Skincare Ingredients to Avoid for Sensitive & Red Skin - Gladskin

Skincare Ingredients to Avoid for Sensitive & Red Skin

If you frequently have  burning, itchy, or redness-prone skin, you likely have sensitive skin. Sensitive skin tends to react strongly to environmental and topical triggers, including hot or cold weather, soaps, skincare products, makeup, and household cleaners.

Consulting with a dermatologist can help you identify some of the pesky triggers of redness and burning in your skincare or makeup routine. Today, we also want to provide you with a list of some of the most irritating ingredients to consider avoiding if you have sensitive and red skin to help you get started on the path to calmer, more peaceful skin. 


5 Topical Ingredients to Avoid for Sensitive, Red Skin

1. Fragrances

One of the first ingredients we recommend investigating when you experience red, stinging skin is fragrance. Fragrances are common culprits of skin flare-ups. When shopping for safer products, look for “fragrance-free” on the bottle, because “unscented” products still often have an ingredient to cover up the natural scent of the product itself.

What about products scented with essential oils? Unfortunately, these potent plant-derived oils can cause negative reactions to the skin. Steer clear of peppermint, bergamot, tea tree, and citrus to help prevent flare-ups. If you want to know for sure whether your skin responds negatively to essential oils, always be sure to do a patch test and dilute the oils to avoid a major flare!

2. Alcohol

This is a tricky one. Many people with oily skin will turn to alcohol-based skincare products to help dry up the excess oil from the skin. While alcohol does temporarily do the trick, it can actually cause too much dryness, throw off the balance of the skin microbiome, disrupt the skin barrier, and eventually contribute to an overproduction of oil — because you’ve fooled your skin into thinking it needs even more.

It is also important to note that some alcohols in particular are the ones to watch for. If you see “SD alcohol,” “denatured alcohol,” or “isopropyl alcohol” listed on an ingredient label, steer clear. “Cetyl alcohol”, “stearyl alcohol,” and “cetearyl alcohol” are better for your skin and don’t typically contribute to sensitivity.

3. Sulfates

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) are synthetic sulfate-based chemicals made from petroleum and plant sources, commonly coconut and palm oil. SLS and SLES are primarily used in liquid soaps, shampoos, conditioners, detergents, and other personal and household products to create lather. To be honest, sulfates have gotten a pretty bad reputation… not all of which is deserved.

Many people can use sulfate-containing products with no issues as long as SLS and SLES are used in appropriate and safe concentrations. However, for those with sensitive skin, long-term exposure has been shown to cause irritation. If you’re using hygiene or cleansing products that are high in sulfates, try making a swap and see what happens.

One more thing about sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate: SLS is considered mildly comedogenic, while SLES is more comedogenic, meaning they clog pores and can contribute to breakouts. If you have acne-prone skin, this is just one more thought to keep in mind!


4. Exfoliants

Exfoliating is a healthy skincare practice to help remove dead skin cells and leave your skin smooth and glowing. However, if you have sensitive skin, some exfoliants may be too harsh and leave you looking flushed, the opposite effect you were looking for! 

Exfoliants come in two different forms: physical and chemical. Physical exfoliators are scrubs and exfoliator cleansing brushes, while examples of chemical exfoliators are glycolic acid, lactic acid, and salicylic acid.

Instead of ditching exfoliators completely (because they do help remove dirt and dead skin — and even out your skin tone), minimize how often you use them. Start with once a week and work your way up if your skin seems to be responding well.


5. Preservatives

Methylisothiazolinone is a common preservative used in wipes (including makeup-removing wipes), shampoos, conditioners, moisturizers, body washes, deodorants, and more. In recent years, researchers have found that an increasing number of people experience contact dermatitis (an inflammatory skin reaction caused by an irritant or allergen) in response to methylisothiazolinone usage.

That means if your sensitive skin is highly reactive to chemicals and irritants, this pesky preservative deserves to be on your radar. If you find it on the ingredients list of any of your personal products, it may be time to consider switching them out for an alternative.


Ingredients to Use for Sensitive, Redness-Prone Skin

Sometimes focusing on what you “can’t” use feels way too overwhelming! So before you go, let us encourage you by saying that while it feels like your skin is reacting to everything, there are plenty of ingredients that commonly work well with sensitive skin. The key is to keep your routine and your product’s ingredient lists simple. Look for:

  • Soothing ingredients like colloidal oatmeal 
  • Moisturizers such as glycerin and hyaluronic acid
  • Microbiome-balancing ingredients like Gladskin's Micreobalance®. 


Exfoliants, fragrances, alcohol, sulfates, and preservatives can be some of the most triggering skincare ingredients for sensitive skin. If you suspect any of these may be irritating your skin, consult with your dermatologist. When eliminating ingredients from your skincare routine, it may be helpful to eliminate one group at a time (if possible) to help you identify exactly which ingredient is at the root cause of the problem.

If you suspect these harsh ingredients have damaged your skin microbiome, we recommend Gladskin Redness Relief that contains Micreobalance®, our patented smart protein, to restore balance to your skin’s microbiome.