I have sensitive skin, what is the best (and most gentle) exfoliant can I use?

What is sensitive skin?

When asked for their skin type, more than 50% of people claim they have sensitive skin. What does it mean to have sensitive skin? Sensitive skin is basically a skin condition where the barrier function of the skin is disrupted, allowing penetration of allergens and irritants into the dermis layer. The resulting irritation translates into stinging, burning, redness or a tightening of the skin whenever we come into contact with an irritant.  

There are a whole host of ingredients that can cause a skin reaction. Believe it or not, a lot of them come from natural sources. In skin care products the typical culprits are antibacterial ingredients, deodorants, alcohol (which causes dryness), some retinoids, AHAs and BHA and some of the organic sunscreen factors.

The key issue is really your own skins’ tolerance threshold. A healthy skin balance is controlled by a range of external and internal factors.

Here are some of the factors that can cause skin reactions:

  • Skin disorders, or allergic reactions such as eczema, rosacea, or contact dermatitis.
  • Climate: excessive exposure to skin damaging environmental factors such as cold, wind, UV exposure, or sunburn can all lead to increased sensitivity.
  • Overly dry or injured skin that can no longer protect nerve endings, leading to skin reactions.
  • Genetic factors: race, age, gender
  • Using the wrong skin care products or such products in the wrong order. A key example is the use of acid exfoliants in combination with retinoids and benzoyl peroxide, or other strong actives.
  • Overzealous use of products with strong actives
  • Diet

So how are we meant to look after our sensitive skin? Here are some simple suggestions:

  • Don’t use products overloaded with fragrance, alcohol or other irritants
  • Simplify your skin care routine
  • Don’t use strong actives like AHAs, BHAs or retinoids unless instructed by your dermatologist, or use a simple moisturizer before and/or after the application of such actives
  • Don’t use waterproof make up
  • Wear sunscreen year around but make sure to check and see if a mineral base sunscreen is a better fit for your skin type
  • Manage a moderate climate at home and in the office
  • Apply emollients to keep your skin moisturised.

The key element for managing sensitive skin is to have an informed skin care plan. You need to be aware of using ingredients that can help you with your skin barrier functionality. For example, Vitamin B (Niacinamide) is a fantastic ingredient that can reduce skin inflammation.  It also helps your skin with its barrier functionality, modulates your skin dehydration and therefore improves the moisture content of the skin.

Another way of approaching this is to choose your products carefully.  For example, when it comes to exfoliation, rather than using various AHAs and BHAs, use BOA Exfoliant. It is an excellent way of exfoliating your skin as the product is naturally derived, gentle, non-abrasive and has no reactive ingredients. The product is designed so that it works when you have dead skin cells present and stops working as soon as the dead skins are gone. Unlike other exfoliants, BOA exfoliant’s visual signal tells you if you are exfoliating so it is the best way to prevent over-exfoliation of your sensitive skin.


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The BOA Skin Academy Blog hopes to bring you educational, insightful and interesting reading material on the topics of skincare, beauty, rituals, self-care and wellness. All topics are chosen and written by the BOA team, with credits where credit is due. If you have a suggestion for a topic or a question about what we have written, we would love for you to get in touch. Please email us at info@boaskincare.com and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

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