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It’s not easy stocking a beauty cabinet with skin care for sensitive skin. A list of what ingredients to avoid often ends up sounding exactly like the most popular launches of the year—hyped by everyone, but usually off-limits to you. For those who experience irritation and redness easily, actives that work wonders for most tend to trigger flare-ups. While one option is experimenting with concentration levels and frequency of usage, there’s also a far easier workaround.
Thanks to new-generation ingredients that boost collagen like retinol and sweep away dead cells like alpha hydroxy acids, skin care for sensitive skin is seriously leveling up. Just ask the experts: We polled trusted dermatologists, and all of them submitted alternate ingredients that deliver noticeable results—without the risk of a reaction. Read on for nine ingredients (and product picks) to add to your routine immediately.
Why you should swap it out: The gold standard of skin care actives helps curb acne, boost collagen production, and even out skin tone. But retinol is also notorious for triggering redness and peeling. It can be especially harsh on people with sensitive skin.
What you should swap it with: Bakuchiol. This retinol alternative activates the same receptors in your skin, without the residual redness or irritation, according to Melanie Palm, M.D., a San Diego dermatologist and dermatologic cosmetic surgeon.
How to use bakuchiol: Both retinol and bakuchiol do their best work while cells are in a nocturnal repair mode, so reach for your bakuchiol night cream, serum, or treatment before lights out.
What to try: Bakuchiol is the hero ingredient in this overnight mask geared toward sensitive skin. Supporting cast members include cucumber fruit water, squalane, and jojoba oil for added hydration and bounce.
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How to use them: Apply a gluconolactone toner morning or night. Alternatively, you can incorporate an exfoliating moisturizer with azelaic acid as part of your nighttime routine.
What to try: The good news is that these alternate ingredients are easy to find. Then I Met You Birch Milk Refining Toner contains gluconolactone, along with squalane and birch milk to help keep skin hydrated and clear. Azelaic acid comes in prescription form; Howe recommends Finacea gel 15% for patients. If it’s not covered by your insurance, you can also try affordable over-the-counter options like The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%. Paula’s Choice also offers a gel cream that’s packed with azelaic acid and a bevy of antioxidants (and gets rave reviews from those with sensitive skin).
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