Top 10 Safe Ingredients For Sensitive Skin


  • Sensitive skin is less tolerant to the use of some cosmetics and skin care products
  • Many ingredients are safe for sensitive skin, some with hydrating and anti-aging benefits
  • Ten great ingredients for sensitive skin include aloe vera, bakuchiol, ceramides, glycerin, green tea, niacinamide, oatmeal, petroleum, shea butter, and urea

Sensitive Skin

Sensitive skin is a subjective condition in response to environmental factors, affecting up to 50% of women and 40% of men.1 Those who experience sensitive skin may report exaggerated skin reactions after the use of cosmetics, soaps, lotions, or exposure to temperature extremes.1

Those with sensitive skin often experience burning, stinging, itching, or tight sensations of the facial skin.1 Visible skin changes may include redness, dryness, scaling, peeling, bumps, or hives.2 There are many different dermatological causes of sensitive skin, which may consist of: xerosis (dry skin), eczema, ichthyosis, rosacea, contact dermatitis, and many others.

Sensitive skin is easily irritated by many different ingredients within skin care products. The body may recognize the ingredient as a foreign invader and activate an immune response causing signs and symptoms of inflammation. This makes finding skin care products difficult and confusing for patients. Read below to uncover ingredients that are safe for sensitive skin!

1. Aloe Vera

Known as "the plant of immortality" by the Egyptians, aloe vera has been used for centuries for its many health, beauty, medicinal, and skin care benefits.3

Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis miller) belongs to the Asphodelaceae (Liliaceae) family and is primarily grown in dry regions of Africa, Asia, Europe, and America.3 The plant is composed of waxy leaves, with sharp serrated edges that contain a thick inner core that includes a variety of potentially active constituents:3

  • Vitamins: vitamins A (beta-carotene), C, and E (antioxidants)
  • Enzymes: aliiase, alkaline phosphatase, amylase, bradykinase, carboxypeptidase, catalase, cellulase, lipase, and peroxidase
  • Minerals: calcium, chromium, copper, selenium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, sodium, and zinc
  • Sugars: monosaccharides and polysaccharides
  • Anthraquinones: aloin and emodin have antibacterial, antivirals, and analgesics prosperities
  • Fatty acids: cholesterol, campesterol, β-sisosterol, and lupeol which also contain anti-inflammatory properties
  • Hormones: auxins and gibberellins contain anti-inflammatory properties and also help promote wound healing
  • Other: aloe vera also contains amino acids and salicylic acid, which possesses anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties

It is no wonder that the Egyptians referred to aloe vera as "the plant of immortality"! All of these components within aloe vera contribute to making a powerful ingredient for many different skin conditions. Aloe vera has also been shown to help with moisturizing the skin and have anti-aging properties.3 Interestingly, it may also be helpful for psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff), aphthous stomatitis (canker sores), xerosis (dry skin), lichen planus, frostbite, burns, wound healing, and inflammation.4

How to use for sensitive skin

The various components within aloe vera that contain anti-inflammatory properties make this ingredient exceptionally safe and effective for those with sensitive skin. Consider adding it to a patient’s skincare routine to help soothe and moisturize their skin.

2. Bakuchiol

Bakuchiol is a naturally occurring antioxidant found in the seeds of babchi herb (Psoralea corylifolia), native to India.5 It has been used for many years in Indian, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean medicine to treat various inflammatory skin conditions.6 Recently, it has emerged as a popular alternative to retinol products due to its anti-aging properties.

Bakuchiol has proven to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles by increasing the skin's natural elasticity and improving skin pigmentation from excess sun exposure.5 It has even been shown to improve acne due to its antibacterial properties.7

How to use for sensitive skin

If patients are looking for a natural alternative to retinol that is safe for sensitive skin, bakuchiol may be something worth trying. Retinols can be very drying and may aggravate those with sensitive skin. Due to the lower potency of bakuchiol, it may cause less irritation with similar benefits of retinol.

3. Ceramides 

Ceramides are an essential waxy fat naturally found within the stratum corneum, the skin's most outer layer. The brick and mortar analogy is often used – where ceramides play a large role in gluing the skin cells together. So they are essential for a healthy skin barrier and play a role in preventing water loss from the skin.8 In fact, a deficiency in ceramides is associated with dermatological problems such as atopic dermatitis and psoriasis.8,9

The use of ceramides can help to keep skin hydrated and repair the skin barrier.10 By protecting and hydrating the skin, it also helps reduce irritation and inflammation.

How to use for sensitive skin

Ceramides are a great ingredient to use in patients that have sensitive skin. It is found in many different products, such as cleansers, moisturizers, lotions, and creams. The ingredient is safe to use with almost all other types of skin ingredients, so it's recommended to use it twice daily as a part of a skin routine.

4. Glycerin

Glycerin, also known as glycerol, is a simple polyol compound naturally found in plants and animals. It is a humectant – meaning that water is attracted to it.11 So, it basically acts like a sponge and draws water into the top layer of the skin.

It is an excellent ingredient to use for its hydrating effects. It can be used in normal skin, dry skin, or a diseased skin barrier such as eczema or ichthyosis vulgaris.12 It also helps improve the skin surface smoothness and keeps the skin barrier intact.11

How to use for sensitive skin

If patients have sensitive or dry skin, consider recommending a glycerin containing product. It can be found in many moisturizers and cleansers and can be used twice daily to help keep the skin hydrated and smooth.

5. Green Tea

Green tea, also known as camellia sinesis, contains gentle antioxidants with skin-soothing properties. Topical use of green tea extract may help protect the skin from UV radiation, minimize the signs of aging, reduce sebum production, help those with acne, and reduce inflammation.13 Application of green tea helps prevent UVB-induced skin cancer by rapidly repairing the damaged DNA in the skin.14 

How to use for sensitive skin

Green tea extract can be found in many skin care products such as cleansers, moisturizers, serums, toners, and masks. Patients can incorporate this ingredient into their skin routine if they wish to utilize its soothing and protective properties.

6. Niacinamide

Niacinamide, also known as vitamin B3, is a powerful ingredient that serves many dermatological purposes:

  • Increases ceramide production, which strengthens the skin's natural barrier15
  • Hydrates the skin by reducing water loss16
  • Improves aging skin by increasing collagen synthesis, which reduces the appearance and progression of fine lines and wrinkles16
  • Has anti-inflammatory properties16

Those with skin conditions that affect the skin barrier, such as eczema, are at a higher risk of having sensitive skin. Topical application of niacinamide in those with skin barrier dysfunctions is particularly beneficial because niacinamide helps strengthen the skin barrier.

How to use for sensitive skin

Niacinamide is a common ingredient in skin care products. Consider utilizing it in a patient’s skin care routine to improve hydration and repair their skin barrier.

7. Oatmeal

Oatmeal baths may sound like they would be uncomfortable and itchy, but they’re quite the opposite. Oatmeal (Avena sativa) is commonly ground into fine particles (colloid oatmeal) and is used for various skin conditions.

Oatmeal naturally contains anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.17 Therefore, it is a powerful ingredient used to treat inflammatory skin conditions. Among chronic skin conditions, oatmeal has also been shown to help with skin dryness, scaling, itching, wound healing, and even helps retain moisture within the skin to provide extra hydration.17

How to use for sensitive skin

If patients have sensitive skin and are looking for a natural moisturizer, products containing oatmeal might be the perfect fit for them. Oatmeal-containing products may also have the additive benefit of anti-aging effects due to their antioxidant properties.

8. Petrolatum

Petrolatum is a semisolid mixture of hydrocarbons that acts as an occlusive agent. It is not absorbed in the skin but instead creates an oily barrier. This barrier prevents water loss and acts as a barrier for irritants. It is often considered the most effective moisturizing ingredient on the market, as it reduces water loss through the skin by up to 99%.18

Due to these properties, it is an excellent product to use on dry skin, cracked lips, or eczematous skin. Additionally, it does not bind or interact with any of the components within our skin, so it is hypoallergenic and unlikely to irritate. However, using petroleum jelly on the face should be avoided in individuals with acne-prone skin because it can cause breakouts in some people.

How to use for sensitive skin

Petrolatum is found in many skin products and is the basis of many moisturizer formulations. Its pure form can be used in especially dry areas of the skin or on cracked lips to help lock in moisture.

9. Shea Butter

Shea butter (Butyrospermum parkii) is a solid fatty oil derived from the Shea tree fruit, which can be found in West and Central Africa.15 It has been used for centuries for many ailments, as well as nutrition, as it is densely packed with sugars, proteins, calcium, antioxidants, and iron.19

The antioxidants within shea butter, stearic acid, linoleic acid, and catechins make this ingredient a popular, topical formulation for inflammatory skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis.15 For those with sensitive skin, the antioxidants help minimize the possibility of an adverse reaction in response to topical application. Shea butter is also hypoallergenic.15

How to use for sensitive skin

Consider recommending shea butter for patients that have dry and sensitive skin. The natural fatty acids within shea butter function to help improve the skin’s natural barrier and retain moisture within the skin, leading to more hydrated and younger-looking skin.

10. Urea

Urea is a naturally occurring component within the outer layer of the skin. It acts as both a humectant and a keratolytic agent.20 The concentration of urea determines its function. At a lower concentration (<10%), it acts more like a humectant.20 Like glycerin, urea also draws water into the skin, keeping it hydrated and supple. At higher concentrations (>10%), it has more keratolytic activity, which leads to softening and shedding of the outer layer of the skin.21 It helps remove the build-up of excess dead skin cells.

At lower concentrations, the moisturizing properties of urea are excellent for sensitive skin, dry skin, and eczematous skin. Whereas urea can be used for calluses at higher concentrations, psoriasis (decrease thickness of plaques), and onychomycosis (help treat nail fungus).

How to use for sensitive skin

Urea is found in a plethora of skin care products. Using a concentration of less than 10% can help keep sensitive skin hydrated.

Key Takeaways

  • Proper hydration, with moisturizers and emollients, helps to improve and maintain skin barrier function
  • Improving the skin barrier helps protect against the risk of irritation caused by other ingredients
  • Many of these ingredients discussed also have anti-inflammatory and anti-aging properties
* This Website is for general skin beauty, wellness, and health information only. This Website is not to be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any health condition or problem. The information provided on this Website should never be used to disregard, delay, or refuse treatment or advice from a physician or a qualified health provider.


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