A Regimen for Reactive Skin
If you're wondering how to care for skin that is prone to having skincare disasters, the rule is to avoid inflammation. Inflammatory skin responses range from acne, rashes, and hives, to psoriasis and eczema — and they have everything to do with allergies.
Particularly following a reaction, any "perceived" allergen can activate your already-sensitized immune system. If you suffer from an underlying autoimmune condition like I do, you're even more at risk of response because your immune system is already a little bit "extra." Once exposed, your body will get started producing histamine — and allergy symptoms will ensue.
The Culprit: My skin hates acids RN.
Plus, after a reaction, the barrier of your skin may be damaged from scratching, dryness, inflammation, and peeling. This means that your skin's natural mechanism for keeping irritants out, and locking moisture in, is damaged. Your thirsty skin may have itchy dry patches — no matter how much hydration you provide — and you may suddenly react to ingredients that have never caused you problems before.
Why? Because a damaged skin barrier is the actual cause behind most cases of sensitive skin. The term "trans-epidermal moisture loss" refers to the way a leaky skin barrier lets the hydration out. The same faulty barrier is also what lets irritants in. Even if you've used a product with great success in the past, some ingredients are just not intended to be absorbed so deeply. When they do, your immune system freaks out, and the allergic, or inflammatory, response, sabotages your skin at a deep level. (I interviewed a dermatologist, extensive researcher, and skincare line founder, who revealed that irritants trigger a response that causes collagen to break down, literally leading to wrinkles.)
That's why even after my skin healed and was back to normal, I found myself reacting to the sensitive skin-friendly product above: First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads ($30).
When I ran out of my go-to's by LOLI Beauty, I had to improvise. It's giving me the chance to incorporate some new and old products into my regimen. So far, so good...
Read and shop what's working for me below.
I've been relying on oil-based cleansers like it's my job — even though I previously recommended eliminating oil from your summer skincare regimen! This is because my reactive skin went from being combo/oily to desert-dry. Depending on which bathroom I'm in (and what I keep stocked in each), I've been alternating between these cleansers:
(1) Olive + M Cleansing Oil ($36-62): Take 1-2 pumps of the oil blend and massage it into your face. It contains goodies like olive oil, castor seed oil, hemp seed oil, rice bran extract, and botanical extracts galore. The best way to remove it is to soak a washcloth in hot water and to gently steam/wipe it off.
Tip: My brilliant friend Ali clued me in to how amazing baby washcloths are for sensitive skin. I invested in 100% Natural Organic Bamboo Baby Washcloths ($14 for 6) off Amazon and they rock.
(2) LOLI Beauty Date Nut Brûlée ($68): This 3-in-1 miracle balm contains olive oil, date nut oil, Tamanu oil, and sunflower seed wax. It can also be used as a cleanser and makeup remover. I use a little spoon to scoop out the desired amount, warm it into an oil with my hands, and massage it onto my face. I remove it using a washcloth, like above.
(3) Girl Undiscovered Under the Waterfall Crystal Cleansing Water ($42): This ultra-pure water is obtained from 160 meters deep. It is then combined with Thanaka 8 extract, virgin Balinese coconut oil, and kanuka honey, to make little micelles that attract the dirt, grime, and makeup on the surface of your face, helping you get extra clean. Plus, it's crystal-infused.
You can use it to remove makeup before cleansing by soaking a cotton round, or you can wipe it over your face after cleansing, removing residual traces of makeup and toning the skin. (Girl Undiscovered's luxe cleansing water has the perfect pH as a toner.)
Tip: Use an organic cotton round — like Organyc 100% Cotton Round ($3) — to avoid exposure to pesticide-soaked cotton.
This is my holy grail serum. While Sunday Riley is not green, the line is remarkably clean. Plus, my skin is used to this serum, drinking it up like whoa the first time I applied it to my post-reactive face. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, helping to anti-age, even tone, reverse oxidative damage, even fighting breakouts. It is particularly effective for fading dark spots, hyper-pigmentation, and acne scars, and is also extra-protective against photo-aging when paired with your SPF.
(4) Sunday Riley C.E.O. Rapid Flash Brightening Serum ($85): Sunday Riley C.E.O. contains 15% THD ascorbate — a form of ultra-stable, advanced vitamin C that is prescription-strength in Japan! It brightens, fortifies the skin barrier (with saccharide isomerate), and evens tone. It gives me a glow like no other.
Hint: For a cheaper option, I would try Paula's Choice C15 Super Booster ($49). Its ingredients are healing, retexturing, and a total dupe for the expensive SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic ($165).
To provide my serum with a little extra oomph, I might choose from one of the following boosters...
(5) LOLI Beauty Cranberry Seed ($20): A couple drops of this extract works synergistically with your products to make your skin more absorptive and their active ingredients more effective. It's LOLI, so I know I can trust it!
(6) Vitabrid C12 Face Brightening Powder ($60): The K-Beauty line specializes in vitamin C — and this powder formula can be easily added into your serum, moisturizer, or makeup, for 12 hours' worth of protective, skin-brightening benefits. You can normally buy it at Barney's.
When I ran out of the LOLI Plum Elixir ($68) I was using religiously, I wanted to pick a moisturizer that I knew my skin would respond well to. Plus, with serious dryness occurring, I knew I wanted to choose one that would mix well with an oil. Enter: My old favorite by Dr. Lancer.
(7) Lancer The Method: Nourish ($125): This is my favorite moisturizer. It goes on so light, is super-efficient, and was created by a world-leading anti-aging expert, Dr. Harold Lancer. It is full of wrinkle-fighting peptides, moisturizing Hyaluronic acid, and skin-loving oils from avocados, olives, and more. Maybe he'll make a green version one day? But for now, I need to stick to what my skin knows.
(8) LOLI Beauty Sea Buckthorn Seed Oil ($58): This oil is fabulous for skin-healing, particularly for building collagen. It is also considered the plant world's best source of healing omega fatty acids — the health-promoting ones found in fish oils. With a concentration of 40% EFA, sea buckthorn's potency is more than double that of macadamia, the only other botanical source of crucial omega's.
To use these two together, I scoop a little bit of moisturizer from the jar into my palm, before dropping in 2-3 droplets of the orange oil. I then slather the bright yellow mixture onto my smiling and happy face. During the daytime, I follow up with an SPF.
When your skin is suffering hardcore, sometimes you'll need something extra for those super-sensitive, flaky places. You can use the LOLI Date Nut Brûlée above, but I have also been loving this chia-based blend by One Love Organics. Ever since Jenna told me she uses Maya Chia Eye Serum, I've been extra-curious about the super-absorptive little seeds.
(9) One Love Organics Skin Savior Multi-Tasking Wonder Balm ($19-49): My eye cream was not nourishing enough, so I put tiny amounts of this balm where I noticed extra dryness. It also resolved flaking beneath my chin. I highly recommend this ultra-potent chia-wonder. Like other multi-tasking balms, it can also be used as a makeup remover or cleanser.
Not that you asked, but I actually just treated myself to my current skincare crush: Akar Skin Nutrient Boost Eye Serum ($85) to take care of the dryness and fine lines that come with it. It hasn't come yet, but the clean, non-toxic serum from Tibet is what will help my eye area rehab.
(1) Avoid petroleum-derived ingredients. Do not use a balm containing petrolatum or other petroleum-derived ingredients, like the EltaMD balm above. Not only is it toxic, but it will lock hydration out. I highly recommend grabbing a filler-free, water-free balm full of skin-loving nutrients instead.
(2) Buy an air cleaner. Anyone suffering from allergies can benefit from taking precautions like purchasing an air cleaner. I got Levoit LV-H132 ($90), but I am definitely keeping my fingers crossed that a Molekule Air Cleaner is in my future. Getting rid of the pollutants and allergens in the air is especially important where you sleep, so I always keep one in my bedroom.
(3) Use an unscented laundry detergent. Making sure that your laundry detergent is fragrance-free can help prevent itching, redness, and hives. I use Ecos Laundry Detergent ($11) but have had to leave work in the past due to sudden outbreaks — all caused by a fragranced fabric softener or detergent. Immune-activated inflammation is not just restricted to one body part, which is why keeping your exposure to allergens to a minimum is essential for post-reaction recovery.
(4) Keep antihistamines on hand. Allergy sufferers need to be prepared at all times. Even if you don't have an epi-pen, an antihistamine like Benadryl should be taken to help slow an oncoming allergic reaction. You can also take non-drowsy varieties like Zyrtec or Claritin preventatively, but they are super weak compared the drowsy-inducing antihistamines. OTC creams like Benadryl cream, Arnica gel, or hydrocortisone cream can be good to apply to active rashes... And if you're like me, having an inhaler nearby helps prevent me from panicking.
(5) Receive desensitizing allergy treatments. You can also receive allergy treatments to make your immune system less sensitive to certain allergens. I used to get allergy shots as a teen, and am considering undergoing a few treatments at my Naturopath's office this summer.
(6) Get your booty in an LED bed STAT. Oh, my. The miracle-working red light bed — the very one enjoyed by stars like Maggie Gyllenhaal and other A-listers whose names I can't share — is my new best friend. It accelerates healing, collagen production, and skin regeneration, among other things. No matter how lazy I am, getting myself to the spa is a must to aid my skin on its healing journey.
Do you struggle with sensitive or reactive skin? Tell me on Instagram!
I am using affiliate links in this post. Shop them to show me some love :)