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If you’re like me, you’ve tried A LOT of products to try to heal and calm your sensitive, acne-prone skin.
I’ve been editing my body skincare regimen since I was 15 years old and I’m honestly still searching for the best products that are not only effective, but don’t contain a lot of irritating ingredients.
Too many times I’ve been suggested products everyone swears by, yet they never seem to work for me. I either feel too dry, get an itchy rash, or worst of all, break out.
I have no idea where I got my sensitive skin from in my family because my parents can use any and every product.
In fact, I end up giving all my failed products away to my mom because they actually work for her.
One of these days I’ll go to a dermatologist and get an allergen test to see exactly what I’m allergic to. I’ll definitely post about my experience sometime in the (hopefully) near future.
If you still have no idea what kinds of products to buy when you have sensitive, acne-prone skin, this list will give you a place to start + give you suggestions on what to try.
Some terms to understand before we jump in:
A “comedo” is any type of acne lesion. They’re caused by sebum blockages in the hair follicles of our pores.
All whiteheads, blackheads, and pimples are comedos. Comedogenic means the ability to cause comedos.
Comedogenic Rating –
Oils rank on whether or not they contribute to acne by their comedogenic rating.
- A comedogenic rating of 0 essentially means non-comedogenic. These oils will not clog your pores, and thus not cause acne.
Note: Not everything with a 0 rating will 100% not clog pores for 100% of people. Life’s just cruel like that.
- A comedogenic rating of 1 means that the oil has a slight chance that it could clog your pores.
- A comedogenic rating of 2 means that the oil won’t clog pores for MOST people, but some with sensitive skin might see that these oils clog their pores.
- A comedogenic rating of 3 means that a lot of people will see clogged pores and break out from these oils.
- A comedogenic rating of 4 means that the oil will clog pores for MOST people, but some people with less sensitive skin can successfully use these oils without them clogging their pores.
- A comedogenic rating of 5 means that there’s almost a 100% chance that it will cause you to break out. There are some unicorn people that can withstand certain oils from this rating, but for everyone else don’t even bother trying these and stay away!
You can find a complete list of comedogenic and noncomedogenic oils here.
Oils also rank on whether or not they contribute to skin irritation, like itchiness and rashes. The rating system follows the same progression as the comedogenic rating, meaning that they also rate from 0-5.
Now onto the list.
1. Bio Oil
I’m going to get this one out of the way first because this cult favorite absolutely destroyed my skin. Run, and I mean run away from this product if you have even the slightest skin sensitivity or are prone to body acne.
Bio Oil has been around for years and is advertised as a miracle product that reduces scars, stretch marks, etc.
I didn’t stick around long enough to see if that was the case because using this product created MASSIVE pustules all over my back, butt, and legs.
Seriously, I had never seen anything like them in my life. How could something so highly rated cause this? Well, let’s take a look at the ingredients.
Mineral Oil (Paraffinum Liquidum) , Triisononanoin , Cetearyl Ethylhexanoate , Isopropyl Myristate…
Isopropyl Myristate is the 4th ingredient of this product, meaning that there’s a lot of it compared to what follows in the rest of the ingredients list.
Isopropyl Myristate has a whopping comedogenic rating of 5 and an irritancy rating of 3.
This means that this ingredient is almost 100% going to cause breakouts AND give you a rash. If you’re like me these breakouts will be large and in charge.
I have no idea how so many people can recommend this product to everyone they meet. It’s seriously best to just avoid using Bio Oil and anything containing Isopropyl Myristate unless you know you have skin of steel.
My mom spotted this in my bathroom and asked about it and I handed it over to her wishing her luck. Of course she is experiencing the results that made so many people give Bio Oil 5 stars. Life really isn’t fair.
2. Coconut Oil
If you have sensitive + acne-prone skin you MIGHT want to stay away from coconut oil.
Note: There is a difference between coconut oil and coconut-derived. The one that this section talks about is the ingredient “Cocos Nucifera (Coconut Oil).” You can read more on the difference here.
Coconut oil has exploded onto the scene in the last 5 years as a miracle oil that clears up a lot of user’s skin and is very moisturizing. Though, just like with Bio Oil, there seems to be a clear divide of mega fans and people that know for a fact that this ingredient will cause them to break out.
I obviously fall in the latter camp.
For some reason I just can’t use products with coconut oil. It has worked so well for other people to the point that pretty much every major hair and skincare brand has a line with coconut oil in it.
Why is it so controversial? It has a comedogenic rating of 4, but with the way people talk about it, it sounds like it would fit better as a 2 or a 3.
I’ve met and talked to enough people who get clogged pores from coconut oil to understand that it will either work for you gloriously or will destroy your skin. There’s really no in between.
Hair products aren’t safe either, as coconut oil can still cause acne on your scalp!
I didn’t get as extreme of acne and rashes as I did with Bio Oil, but products containing it tend to make me very itchy and give me an odd pimple in a random spot on my body. That’s enough for me to pass up on products containing coconut oil.
3. Ingredients With A Comedogenic Rating Of ≥2, Especially If It’s In The First Few Ingredients Of A Product
You’re probably just better off not reaching for products containing comedogenic oils in its first few ingredients if you know for a fact that you have very sensitive skin. You may fare better if the comedogenic oil is in the 2nd half of the ingredients list. Even better if it’s one of the last.
Though there are some bad oils, this does not mean you should go completely “oil free.” Oils are nourishing for all skin types and you should not go oil free unless your regimen specifically calls for it (lash extensions, etc.).
Did you know that for the most part “lathering” is just a marketing ploy?
Soaps and shampoos really don’t need much of a lather in order to do their jobs. All the lather does is trap dirt and allow you to rinse it away.
Most big brands add sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate to achieve a richer, thicker lather. This duo is more commonly known by their umbrella term, SLS.
What is SLS?
SLS is a cheap foaming agent that gives you major foam. It’s so popular that it’s included in most major cleansing products, such as body washes, shampoos, and even toothpaste.
The thing is, SLS is pretty bad for your skin. It’s linked as the cause for a lot of people’s dry skin, mouth sores, rashes, and other irritations.
When I was in college I switched to a Crest whitening toothpaste and my lips and the skin around my mouth became so extremely dry and red that it was painful.
I had no idea about SLS at the time and couldn’t figure out what was causing it. I thought it was just the winter air, but I eventually switched toothpastes on a whim to one that didn’t contain it and my problem went away within a week.
Curious to know what just happened, I read about what SLS can do to you and I gasped when I realized that it was EVERYWHERE.
Why is it everywhere? Why do we let companies get away with this? As I mentioned earlier, it’s a great foaming agent.
People associate soaps and shampoos as being “more effective” when they can create a good lather and companies ate that response right up.
There are much better, non-irritating foaming agents out there, but a lot of people are turned off by them because they don’t create “as good” of a lather.
The soaps clean just as well with those alternative foaming agents, but without that “rich lather,” people incorrectly believe they aren’t getting as clean.
What’s funny is that hardly any baby products contain SLS. If you don’t want this stuff around your baby then why keep it in your products?
5. Scented Laundry Detergents
This might be an unexpected addition to this list, but I find that scented detergents have more cons than pros.
When you wear clothes or lay in bed, you’re pretty much touching whatever was leftover from your detergent at all times. What’s left after you wash is a strong, irritating synthetic fragrance.
If you put on a shirt or hop in bed and immediately feel itchy then it’s probably the detergent.
Strong scents are another unnecessary addition that companies add to their products because people (wrongly) think they need them. They smell good at best and are really irritating at worst.
There are too many unscented alternatives to popular brands to keep purchasing scented detergents.
If you have an unidentified skin issue, then making the switch is one of the easiest changes you can make to aid your beauty regimen.
6. Anything That Mentions “Skin Purging”
You’ve likely read reviews about products that say that it caused the user’s skin to “purge.”
“Skin purginig” is the idea that products make your skin worse before they make them better. This usually manifests in the form of breakouts.
This to me sounds like a marketing ploy to get people to continue using their products even though it’s clearly not working for them.
If I see reviews that mention “purging,” it’s an immediate red flag for me. Stop using products that immediately don’t work in hopes that it eventually will. Your body doesn’t need to “get used” to anything. Pass.
What To Try Instead
Everything that I’m about to recommend works very well for me. I’m not promising that they will work for everyone, but considering that they don’t contain junk ingredients is a good sign that they will work for you.
My 3 requirements for what I look for in skincare:
- Main ingredients have a comedogenic rating of 0
- SLS free
- Doesn’t leave me feeling/looking dry.
You would think that there would be a goldmine of products that satisfy these 3 requirements, but there really isn’t a whole lot out there.
At the time of this post, winter is in full swing and I’m living in Erie, PA. Yes, that town that got over 5 feet of snow in 2 days.
With this kind of weather, I need something that is moisturizing and winter-proof. For whatever reason, a lot of products for sensitive skin just aren’t moisturizing enough.
So here’s what I love to use that has been working for me so far.
The Best Oils To Use
All of these ingredients have a comedogenic rating of 0 and are highly effective moisturizers.
- Argan oil – My holy grail oil. It makes my skintone so even, and you can see my glow from a mile away. I always come back to this oil.
- Shea butter – The term “butter” might sound like it would clog pores, but don’t fret. Shea butter is one of the best ingredients out there that will give you long lasting moisture.
- Hemp seed oil – Not to be confused with hash oil, hemp seed oil is another good moisturizing oil.
- Sunflower seed oil – Another good oil that I love that is moisturizing.
- Glycerin – While not an oil, glycerin is a very powerful moisturizer often found in haircare products, but it’s also found in some skincare products.
Note: Essential oils are noncomedogenic, but they can cause irritation if a product contains too much of them or they’re indilluted.
What I Love:
- Contains argan oil
- Contains shea butter
- Sulfate free
- SLS free
- Fragrance free
- Cruelty free
If you have sensitive, acne-prone skin you NEED to know about Josie Maran. She’s the argan oil queen and has given me the skin of my dreams.
I’ve had so much success with this body wash, because trust me, I’ve tried them all to no avail. This is the only one that I’ve used to make me feel moisturized when I step out of the shower.
What I love:
- Contains argan oil
- Contains shea butter
- Contains sunflower oil
- A little goes a long way
- Serious 24+ hours moisture
- Gives me a glow you can see from space
- Cruelty free
You have to get the body wash + body butter duo!
I’ve pretty much given up on buying “lotions” because they never were good enough for me to want to stick with them.
One day I decided to make my own body butter with shea butter, argan oil, and lemon essential oils and I loved the result. I didn’t love having to make it myself because, as I mentioned in another post, I would always rather just buy it if it exists. You can read more about that here: 6 Reasons Why Lazy People Tend To Be More Successful.
I discovered Josie Maran right when I was running out of my homemade butter, so I ran to the store to pick up up the duo and have never looked back.
I can’t emphasize how much this stuff has changed my life. I am positively glowing AND I’m not itchy when I use it.
What I love:
- Contains sunflower seed oil
- Contains glycerin
- Contains oats and aloe vera (prevents itchiness and bumps caused by shaving)
- Formulated for dry, sensitive skin
- No added fragrance
I couldn’t find a shaving cream that could meet my 3 requirements until I found this one by Aveeno. It’s thick and works so well. Bumps and itchiness are a thing of the past now.
The only thing I don’t love doesn’t come from its ingredients list. It’s because Aveeno is not a cruelty free company.
If you know of any bomb shaving creams like this that are cruelty free PLEASE sound off in the comments.
What I love:
- Dye and perfume free
What I’ve been using for years now. They’re just as effective as the rest of Tide’s detergents, but this one doesn’t have synthetic dyes and fragrances.
Now let’s not go crazy with the #TidePodChallenge, y’all. They belong in the washing machine. Not in your mouths.
What I love:
- Makes clothes so soft
- Dye and perfume free
Can’t complete your laundry without dryer sheets. I love these because they have the same strength and effectiveness as the rest of their sheets, but they don’t contain synthetic dyes or fragrances.
Making the switch to free and gentle products when doing laundry will make all the difference in your skin, especially if you’re washing for family members.
So there you have it! I swear if you start out by just trying these products, you’ll notice a difference. This is all that I use to achieve clear, moisturized skin, even in the winter.
Let me know in the comments if you decide to try any of these and let me know your results! Also let me know of any alternatives that you swear by that are non-comedogenic, SLS free, and are effective.
I hope this helped at least one person out there. I wish something like this was written for me when I was still completely lost on what to use.