How to Cleanse Sensitive Skin

I think we all strive for a happy, balanced skin. Personally few things throw me off my game like a breakout or when my dermatitis flares up. It only takes something small like a change in season, stress, hormones or the wrong product to knock me off my axis after which I need a to apply some proper TLC to calm the situation down again.

I always thought that my skin only became sensitive during the winter times, when it feels much dryer and therefore sensitized and itchy. I later learned that my summertime oily/combination skin has the same root problem. Because my skin barrier isn’t functioning properly, my skin is prone to dehydration so that in winter my nerve endings are exposed, making my skin feel more sensitive, while in summer my sebum glands go into overdrive to try and compensate.

“In summer we tend to sweat a little bit more and this can cause mild breakouts and an impaired skin barrier can also make this happen,” explains aesthetics medical practitioner Dr Alek Nikolic from, a new online store selling high-quality skincare products. “What we need to do is build up and heal the skin and this can be done with the correct skin regime.” He recommends products with growth factors, peptides, Vitamin A and glycolic acid to improve the health, function and appearance of the skin.

Since I struggle with seborrheic dermatitis, only a cortisone cream can really knock out a bad flare-up, but using the right cleansers, moisturizers and exfoliators can go a long way at managing the situation.

How important is the right cleanser?

I personally found that starting my routine with the right cleanser made all the difference to my skin condition and even during summer I’ll opt for mild products that won’t dry my skin out (You can click here for a list of great cleansers targeted at oily skin specifically).

“The correct cleanser is very important,” says Dr Nikolic. “If you use a cleanser that is too harsh for your skin you will make the problem worse.” He explains that the wrong products can increase irritation and skin products with unsuitable active ingredients can lead to excessive exfoliation, which could hurt rather than heal. For this reason it is best to get your more active skincare products from dermatologists or skin therapists so that they can recommend the correct regime.

So if I have dry skin in winter and oily skin in summer, can I use one cleanser all year round to target sensitivity? “Yes, you can,” says Dr Nikolic, “but I would use a very gentle cleanser like the NeoStrata Facial Cleanser or the SkinCeuticals Simply Clean and control the oil and dehydration by using serums.”

And what about exfoliation?

I have always struggled to know if and how often I should exfoliate. During summer I know exfoliation helps to reduce clogged or enlarged pores but in the case of sensitive skin, will it help or will it only further damage my skin barrier?

“You can still use exfoliants, says Dr Nikolic, “but definitely not scrubs, as they will irritate the skin and actually interfere with the natural pH balance. When this happens the skin produces more sebum and pores become enlarged and blocked and the skin may appear more sensitive. So mild Alpha Hydroxy Acids are best. I would suggest the NeoStrata Skin Active Exfoliating Face Wash every third night.”

I never use exfoliants while my dermatitis is flared up – I’ll nurture it with soothing creams and only continue my normal regime once my skin has calmed down.

The best way to find out whether you have sensitive skin is to go for a consultation with a skin specialist. A therapist or dermatologist will be able to tell you what the problem is, which areas to focus on and what products you should (and shouldn’t use). You can also try this online skin assessment.

A few products you can try

Cleansers for Sensitive Skin


1. SkinCeuticals Gentle Cleanser

(R660 for 250ml,

This cleanser is super mild but still very effective at removing impurities without drying your skin out. It contains orange oil, which is antiseptic and soothing, as well as emollients to calm and condition your skin. It is suitable for all skin types and great for sensitive, dehydrated or aged skins, or people suffering from rosacea. It’s not that great at removing makeup so it is best to use a makeup remover first followed by this one.

WIN: is giving away a SkinCeuticals hamper including a Gentle Cleanser and Sheer Physical UV Defence SPF 50 worth R1195! To enter, share your skin concern in the comments below or email Competition closes 22 March 2016.

2. Bioderma Sensibio H2O Makeup Removing Micelle Solution

(R199,95 for 250ml,

A friend of mine has seriously sensitive skin (even the chemicals in tap water sets her off) and she swears by this one. Micelles are brilliant little molecules that work like magnets, picking up makeup and other impurities in their path. This micellar water works very well to remove makeup without the need for a lot of rubbing (which can irritate your skin) and it cleanses without drying. Apply a generous amount onto cotton pads and wipe from the center of your face outwards. To remove mascara, press the cotton over your eyes, hold for about 20 seconds and then wipe downward.

3. Dermalogica UltraCalming Cleanser

(R580 for 250ml,

This is one of my personal favourites especially during winter time when my skin becomes really dry. It has a balmy feel that I find comforting and soothing, and it cleanses well while leaving my skin feeling soft and calmed. I found it easy to rinse off and doesn’t leave a sticky or oily residue. I would recommend you remove makeup first and then cleanse with this.

4. Dermaceutic Advanced Cleanser

(R440 for 150ml,

I have been using this cleanser from the end of last winter and all through summer and I really love it. It works well to remove makeup, excess sebum and impurities but doesn’t feel drying at all. It contains xylitol which improves hydration, zinc to tackle oil, as well as urea and glycerin which moisturizes and exfoliates. Their glycerin is of vegetable origin, which should come as happy news for vegans. It also lasts really long – I probably managed 6 months with one bottle.

5. NeoStrata Restore Facial Cleanser

(R382 for 100ml,

This cleanser gently removes impurities and also exfoliates your skin with 4% Gluconolactone, a Poly Hydroxy Acid (PHA). It is soap free, fragrance free and hypoallergenic, and a great choice for sensitized skins.

6. Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleansing Cloths

(R99 for 25 wipes,

Chlorine and other chemicals in our tap water can be irritating to certain skin types, in which case wipes and cleansing waters are a great alternative. Wipes are obviously also great for travelling or to keep in your gym bag to remove makeup pre-workout, and I like using them in the mornings to cleanse my face and neck. These particular wipes have a beautifully soft texture and I thought they did really well to remove makeup and daily impurities in no time. I also love the plastic seal, which helps keep the wipes moist after you open the packet.

Main image: Shutterstock, Product shots: Supplied. *Prices are recommended and might vary between retailers

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