How to Support Your Sensitive Skin as You Age
An expert shares her best advice.
There are so many impactful anti-aging products on the market today—chemical acids, retinols, lasers—that help to promote a smooth complexion, whatever your age. The problem, however, is that many of these ingredients and treatments can aggravate sensitive skin. Retinol (a popular time-fighter), for one, is a big perpetrator of irritation, redness, and flakiness. While these formulas have gotten gentler in recent years, you still need to be extremely careful when using them. "Many of the ingredients that are effective at tackling anti-aging aren't suitable for those with sensitive skin," says Dr. Rose Ingleton, a dermatologist in New York City.
To start, she recommends avoiding unbuffered exfoliating alpha hydroxy acids like glycolic; the pH hasn't been adjusted to make them more tolerable for topical application. Unsurprisingly, she also cautions against retinols. "Retinols tend to cause a bit of dryness, especially when used in high concentrations—even for those without sensitive skin," she says. "I usually recommend applying a bland moisturizer on top of retinol products. People with sensitive skin should stick to lower-strength retinol products or avoid them altogether."
Instead, if you have sensitive skin, build an anti-aging skincare regimen full of soothing, moisturizing, and nutrient-dense ingredients. The ingredients Ingleton specifically recommends are ceramides, which are moisturizing lipid molecules that help strengthen the skin's barrier; peptides, or amino acids that promote collagen production and firm the skin; polyhydroxy acid, a gentler, but effective alternative to alpha hydroxy acid; niacinamide, a form of vitamin B that reduces redness, evens skin tone, and minimizes the appearance of pores, fine lines, and wrinkles; and green and white tea extracts, potent antioxidants that protect the skin from environmental pollution and free radicals in the air, all of which can lead to premature aging.
As for a specific anti-aging regimen? Ingleton recommends starting with a gentle, soap-free cleanser, like Dove Dermaseries Face Wash ($14.46, amazon.com), then applying an antioxidant serum, like SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic ($166, dermstore.com). This antioxidant serum will brighten and even the skin, help promote collagen production, hydrate, and protect the skin from environmental damage. Then, Ingleton says, apply a simple moisturizer that contains sun protection (after all, sun protection is the best anti-aging product of them all). She likes Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel Lotion SPF 50 ($9.99, target.com). Repeat the cleanser step at night—and follow with a sensitive-skin serum and nourishing moisturizer, like Rose MD Skin Calming Booster ($90, rosemdskin.com), which contains white and green tea extracts, hydrating hyaluronic acid, and soothing allantoin. Add a wrinkle-reducing, peptide-infused moisturizer on top, like CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion ($15.99, ulta.com) or Rose MD Signature Moisturizer ($110, rosemdskin.com).
Treatment wise, Ingleton encourages her more sensitive patients to try the Clear & Brilliant laser to minimize pore size, even the skin tone, and stimulate collagen production. Many resurfacing lasers, like the Fraxel (which dermatologists use to reverse the clock) can be too harsh for delicate complexions. "You can get a similar level of skin brightening and smoothing with multiple Clear & Brilliant treatments as you can from one Fraxel session," Ingleton says. "It's just a safer and slower method for someone with sensitive skin." And conventional in-office exfoliating treatments, like peels, can be modified to suit the needs of sensitive skin, she adds—and also suggests Dermalinfusion as an alternative to microdermabrasion, as it gently exfoliates while infusing calming ingredients into the skin to give you a radiant complexion, sans redness.