The Complete Guide to Makeup for Sensitive Skin

If your skin tends to be sensitive, trying new makeup products can be a little nerve-racking. When searching for the next addition to your cosmetics collection, you might also be asking yourself one or more of these questions:

What does hypoallergenic mean?

What does non-comedogenic mean?

Why should I care about fragrance in makeup?

What are parabens in makeup?

Is mineral-based makeup the best makeup for sensitive skin?

What are some specific products I can try?

For products that cover a lot of your face–think foundation, powder, concealer, and blush–using formulas created with sensitive skin in mind can go a long way to curb irritation. To get a better handle on the best makeup for sensitive skin, we’ll walk you through five key labeling terms that you should know and understand before you make your next purchase: hypoallergenic, non-comedogenic, fragrance-free, paraben-free, and mineral-based. We’ll also share some of our favorite product picks!

What Does Hypoallergenic Mean?

Because the FDA doesn’t regulate this term, it doesn’t have a standard definition that all cosmetics companies are required to adhere to when using it on labeling. “The word ‘hypoallergenic’ can actually mean a variety of things from company to company,” says board-certified dermatologist and LovelySkin CEO Dr. Joel Schlessinger. “Companies tend to use it to indicate that a product is less likely to irritate your skin versus other products, but I always go by the manufacturer to be assured that it is true. Good companies are honest, while others can stretch the truth.” Suffice it to say, there’s no reason to avoid makeup that’s labeled hypoallergenic; keep in mind that the word in itself is not a guarantee against an allergic reaction.

What Does Non-Comedogenic Mean?

Ready for a little vocabulary lesson? Comedogenic means “causing comedones,” which is medical speak for clogged pores. So, if a product is non-comedogenic, that means it is less likely to clog your pores, irritate your skin, and cause breakouts. If your skin is acne-prone, using makeup that is non-comedogenic may help cut down on acne flare-ups.

If you are shopping for makeup for sensitive skin, it’s a good idea to take a second look at ingredient labels and steer clear of comedogenic ingredients. Some common ones are coconut oil, almond oil, lanolin, and fatty acids such as isopropyl palmitate and octyl palmitate. However, there’s no need to avoid fats altogether since oils such as jojoba, safflower, sunflower, and castor oil are all non-comedogenic.

Why Should I Care About Fragrance-Free Makeup?

Fragrances in cosmetics are the biggest cause of dermatitis, an allergic skin reaction. Here’s a pro tip from Dr. Schlessinger that will help you on your quest for the best makeup for sensitive skin: “When you see ‘fragrance’ listed on an ingredient list, it could literally mean anything,” he says. “That’s because current laws do not require companies to disclose what ingredients are in a fragrance. You can also have products that claim to be fragrance-free, but sneak in fragrance in other ingredients where it doesn’t ‘count. ‘”

Shopping for fragrance-free cosmetics can help reduce the number of unknown ingredients in the makeup you’re using that could be potentially irritating to your sensitive skin.

What is the Deal With Paraben-Free Makeup?

Parabens typically refer to preservatives designed to help keep cosmetics or other beauty products fresh and free of bacteria. You can be allergic to or irritated by makeup with parabens. Still, for all the buzz out there about whether or not to avoid parabens, it’s a pretty uncommon allergy from a medical standpoint. “Many companies have moved away from parabens due to concerns about hormone disruption, but the ingredients they moved to were even worse and often caused terrible allergies and didn’t provide a decent shelf-life for products,” Dr. Schlessinger says. “Suffice it to say, there isn’t a perfect answer at this time to whether paraben-free is good, bad or even possible in all products.”

Is Mineral-Based Makeup the Best Makeup for Sensitive Skin?

This is a great term to look for in your search for the best makeup for sensitive skin. Mineral-based makeup typically refers to cosmetics made from finely milled minerals such as mica or zinc, titanium, and iron oxides. Mineral-based makeup is usually non-comedogenic (hey, there’s that word again!) and generally more gentle on the skin. When it comes to makeup with sunscreen, mineral-based sunscreens, also known as physical sunscreens, are typically less likely to irritate skin than chemical-based sunscreens.


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