Friends or Foes?
If you have sensitive skin, getting a pimple can mean facing a Catch-22 situation: You can treat the zit but irritate your skin, or you can leave your skin be but suffer through the breakout. Neither sounds particularly appealing.
Thankfully, all is not lost! Medical experts agree there are ways to treat acne while being gentle on sensitive skin. Here are a few tips.
Most topical creams — whether over-the-counter or prescription — tend to dry out your skin. This is tough for those with sensitive skin because any irritation can cause redness and swelling or, horror upon horrors, actually make acne worse.
Some dermatologists recommend trying topical treatments that include chloroxylenol or bisabolol, as they work to shrink your pimple while reducing redness and swelling and disinfecting the area. Also, treatments containing benzoyl peroxide in lower concentrations (such as 2.5%) have been shown to be as effective as higher dosages but may be less drying, so they’re worth a try. Consider that creams and lotions have been shown to be less irritating than gels and solutions (used mainly for topical antibiotics) for sensitive skin.
If you use or plan to use topical retinoids or antibiotics for your more stubborn acne, talk to your doctor or dermatologist about starting with a lower-dose version and working your way up to full prescription strength. This gives your skin a chance to adapt to the effective ingredients, which can reduce the likelihood of redness, dryness and overall irritation. Also, go slow: Use the treatment sparingly at first and increase frequency as your skin builds up tolerance.
To take care of your skin while you treat blemishes, and to reduce the likelihood of a future breakout, you’ll want to skip the harsh cleansers and scrubs and embrace a gentle, soap-free option. This is to avoid stripping your skin of its natural moisture. Also, using lukewarm water, washing with your hands instead of a cloth or brush, and patting—not rubbing—your skin dry can also lessen irritation.
You may also want to avoid skincare products with propylene glycol and sodium lauryl sulfate, as they tend to strip the skin of essential moisture—which would potentially send your sebum production into overdrive and cause more pimples. Other skincare ingredients to shy away from include oils of any kind, as they can clog pores, and fragrances, as they can be irritating to fussy faces (and backs and chests and shoulders).
And since prescription oral medications to fight blemishes can make your skin extra-sensitive to the sun, always wear (oil-free, non-comedogenic) sunscreen.