Have Eczema, Psoriasis, or Sensitive Skin? Avoid These 5 Ingredients

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In the first installment of our two-parter on dealing with psoriasis and eczema, we covered methods for soothing irritated skin. Now let’s talk about products. Those of us with skin conditions know that using any product—makeup, skin care, cleaning supplies, etc.—could trigger a reaction. Although everyone is different, certain ingredients and substances seem more apt to cause flare-ups among psoriasis and eczema sufferers.

Renowned expert Kate Somerville, whose own eczema inspired her to get into the skin care industry, recently shared her “avoid” list with us. Here are the top five potential-offender ingredients Somerville steers clear of, plus a few gentle, non-irritating makeup and skin care brands she’s come to rely upon.

Of course, it’s always good practice to spot-test any new product before diving in: apply a small amount on an inconspicuous area like your inner arm. Wait at least 24 hours. If there’s any sort of negative reaction or irritation, don’t use it. If you don’t notice anything awry, go ahead with a full test run.

5 ingredients to avoid

Astringents and drying agents

With sensitive skin, there’s no reason to add salt to the wound—especially if you have eczema. “Stay away from anything that is an astringent or drying, like anything that contains alcohol, alpha-hydroxy acids (or AHAs), and anything in the retinoid family,” suggests Somerville. AHAs are most often labeled as glycolic acid and can be found mostly in anti-aging products, chemical peels, or fruit-derived scrubs. Salicylic acid, which is the only beta-hyrdoxy acid (or BHA), may also aggravate already sensitive and dry skin—so that’s another ingredient to watch out for. (On the flip side, hyaluronic acid, even though it sounds similarly scary in name, is really hydrating and locks in moisture, so products with it should be safe.) And note, for psoriasis, some studies have shown that salicylic acid can be beneficial in slowing down the rapid reproduction of skin cells, resulting in less scaliness and fewer breakouts.

Synthetic dyes

Artificially derived dyes are often used to add alluring color to cosmetics, and they can often set off a reaction in certain people. Look out for ingredients labeled with “FD&C,” followed by a color and number. The most common offenders are Yellow 5 and Red 40. Although FDA-approved, in some studies, these synthetic dyes have been shown to further irritate eczema, cause hives, and in some instances, even asthma.

Fragrance

“You want to go really simple with your skin care,” says Somerville. “Stay away from any bath product that is heavily fragranced.”  Many added fragrances—whether synthetic or naturally derived—are known to highly irritate sensitive skin types. This applies outside the bathroom, too. Somerville suggests opting for a completely fragrance-free laundry detergent like her favorite, All Free and Clear. Here’s why: not only was it developed by a scientist whose child has eczema, it’s free of dye and fragrance, and is incredibly gentle on skin. The product also has a nod of approval from the National Eczema Association, earning the organization’s Seal of Acceptance.

Petroleum

Many eczema sufferers find that products with petroleum-based ingredients (like shampoos, body washes, moisturizers) can cause their skin to act up, and Somerville concurs. “I stay away from petroleum products, because they usually irritate my skin,” she explains. While eczema seems to be particularly sensitive to petroleum, some people with psoriasis find relief from using it, especially for cracked hands or feet. The method (after doing a spot test, of course!): massage in before bed, and slip on loose-fitting gloves or socks, and wear overnight.

Sulfates

Sulfates are known as particularly heinous irritants for sensitive skin types. The biggest offender is listed as “sodium lauryl sulfate” or “SLS” on product labels, these additives are usually used in shampoos and soaps to form suds and foam, because we like to see our products “working.” (Sulfates are also often what causes the sting when you get soap or shampoo in your eye.) But studies have shown that sulfates can compromise the skin’s permeability, allowing moisture to escape, which can thin our protective layer. Shampoos and soaps labeled “sulfate-free” may be your best bet; also do the work and scan ingredients lists. In addition to grooming items, dish soaps—especially those deemed “grease-fighting”—often contain SLS. For that reason Somerville is careful when washing dishes: “I don’t put my hands in dish soap, which is one of the most irritating products. I use a soap wand.” If you have to wash dishes, wear double-layer gloves (cotton gloves under vinyl gloves) and try a scent- and sulfate-free dish soap like Better Life’s Dish It Out—or use a dishwasher.

3 better brands for sensitive types

We’ve already seen that when it comes to skin conditions, makeup and skin care products are sort of a double-edged sword. You want healing and coverage to minimize the appearance of psoriasis or eczema-induced breakouts, but don’t want to set off even more irritation. Here are three brands that come highly recommended by both Somerville and people with eczema and psoriasis, for their generally irritant-free formulation. Of course, even the purest products can cause a reaction, so always do a spot test and never apply products on severely cracked, bleeding, or wounded skin.

Jane Iredale

This is Somerville’s favorite makeup brand, at least in part because everything is free of oil, talc, FD&C dyes, and synthetic fragrance. The non-comedogenic formulas won’t clog pores, provide great coverage, and UVA SPF water-resistant protection.

top pick: Amazing Base Loose Mineral Powder SPF 20 in a golden or warm shade like Warm Sienna, which has yellow and green tones to help counteract redness that’s often associated with eczema.

Cover FX

Psoriasis sufferers who’ve had to go makeup-free may find refuge in Cover FX, a line developed in a cosmetics lab by dermatologists specifically for sensitive skin. There are base shades suitable for every skin tone on the spectrum, plus a wide range of concealers, primers, powders, and creams that expertly help conceal those discolored, scaly spots. Most of the products also boast anti-aging benefits minus the harsh retinoids and acids, and instead are packed with antioxidants, emollients, and UVA/UVB protection.

top pick: Total Cover Cream Foundation, which comes in 28 shades and is completely free of fragrances, gluten, talc, mineral oil, and parabens. Those with highly sensitive skin can also try it as a spot concealer rather than all over the face.

Kate Somerville

Given her history with eczema, Somerville clearly knows a thing or two about good-for-skin ingredients. This month, she introduced her own Eczema Daily Therapy Cream, which is made with oatmeal. “Oatmeal is one of the key ingredients because it’s the only FDA-approved, over the counter ingredient for eczema. It protects the skin and helps relieve minor irritation and itching, while restoring skin’s natural barrier function,” she explains.

top pick: Goat Milk Cream, which is fragrance-free and made with aloe, jojoba oil, and avocado, and is one of Somerville’s personal favorites for soothing her itchy spots and rejuvenating dry skin.

Read Part I of our Eczema and Psoriasis series here.