causing that irritation and then avoiding those products is the main goal,” says Khan, who counts any kind of fragrance, high alcohol percentages, parabens, and sulfates as irritating ingredients to definitely avoid.

How Should I Prep My Skin Before Makeup?

“When it comes to sensitive skin, I recommend minimizing the steps before makeup,” says Aharon. “Avoid cleansing in the morning altogether, if you can help it, and instead use a hydrating face mist to plump up the skin before applying moisturizer to prime the skin.”

Aharon’s go-to mists, Dr. Barbara Sturm Hydrating Face Mist and Penny Frances Apothecary Paradiso No.2, are packed with gentle, hydration-boosting ingredients like hyaluronic acid and prickly pear, along with skin soothing aloe vera. Khan swears by the tried-and-true Daily Hydrating Lotion from Cetaphil.

Are Multitasking Products a Good Idea?

Long and short answer: yes.

“When you have sensitive skin, the less makeup you’re able to use, the better it is for your skin,” says Khan, who favors Tarte’s BB Tinted Treatment Primer, a moisturizing primer with just enough coverage to even out skin tone so you can skip foundation, if a natural glow is your vibe. However, while Tarte's primer offers a limited hues, Laura Mercier's Tinted Moisturizer Natural Skin Perfector Broad Spectrum SPF 30 caters to a wider variety of skin tones.

Choosing a primer or base product with an SPF 30 or higher, like Tarte or Laura Mercier's, eliminates the need to apply a formal sunscreen. "Overexposure to UV rays [can] exacerbate existing irritation or could start a whole new reaction," says Khan.

For medium to full coverage options, Aharon chooses formulations designed with skincare in mind, like Ere Perez Oat Foundation and Ilia True Skin Serum Foundation, both of which are filled with calming, nourishing and non-irritating ingredients like Vitamin E, oats, aloe and water to calm, hydrate and soothe, while masking redness and blemishes. Uoma Beauty's Say What?! Foundation also infuses skincare with makeup and offers over 42 shades.

VIDEO: The Beauty Product Alicia Keys Uses “a Thousand Times” Per Day

What About Mineral Makeup?

“Generally speaking, mineral-based makeup is usually better for sensitive types because the formulations don’t contain harsh chemicals or irritants like dye, additives and mineral oils,” says Khan. “Which are all just fillers that can clog and aggravate pores.”

bareMinerals Loose Powder Mineral Foundation is an OG mineral makeup for good reason. It's made with only five ingredients and the powder melts into a buildable cream when it touches skin.

A favorite with natural makeup enthusiasts, Jane Iredale products are also as gentle as they come — made from organic and non-toxic ingredients free of perfume, alcohol, synthetic chemicals and artificial dyes — without compromising luxury or efficacy and their lightweight pressed powder GreatShape Contour Kit enhances cheekbones with a trio of light-reflective pigments to sculpt, contour, and highlight.

What Are the Benefits of Hypoallergenic Makeup?

VMV Hypoallergenics may not be a household name, but if you know, you know. Aharon learned of the brand, which originally just offered skincare, from actress Beanie Feldstein, and it is a dream come true for sensitive skin.

Every single product has been rigorously tested for 76 of the most common allergens and their Boldly Glow Coconut Oil Skin Bloom Blush Stick has so many nourishing, anti-inflammatory ingredients that it’s hard to believe it’s actually makeup — until you wear it.

How Can I Gently Remove My Makeup?

Removing your makeup at the end of the day without distressing your sensitive skin further can be a delicate dance.

“Natural cleansing balms, like the one from Farmacy, are great for skin that tends to be on the dry side, because they’re so gentle and they break down makeup really easily,” says Khan.

Cream and oil formulations are also great options, says Aharon. "They won’t be as stripping," she shares. A hydrating makeup removing cleansing oil, like the one from Caudalie's Make-Up Removing Cleansing Oil, harnesses the power of sunflower and castor oils to softly dissolve makeup and leave skin clean and soft.

For skin that isn’t dry or flaky, Khan reaches for Garnier’s SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water. "It typically takes less product to remove makeup,” she says. But one product she will never use are makeup removing wipes.

“Avoid makeup wipes!" she warns. "The friction from rubbing the wipe across your face as well as the drying properties can cause serious irritation."

This is Skin Deep, where we’re looking beyond the surface. Here, you’ll find all the tools you need to get your beauty routines back on track.