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Beauty 101: Diagnosing & treating sensitive skin

Beauty 101: Diagnosing sensitive skin
Beauty 101: Diagnosing sensitive skin


Caring for sensitive skin can be tricky and frustrating. YUSRINA YUSOFF met up with some industry experts for advice and solutions.

Nowadays, a myriad of products and brands claim to improve skin condition, as a quick stroll through any department store will confirm. It can be quite confusing and taxing to find the right product, especially if you have sensitive skin.

Sensitive skin is a broad term and the condition varies from person to person. Some may be allergic to particular ingredients in skin care products, while others may react to certain types of food. A few might have sensitive skin as a result of an existing skin condition such as acne, rosacea or psoriasis.

Before you begin your product search, first find out if you really do have sensitive skin. According to Christina Arseni, International Marketing Director for Apivita, a natural cosmetics company from Greece, many people think they have sensitive skin but they don’t. “They’re just stressed. Half of all skin problems have psychological causes. You don’t sleep, you eat unhealthily and suddenly you have bad, sensitive skin.”

According to Mah Mei Hui, pharmacist and founder of The Skin Pharmacy, a person with sensitive skin is someone whose skin frequently reacts to skincare product ingredients that normally do not cause any skin reaction in the majority of people. “The only way to ‘cure’ this problem,” she says, “is to avoid the products or ingredients that cause the reaction.”

Ingredients and Labels

Professional makeup artist Kelly Bilimoria always advises her clients to learn how to read and understand product labels in order to make better-informed decisions. Ingredients such as sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), benzoyl peroxide and boric acid can be harmful to sensitive skin as they can make it dry and cause allergies and irritations.

Some people may even have a reaction to strong chemicals such as ammonia that are found in many hair colouring products. Yvonne Pay, Marketing Manager of Organic Hair Professional explains, “Ammonia is harmful as it can produce rapid skin irritation. It can not only negatively affect the cuticle of the hair but also damage the amino acid or protein found inside the hair shaft.”

Beauty 101: Diagnosing sensitive skin
Beauty 101: Diagnosing sensitive skin


She recommends that you seek professional help rather than colouring your hair at home. Products without parabens and ammonia are most suitable for sensitive scalps, which is why she uses Natulique hair colours at her salon. Made in Denmark, this gentle product range has one of the safest formulations in the beauty industry today.

To minimise irritation during shampooing, Apivita adds prickly pear to its shampoo formula. They also use it in their sun-care line as it’s a very strong anti-irritant. “The secret is to use a sulphate-free shampoo,” Christina says.

Yvonne agrees. “Harsh sulphates such as ammonium laureth sulphate and ammonium lauryl sulphate can strip your hair, causing it to become dry and eventually leading to breakage.” For highly sensitive skin, Yvonne recommends O’right Dandelion Shampoo as it is hypoallergenic and has a tear-free formula; or O’right Tea Tree Shampoo, which contains pure Australian tea tree oil and mild Ecocert organic foaming agents that help cleanse the scalp and have anti-microbial properties. It also has green tea extract, an excellent natural anti-inflammatory, and skin-soothing ingredients to protect the scalp from dandruff and acne.

The Amino range by The Skin Pharmacy is suitable for sensitive skin

According to Mei Hui, the fewer the ingredients, the better. “Go for products with a very simple ingredient list. Our mildest face cleanser, the Amino Deep Cleansing Powder, has only four ingredients and is preservative-free.” The Skin Pharmacy’s Amino range was developed especially for sensitive skin and features cleansers for various skin types, toner, moisturiser and body wash. They all contain amino acids, which form a Natural Moisturising Factor (NMF) on the skin. NMF helps the skin to hold water and improves hydration, which sensitive skin usually lacks.

“Fragrance is one of the top 10 culprits of skin reactions, which is why we ensure our products at The Skin Pharmacy are fragrance-free.” She suggests avoiding products with alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) or fruit acids, as they cause skin to exfoliate and may further irritate an already compromised skin.

Kelly Bilimoria’s Top 10 list of good and bad ingredients

Natural Ingredients

Liquorice – treats redness and rosacea
Willow herb – antimicrobial, anti-irritant, a natural antiseptic used to soothe common skin irritations
Witch hazel – found in toners and moisturisers, it promotes hydration and reduces redness
Almond oil – excellent emollient for softening and conditioning the skin
Lavender – the flowers heal and soothe various skin complaints such as acne, skin allergies, inflammation, sunburn, dermatitis and eczema

Chemical Ingredients

Bismuth oxychloride – a potential irritant
Benzoyl peroxide – an antibacterial ingredient that can cause allergies
Salicylic acid – can lead to dry skin and allergies
Oxybenzone – the UVA-absorbing chemical in sunscreen
Petrolatum – can clog pores


As a general rule of thumb, avoid products containing fragrance or alcohol, or look for hypoallergenic products.

Nora Gasparini, founder of L’Atelier Parfums et Creations recommends joining a perfume-making workshop so you can test every ingredient, find out what you’re allergic to and avoid it. The common ingredients people are allergic to are cinnamon because of its cinnamic alcohol, eugenol found in cloves, and roses and frangipani. She recommends using eau de cologne, as the concentration of ingredients is smaller than in eau de parfum.

Is natural always better?

“No, definitely not,” Nora explains. “You cannot control natural. Usually, people with sensitive skin react faster to natural ingredients than those with normal skin.”

Founder and Managing Director of Porcelain, The Face Spa, Pauline Ng agrees, “Many natural ingredients may also spark an allergic reaction and may be more unstable than chemical compounds. Sometimes, to seek optimal treatment, we might require the use of chemical ingredients.”

The Skin Pharmacy founder Mei Hui agrees. “Not everything natural is always suitable for everyone. Sometimes, even natural ingredients can cause problems in those with sensitive skin, although they might be perfectly fine with a chemical ingredient.”

Beauty 101: Diagnosing sensitive skin
Beauty 101: Diagnosing sensitive skin


Sometimes, as Niki Koutsiana, President of Apivita, points out, an individual’s history of product use gives better evidence than a clinical study of a chemical ingredient created in a laboratory. “In the past, people believed natural products were not good for sensitive skin. But people have used natural ingredients like chamomile, olive oil, and almond for many years without any problems. This is the best kind of study.”

Tips and Tricks

Beauty 101: Diagnosing sensitive skin
Beauty 101: Diagnosing sensitive skin


Having regular scalp treatments is very important, particularly if you have scalp issues, as the scalp ages 12 times faster than the rest of your skin. At Organic Hair Professional, they suggest a monthly Scalp Exfoliating Spatreatment to gently exfoliate dead skin, dandruff and excess sebum, allowing the scalp to breathe again. At home, Yvonne suggests massaging the scalp using O’right Hair Tonicfor two to three minutes to stimulate blood circulation, prevent hair loss and eliminate dandruff and itching, keeping the scalp healthy.

According to Niki, the most important part of a skin care regime is cleansing, and this needs to be done properly both in the morning and at night. Otherwise, impurities will build up. She has noticed that people tend to buy expensive moisturising and nourishing creams, thinking they will work better, but underestimate the importance of cleansers and buy cheap, ineffective ones.

Mei Hui emphasises the importance of moisturising to allow the skin to heal itself. Sensitive skin is usually compromised in its structure and is therefore unable to hold water as well as normal skin does, so it is important to keep your skin well moisturised all the time.

Whenever you’re out shopping at beauty counters, Kelly suggests asking for sample-sized products. Most major brands have them and will allow you to try before you buy. This way, you will know if you’re allergic to the product before paying a large sum of money for the full-size product.

“Mineral makeup contains few ingredients, no fragrance and no alcohol. Being inert, minerals don’t react, so they’re perfect for those with sensitive skin,” says Kelly. “However, they can be more expensive than other makeup. Brands that are good for sensitive skin include Clinique, Bare Minerals, Dermacolour, Make Up For Ever, Estée Lauder and Physicians Formula.”

Kelly Bilimoria recommends brands like Clinique and Make Up For Ever for sensitive skin

Beauty 101: Diagnosing sensitive skin
Beauty 101: Diagnosing sensitive skin


When removing makeup, use oil-based products as they contain less detergent. You should also regularly change your makeup products, especially eyeliner, mascara and sponges, and wash all your makeup brushes frequently.

Kelly also recommends investing in a primer, especially for those with sensitive skin, as it has many benefits. Aside from moisturising the skin and keeping it hydrated, a primer helps prevent cosmetics from clogging the pores and reduces redness, inflammation and visible pore size.

For fragrance, just dab on a little. According to Nora, a roll-on is better than a spray bottle as much less skin is exposed to the product.

Beauty 101: Diagnosing sensitive skin
Beauty 101: Diagnosing sensitive skin


Staying true to The Skin Pharmacy’s philosophy, Mei Hui recommends a simple skincare routine: wash, moisturise and apply sunscreen. These basic steps are sufficient for most people. Occasionally, pamper the skin with a hydrating mask. She advises clients to avoid harsh procedures like chemical peeling, lasers and even rough exfoliation.

Niki recommends using baby products as they are mild and contain natural ingredients without propylene gycol or sodium lauryl ether sulphate, which are not good for sensitive skin.

Finding the best products for your skin may be a daunting task, but it’s well worth the effort. And Mei Hui advises: “Once you find a product that suits you, stick with it. Switching can result in more unwanted skin reactions.”

Beauty Hall


#B3-45 ION Orchard


Kelly Bilimoria

9822 2203 | kelly.bilimoria@hotmail.com


The Skin Pharmacy

#B1-69 Nex

6634 7855 | the-skin-pharmacy.com

Organic Hair Professional

#03-15 Orchard Central

6554 2188 | organichairsalonsg.com


Porcelain The Face Spa

15 Cantonment Road

6227 9692 | porcelainfacespa.com


L’Atelier Parfums et Creations


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