Banish Bad Skin #1 – Redness & Sensitive Skin

Sometimes things bother me so much that it keeps me awake. Which is why I got out of bed at 11:30 PM to come write this post that been mulling around in my mind for the past month or so.

Red, irritated skin (note: sometimes irritated skin feels fine but is unnecessarily red and blotchy) has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. Be warned that this is going to be a very, very long post as I’m going to try address all the aspects of having red skin, so better grab a cup of rooibos and put your feet up for 10 minutes.

Below I walk you through a couple of things I’ve learnt about treating red skin. Some of them I learnt from books, tutors and trial-and-error with clients in my beauty therapy days (it’s amazing how you pick up behaviours that result in skin ish when you treat a couple of dozen faces a week) and some I’ve discovered from using various products on my own skin and doing blog research.

I only have moderately reactive skin myself – it mostly gets unhappy when I expose it to alcohol, fragrance, and extreme weather. I can comfortably use acids, but not so much retinols. Your skin may be different, so I tried to discuss a broader sensitive skin type below.

So, to get started I’m assuming that your redness isn’t the result of a medical condition, and that it’s not Rosacea (If it’s mild Rosacea you can still read on though).

1. Cleansing

Cleansing is an oh-so-important step in your skincare routine. For starters, ditch the foamy cleansers if you have red skin. Completely and utterly. We can’t negotiate on this one. The mere fact that it foams means it’s aggressively disrupting your skin’s pH balance, and thus its barrier protection functions. Aside from that, most foaming cleansers contain sulphates (it’s the foaming agents) that are irritating to sensitive skins.

Use a cleansing balm or -oil, and gently remove it with a soft face cloth. Always cleanse twice (wash, rinse repeat) to ensure you’ve gotten rid of all pollutants, makeup, and anything else that’s hanging around in your epidermis – it’s all just waiting to cause a reaction. My skin often feels soothed and looks less red a couple of minutes after oil cleansing alone.

LUSH Ultrabland cleanser and Balm Balm Frankincense Cleanser (both are balms)
LUSH Ultrabland cleanser and Balm Balm Frankincense Cleanser (both are balms)

Product recommendations: I really enjoy The Body Shop’s Silky Camomile Cleansing Oil (around R150), LUSH Ultrabland Cleansing Balm (from R115) – although this one is really thick and waxy, so it might not be the best one to start with if you’re new to oil/balm cleansing. I also recently started using Balm Balm Frankincense Cleansing Balm (R150) and so far, so good.

2. Toning

I’ve always felt that toning is a completely unnecessary step if we’re talking about traditional toners – more so with sensitive skin. They’re NOT going to shrink and tighten your pores, and if you cleanse twice you don’t need it to remove excess makeup – a representative of a big cosmetic brand actually tried to sell me that story a couple of months ago still – you’d think if you work for a brand you’d be more clued up, right?

If you like the idea of toning, you can use a mild AHA toner to help keep your skin’s pH balance in check, speed up the cell renewal process and increase your skin’s hydration levels. Follow that with a spritz of soothing facial mist to ensure there’s no heat on the skin before you carry on. AHA products should leave you with a mild tingling sensation for a couple of minutes, which should decrease to almost nothing after a couple of weeks. If you experience anything more than that, skip this step.

Dermalogica Antioxidant Hydramist (travel size)
Dermalogica Antioxidant Hydramist (travel size)

Product Recommendations: I like the convenience of Nip + Fab Glycolic Fix pads, around R265. For the spritz afterwards, try Vichy Thermal Spa Water, Dermalogica Ultracalming Mist or Dermalogica Antioxidant Hydramist.

3. Serums and oils

Redness is very often a sign of dehydration, and one of the best ways to address that is with a serum/oil duo.

It’s a simple case of water and oil repelling each other – apply a water based hydrating* serum first, quickly followed by a facial oil. The two will want to move in opposite directions, meaning the water based serum will quickly absorb, and the oil will do it’s thing in the outer layers of the epidermis – plumping and softening, mostly.

*You also need to incorporate anti oxidants to minimise environmental- and free radical damage that often shows up as redness. But hydration should be addressed first, as it would have the most immediate effect.

Kiehl's Midnight Recovery (avoid if you're sensitive to essential oils) and Kiehl's Hydro Plumping Retexturising Concentrate. The unlabelled bottle is pure, organic Argan Oil which my skin absolutely loves. Can't say much more because it's not on the market yet.
Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery (avoid if you’re sensitive to essential oils) and Kiehl’s Hydro Plumping Retexturising Concentrate. The unlabelled bottle is pure, organic Argan Oil which my skin absolutely loves. Can’t say much more because it’s not on the market yet.

Product Recommendations:

Serums: Kiehl’s Hydro Plumping Retexturising Serum Concentrate (R625), Skinceuticals Hydrating B5 Serum (around R1200).

Oils: I find that most oils do the trick, just check to make sure they don’t have any alcohols or fragrance/parfum listed as an ingredient.

4. Moisturise & Sunscreen

Give your skin five minutes or so to settle after the serum and/or oil, and then follow with a good moisturiser. Ensure that your moisturiser is free from alcohol and fragrance (more on that later). It’s very, very vital to use sunscreen (I prefer SPF50) every single day, so if it feel like there is too much going on here for daytime, skip either the oil or the day cream but DO NOT skip the SPF.

If you’ve previously reacted to SPF, it’s very likely in response to Zinc Oxide, Titanium Dioxide or both. Don’t fear, these ingredients aren’t in all sunscreens, they’re only in physical sunscreens – it’s the stuff we used as kids that made our faces so very white (or pink or orange or green if you had those zinc sticks – I can still remember their smell!).

The alternative is a biological/chemical sunscreen that gets absorbed into your skin and gets neutralised there (as opposed to physical sunscreens reflect UV rays away from the surface like mirrors). Check the ingredients to rule out the Oxides, or ask your dermatologist/skin therapist to recommend one.

If your skin is particularly angry at night it’s likely from severe dehydration. If that happens to me I just keep applying either oil or moisturiser every 20 minutes or so until it eventually calms down.

As a whole, Vichy is targeted at sensitive skin so their sunscreens are always a safe bet for me. Also pictured is Dermalogica Super Sensitive Shield SPF30, Dermalogica SPF50 Sport and Filorga SPF50 UV Defence.
As a whole, Vichy is targeted at sensitive skin so their sunscreens are always a safe bet for me. Also pictured is Dermalogica Super Sensitive Shield SPF30, Dermalogica SPF50 Sport and Filorga SPF50 UV Defence.


Product recommendations: I don’t seem to have issues with sunscreens – if in doubt, buy the baby/kids versions as they tend to be gentler. I like Vichy, Dermalogica and Nimue sunscreens best.

5. Alcohol and Fragrance (and probably colourants too)

If redness is an issue, the first things to boot from your skincare routine are products are products containing alcohol and fragrance – which pretty much means 90% of the stuff you can buy off the shelves in a store/pharmacy. There are some alcohol derivatives that are perfectly good because they’re actually fats – I wrote a post about the difference between the two kind almost three years ago now, you can have a look here to see which ones are good and which ones are evil.

Fragrance and colourants are wholly unnecessary in skincare – there’s no point really, I don’t choose my face creams for their scent or hue. Fragrance can be incredibly irritating and even inflammation-inducing, so its best to minimise it. Even the fragrance obtained from essential oils that are found in most natural/organic products can irritate your skin, so its best to avoid it altogether if you have super reactive skin. I’ve never had a reaction from natural fragrance (i.e essential oils) though.

Oh, and the other type of alcohol (that kept me in bed for most of New Year’s Day as if I’m an amateur that doesn’t know anything about my limits) is really bad too. It’s very dehydrating and often causes bouts of Rosacea to flare up if you’re so inclined. If you have overindulged, slap on a soothing/hydrating mask overnight (AFTER A THOROUGH CLEANSING) and be generous with serum and oil for a couple of days thereafter.

6. Diet

Your skin definitely is what you eat. Sadly. Healthy, glowing, plump skin is a good indicator of overall health, as your skin is the last organ in line (after the vital ones like, you know, your heart, kidneys and liver) to get nutrients – so if your skin is healthy, you’re in good shape.

Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are linked to a reduction in skin inflammation and they can be ingested as supplements or you can break open a capsule and apply it to the affected areas (full disclosure: haven’t tried that but it’s on my list).

Your skin, like your other organs, need water to function. Coffee and Coke has a dehydrating effect, so they don’t count. Yet again your skin is last in line, so if you’re not properly hydrated you’ll see it on the surface pretty quickly. If you struggle with water, try herbal tea or home made iced tea with Rooibos, lemon and a little raw honey.

I don’t believe that drinking water directly hydrates your skin though – I reckon you just wee out the excess. But if your detoxifying organs (liver, kidneys) work well because you’re drinking enough water, your skin will be in better condition because of that.

That’s about it from me. I’m planning a series on different skin conditions to run once a month. I’m happy to answer some questions in the comments below or anywhere else you can find me, and if you have specific skin conditions you’d like me to chat about, let me know and I’ll do what I can.

C x

PS – I do apologise to everyone that took the time to send me questions when I asked for them a couple of months ago. I accidentally deleted the note on my phone that had them, please forgive me! I did include everything I could remember, but you’re welcome to leave a quick comment and I’ll answer as best I can.



  1. Simone
    Feb 23, 2015 / 12:57 PM

    Thanks for this post, Chantelle! My skin and specifically my cheeks are crazy sensitive and turn angry, dry and red just because they can without having changed anything in my routine – hormonal maybe? I use Cetaphil cleanser and a Eucerin moisturiser but lately it’s been needing something extra to hydrate. Because it was available, I just started using coconut oil. I think I like it so should I rather get myself a ‘real’ skin oil or can I keep applying coconut oil?

    • Feb 23, 2015 / 1:08 PM

      Hi Simone! Keep your coconut oil, but use it for cleansing. I used to recommend Cetaphil cleansers left and right until I learnt that it has SLS, which is usually problematic for sensitive skin. For moisturising you might do better with a different skin oil – if you want to keep it simple try apricot kernel, rose hip or argan oil. Good luck x

      • Simone
        Mar 23, 2015 / 10:22 PM

        I bought Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula Skin oil today. I am looking forward to using it. It is a rose hip blend. I better spend some time on finding a better cleanser because after your warning about SLS, I’ve been researching and concluded that I need to quit SLS cleansers. Thank you, Chantelle!

        • Chantelle Bester
          Mar 23, 2015 / 10:29 PM

          Pleasure, glad I could help. I do always dismiss at least half of what I read about ingredients though, the fear mongering can get hectic! But in this case you probably are better off without it. Good luck!

  2. Simone
    Feb 23, 2015 / 1:24 PM

    Simone (no.2 ??) He he

    Very informative post. I feel like my skin is a bit dehydrated at the moment so been using the Lush 9 to 5 cleaning lotion. THe body shop’s tea tree toner. Clinque’s turnaround skin concentrate something?? And then finishing it off with the Body Shop’s Vitamin E facial oil?? Sorry I’m not 100% sure of the names. I drink a lot of water, but this doesn’t seem to be working.

    I don’t use the oil during the day as I can’t stand anything oil based on my face during the day….so I usually just cleanse. Probably not the best idea!

    And then if you could chat about good foundations/BB creams to use to cover red angry skin…that would be great.

    • Feb 23, 2015 / 1:30 PM

      Hehe hi no 2! Definitely try incorporating products in the daytime too, as your skin needs to fight pollution, dust, weather, aircons, sun – it’s a minefield out there. Skip the rich stuff if you don’t like how it feels, but try using your concentrate and an SPF30 or higher. Vichy has ones aimed at oily skin that you might find ok. Also, sometimes using a cream over an oil (at night in your case) helps to seal the deal, so to speak. Hope that helps!

  3. Shazia
    Feb 23, 2015 / 1:26 PM

    Hi 🙂

    I’ve heard a lot of mixed reviews on coconut oil cleansing for acne prone skin. Would you recommend it?

    On one hand I’ve heard that it’s quite effective in clearing out skin, but on the other hand it could aggrevate the skin and cause cystic acne.

    I do know that everyone’s skin is different and reacts differently to certain products, would just like to hear your thoughts about coconut oil cleansing and/or using it as a spot treatment, would you recommend it for acne prone skin?

    • Feb 23, 2015 / 1:35 PM

      Hi Shazia, thank you for your comment. I’ve also heard mixed reviews on it, but I don’t believe it will cause cystic acne. Oil dissolves oil after all. I reckon the important thing is that you should thoroughly (but gently) remove your cleansing oil with a face cloth to prevent any blockages. If you don’t want to risk it, try an oil that emulsifies with water like The Body Shop’s Camomile Cleansing Oil. I wouldn’t use coconut oil as a spot treatment though – aim for something with some salicylic acid like Vichy Normaderm Hyaluspot. Good luck, hope that helps!

      • Shazia
        Feb 23, 2015 / 2:32 PM

        Thank you so much I will def try the Vichy spot treatment.. I have had relatively great skin, however after I used the Clarisonic I’ve noticed a lot more break outs, it could be due to over stimulating my skin so I had stopped using it for a while and now have started slowly to bring it back into my cleansing routine..

        • Feb 23, 2015 / 2:43 PM

          Ja that’s good – start with once a week and work your way up to 3x

  4. Jenny
    Feb 23, 2015 / 6:56 PM

    Hi, I enjoyed your post. Please talk about foundations, and find out for me why cliniques redness foundation has been discontinued, but the creams etc for this range have not.

    • Feb 24, 2015 / 9:09 AM

      Hi Jenny, thanks for the suggestion. You’ll have to check with Clinique regarding that foundation though, I have no idea.

  5. Sharon Wilkinson
    Feb 24, 2015 / 9:09 AM

    Very interesting and helpful article. Such a frustrating skin problem. but great to get such great insights.

  6. shana
    Feb 24, 2015 / 1:50 PM

    hi Chantelle, thank u or the interesting info you have posted. Could u possibly recommend a few foundations suitable for sensitive skin – I prefer a light foundation – not thick or heavy on the skin – its pretty difficult to find! unless I’m just not looking properly…? thank you again 🙂

  7. Danielle Roets
    Feb 26, 2015 / 9:05 AM

    Love Love Love this post! Very insightful!

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