Stave off redness and irritation with these surefire picks.

By Melanie Rud
December 10, 2019
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If you’re dealing with sensitive skin (read: itching, redness, flakiness, dryness, bumps), you likely are cautious when choosing skincare products. But keep in mind that makeup can be just as much of an irritating culprit; after all, you are wearing it all day, every day. Makeup often contains multiple ingredients, and although they’re usually harmless and nonirritating, they can increase the likelihood of allergic reactions in people with sensitive skin, says dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, M.D., of Schweiger Dermatology in New York City. Translation: It’s as important to seek out a sensitive skin-safe foundation as it is a face cream. So how exactly do you do that?

Searching for hypoallergenic products is one option, though admittedly not an entirely fail-safe one. Hypoallergenic is a word used to refer to products that in theory cause fewer allergies than other products would, explains Gretchen Frieling, M.D., a board-certified dermatopathologist in the Boston area. The caveat? The term has no legally regulated meaning, says Frieling, meaning products can be labeled "hypoallergenic" but contain ingredients that may be problematic for some. “Often—but not always—companies have done their own internal testing to determine if test subjects experienced irritation or allergy, but it’s impossible to guarantee that a product will never cause an allergic reaction,” Nazarian says.

The bottom line: Just because a product, be it skincare or makeup, has the word hypoallergenic slapped on the label doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. It’s a good idea for those with sensitive skin to seek these out, but Frieling also advises a DIY patch test before trying any new product. Apply a small amount of product on an inconspicuous area (like the inside of your forearm) once and observe it for a few days to see if your skin reacts. Get in the habit of reading ingredient labels, too. Frieling suggests avoiding products that contain alcohol and fragrance, both of which are common irritants. Nazarian adds essentials oils, such as lavender, peppermint, and eucalyptus, to that list. Preservatives, including parabens, can also be common culprits. Top tip: Opt for powder over liquid formulas whenever possible because these by nature need and contain lower amounts of preservatives, if any. Here's our list of eight hypoallergenic products—a good place to start if you’re searching for makeup that’s safe for sensitive skin.

Credit: Courtesy of Macy's

The fewer the ingredients in a product, the lower the likelihood that something in it will irritate your skin. This original mineral foundation contains only five. Frieling suggests opting for mineral makeup in general because it contains fewer parabens, fillers, and binders, making it a good pick for those with sensitive skin and those with problems such as eczema and rosacea. Indeed this foundation is free of parabens and other preservatives, and also touts a nonirritating, mineral-based sunscreen. Nazarian is a fan as well, noting that her patients love the way it feels and calling it “a great option.”

Buy It: $31, Macy's

Credit: Courtesy of Glossier

Frieling recommends both the makeup and skincare options of this brand. “Glossier products are dermatologist tested, nonirritating, noncomedogenic, fragrance-free, paraben-free, and alcohol-free,” she says. We especially like this gel-cream blush, which blends seamlessly into skin for natural-looking, buildable color. Also nice: The six shades flatter a wide array of complexions.

Buy It: $18, Glossier

Credit: Courtesy of Physicians Formula

This drugstore staple brand is known for its wide array of hypoallergenic products at ultra-affordable prices. This stick bronzer is no exception; it’s clinically tested, dermatologist-approved, and free of fragrance and parabens. Plus, it contains organic jojoba oil, an oil known for its skin-soothing and anti-inflammatory benefits, a boon for the sensitive set.

Buy It: $12, Physicians Formula

Credit: Courtesy of Walmart

The skin around your eyes is the thinnest on the body, making it even more susceptible to irritation. In other words, eye makeup, including mascaras, can be particularly problematic. That’s why we’re fans of this fragrance-free pick, which has also been tested by ophthalmologists. Whether you have sensitive skin, sensitive eyes, or both, it’s a great way to score thicker, fuller fringe without any unsightly redness.

Buy It: $4.97, Walmart

Credit: Courtesy of VMV Hypoallergenics

Nazarian recommends this brand, which has a unique rating system calling out how many of the most common allergens (there are 109 total) each product is free of and noting which ones it does contain. For example, this lippie has a VH-105 to VH-108 rating (depending on the color), meaning it’s free of a whopping 105 to 108 ingredients likely to cause a reaction. But don’t worry, it still packs rich and creamy color.

Buy It: $28, VMV Hypoallergenics

Credit: Courtesy of C'est Moi

Per our point about the delicate eye area being easily irritated, opting for a hypoallergenic liner is a great move. Clinically tested on sensitive skin, this one is free of fragrance, parabens, talc, mineral oil, and more. Instead it contains jojoba seed oil and shea butter to ensure it glides on without tugging.

Buy It: $8, C'est Moi

Credit: Courtesy of Macy's

Despite the fact that Clinique products aren’t touted as hypoallergenic specifically, both doctors recommend the brand for people with sensitive skin. (Though FYI, Nazarian notes that some of the products do contain fragrance, so read the labels.) This base is fragrance-free and has been allergy-tested. It’s especially ideal for dry-combination or combination-oily complexions.

Buy It: $29.50, Macy's

Credit: Courtesy of Sephora

Sensitive skin or not, you won’t be able to get enough of this creamy concealer stick. One swipe packs oil-free, matte, waterproof coverage that lasts all day. (Because really, who has time for touch-ups?) Couple that with the fact that it’s dermatologist-tested and you’ve got a real winner.

Buy It: $25, Sephora


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