You may think that chemicals alone irritate sensitive skin, but you can also rile it up mechanically. Exfoliating products with sand or other grit are generally too harsh. So are home dermabrasion kits. They'll take off your makeup because they strip off your skin. While shedding sloughed, dead skin cells can feel refreshing, that won't be the result on a sensitive face. "It will just irritate and burn and not provide the cosmetic improvement the person is hoping for," says Aftergut.
Alcohol is another ingredient to avoid. Alcohol removes some of the stratum corneum, the layer of dead skin cells that helps to keep moisture in. If you already have cracks in that layer, the alcohol burns, as anyone who has cleaned a cut with alcohol knows. Many makeup removers have alcohol, so it can be hard to avoid. For a lot of people with sensitive skin, the problem is frequency. They can weather an alcohol-heavy remover once a day, but not three to five times, says Aftergut. Anyone who puts alcohol on his or her skin enough will wind up with a rash or irritation, he says.
Some makeup removers include anti-aging ingredients, such as alpha hydroxy acids and the antioxidant vitamin A, in the form of tretinoin, retinoids and retinols. Skip those. AHAs burn even normal skin; they can really hurt on sensitive skin. The others irritate.
Don't start dabbing at your eye shadow yet. We'll tell you a few more products to avoid next.