To keep skin calm and healthy, the type of cleanser you choose matters. Browsing the skin-care aisle is enough to make anyone dizzy from the options -- you can find everything from exfoliating scrubs to noncomedogenic washes, medicated cleansers to organic soaps. Not all cleansers marketed for sensitive skin are created equal, however. The best options for this skin type are mild, gentle cleansers that are fragrance-free.
While you may love the calming smell of lavender in the evening or a minty blast to wake you up in the morning, fragrance is one of the main irritating offenders in skin-care products, causing skin sensitivities and allergic reactions. Anyone with sensitive skin should avoid it.
Other ingredients to avoid are antiblemish and antiwrinkle ingredients and ingredients that encourage exfoliation, including hydroxy acids (such as AHAs). You should read ingredient labels and avoid the following:
- Azaelic acid
- Benzoic acid
- Glycolic acid
- Lactic acid
- Salicylic acid
- Benzoyl peroxide
- Vitamin A (retinol)
- Vitamin C
These types of cleansers and ingredients can be harsh on sensitive skin because their pH levels are acidic.
The acidity of a substance is rated on the pH scale, from 0 to 14. Water has a neutral pH of 7. Acids have lower pH levels than water: Lemon juice, for example, has a pH of 2. On the other side of the scale are the alkaline (or base) substances. Soapy water, for example, rates a pH of 12 [source: Johnson County Community College]. The pH level is important when considering if a cleanser will or will not irritate skin -- the closer the cleanser's pH level is to neutral or just below (which makes it close to the natural pH level of skin), the less likely it is to irritate. Maintaining a good skin pH level is important in keeping skin healthy against infection and irritation. Products that have neutral or low pH levels are gentler on our skin than those that fall on the opposite end of the scale.
Remember, though, that even cleansers marketed for sensitive skin can cause irritation. When in doubt, ask your dermatologist or family physician for recommendations.