Navigating the complex world of skincare is no mean feat. Whether you consider yourself a skincare novice or aficionado, creating a perfectly tailored skincare routine that gives your skin the complex and ever-changing concoction of ingredients that it needs to say healthy takes a lot of work. In fact, if you ask me, I’d go as far to say it’s impossible.
You see, even skin experts and dermatologists, who work with skin every single day and know all there is to know about the way that it functions, admit that nailing your skincare routine is a process. More often than not, it requires ongoing trial and error. A product that works for your skin one day might not deliver the same results the next. And one skin issue we’re all likely to face is that of irritation.
Irritated skin can present in a number of different ways. "Affected areas may present as itchy, dry or have localised redness,” says aesthetic practitioner, Natali Kelly. "Skin irritation should not be confused with an allergy. Irritation is caused by an irritant, which is any substance that is otherwise harmless, but slowly damages the skin’s barrier function and triggers inflammation at the point of contact,” she adds.
When it comes to the causes of irritated skin, clinical aesthetician and co-founder of Mortar & Milk, Pamela Marshall reveals there are plenty of daily irritants around. "Pollution can take its toll on the skin, I have many clients that really struggle in London—the skin can only handle so much. Irritated skin can also just come down to having dirty sheets, so wash them weekly in hot water,” she says.
Very commonly, however, irritated skin can just come down to overusing actives—something I can be very guilty of. In my job, I try countless skincare products a year for research purposes, and you better believe a whole bunch of them will irritate my skin. "The number of times I’ve had to completely hone down someone’s routine and it’s solved the problem is uncountable,” says Marshall. "Remember the directions on the box are not the boss of you. Pull back on your actives if you’re feeling a bit inflamed. Underlying redness is a sure sign of inflammation,” she adds.
It is for this exact reason that some of my most cherished skincare products are ones that aim to reduce irritation. "The best way to treat it is to remove the irritant and your exposure to it. You can then use emollients to moisturise the irritated area and barrier creams to help restore some of the skin’s barrier function until the skin heals,” reveals Kelly. So, whenever my skin is feeling a little irritated, whether that be as a result of friction, overuse of actives or just London-living, these are the products I always reach for...
I don't condone spending £75 on a cleanser. However, if you are planning to spend the big bucks and are prone to irritated skin, this one is a fine choice. It provides a satisfying lather that offers a deep cleanse but also contains barrier-restoring lipids and omegas to help soothe.
This stuff is possibly one of the most recommended cleansers by dermatologists and skin experts thanks to its gentle nature. Marshall says that cream and milk cleansers are the way to go when your skin is experiencing irritation, and this is the crème de la crème.
Whenever my skin is seriously irritated, this no-rinse cleanser is usually my first port of call. Rather than micellar water, which can be drying and irritating by nature, using a cleansing lotion like this will help wipe away makeup and dirt without causing too much friction.
Few products are as good at removing potentially irritating bacteria from the skin as this one. It is a hypochlorus treatment that blitzes bacteria and maintains the skin's natural pH level to help aid recovery and reduce the risk of upset. I keep a bottle in my handbag at all times.
If I had a pound for every time I recommended this skin mist to someone I would be a very rich lady. A few spritzes over skin post-cleanse helps restore any lost moisture and take down redness and irritation.
While I wouldn't apply this to my skin during peak irritation phase, I do find myself reaching for it regularly if I get irritation-related breakouts (this can happen when the skin barrier is compromised). It contains niacinamide to help soothe flare-ups and works a treat.
This, on the other hand, is something I reach for the minute my skin flares up. It is one of the most calming and refreshing serums I have ever used. If I could, I would buy this stuff by the bucket-load.
Another hardworking product that helps get irritated skin back on the road to recovery when the damage is already done, this supercharged serum contains lots of hydrating hyaluronic acid and niacinamide to help rebuild a compromised skin barrier.
Marshall first introduced me to this product a few years ago when my irritated skin was experiencing some congestion. It delivers all of the hydrating nourishers that irritated skin requires but also contains polyhydroxy acids to reduce the appearance of blocked and enlarged pores without the irritation of other acids.
If your skin is looking particularly red as a result of using too many actives such as retinol, I urge you to try this. It is intensely hydrating and takes down redness and irritation-related upset overnight.
If you have dry skin that is prone to irritation frequently, it's wise to have a tube of this cream to hand at all times. It is jam-packed with barrier-restoring ceramides to help speed up the skin's recovery and take down inflammation.
After it's launch late last year, this everyday moisturiser has become one of my all-time favourites. It contains a blend of ceramides and probiotics to get irritated, sensitive or dry skin healthy again. Frankly, I now can't imagine my life without it.
This mask has been my go-to for years thanks to its moisturising abilities. Utilising white mushroom to destress irritated skin, it delivers a thirst-quenching drink for dry, inflamed complexions.
Few things speak to me more than pink beauty products, and what's inside this tube is every bit as beautiful as the exterior. Containing hyaluronic acid, grape water and centella asiatica to soothe, hydrate and plump, a thick layer will calm skin down in minutes and leave your complexion looking plump and dewy.
Often, products that help to calm irritation can feel boring to use, but this stuff is little a little tub of luxury. With floral extracts and vitamin C, I won't reach for this when my skin is at its most irritated but rather when it's starting to calm down a little and needs a glow-boost.
Next up, I'm a beauty editor—these are the 7 things I'm spending my money on this year.
Shannon Lawlor is a renowned beauty journalist and has contributed to Who What Wear’s beauty content since 2020. As a leading beauty editor, expert and brand consultant, she has over eight years of experience working for some of the industry’s most esteemed titles, including Who What Wear (of course), Glamour UK, Stylist, Refinery29 and Fabulous.
Having also worked behind the scenes with some of the industry’s biggest brands and retailers, Shannon has a unique insight into what people really want from their beauty routines. Understanding that beauty lovers seek honest, open and responsible advice, she has it made her mission to demystify the intimidating world of beauty, taking a no-frills approach to the most relatable topics.
While Shannon is the first to admit she doesn’t hold the answer to every beauty question out there, she is dedicated to sharing her expert insights in a bid to help. As a self-proclaimed lazy girl, Shannon has an affinity for easy-to-use, foolproof beauty products and has made it her mission to scope out the best of the best.
When she’s not working, Shannon is likely soaking in the bath or giving no-holds-barred beauty reviews on Instagram from her bathroom floor.