Ingredients To Avoid When You’ve Sensitized/Over Stripped/Over Exfoliated Your Skin

over exfoliated

Your skin is red, inflamed and itchy. It feels sensitive and thin. What the heck happened?! You think back and recall a strong facial, followed by some at-home products with acids and maybe a Clarisonic brush, and then it hits you – oh shit, I’ve over exfoliated my skin.

Trust me, I’ve been there too and it’s not fun.

This is a common occurrence for many. I can’t even begin to tell you how many DM convos I’ve had on IG discussing with others the struggles of over exfoliated, sensitized skin. But sometimes it happens solely from using at-home products. With people using more and more products in their routines, and each one possibly containing exfoliating ingredients, it’s easy to see how this could innocently happen.

Okay, so you’ve over exfoliated – now what?

Healing your skin after over exfoliating is a tough path to navigate. Personally, what I’ve experienced and discussed with others, is that finding products to soothe over stripped skin is a struggle. Many products on the market today marketed as “soothing,” “gentle,” or for “sensitive skin” do contain small amounts of exfoliants that can further irritate sensitized skin. And there’s nothing worse than reaching for a hyaluronic acid serum thinking – “Oh, this will  soothe my inflamed skin!” –  and feeling a burning sensation after you apply it. What the…?! You look at the ingredient label and it seems ok, but upon further digging you realize the hibiscus extract it contains that looked innocent actually is a natural form of alpha hydroxy acid?! Shit.

I outline below ingredients that look innocent, but actually are best to avoid when skin is sensitized.

When I avoid these ingredients, my sensitized skin heals faster.


Ingredients I avoid when my skin is sensitized:

(I haven’t listed them below, but it should go without saying that when your skin is sensitized you should be avoiding strong actives like retinol in all its forms – retinol, retinyl palmitate, retin A, AHAs (glycolic acid, lactic acid, citric acid, tartaric acid) and BHAs. The items I’ve listed below are the ingredients you may see in products marketed as “soothing” “gentle” and for “sensitive skin” and may want to avoid while your skin is sensitized.)

Fruit extracts: Apple, lemon, orange, lime, kiwi, pumpkin, papaya, pineapple, guarana. These extracts contain enzymes and natural forms of lactic acid (AHA), which stimulate cell turnover.

Citrus essential oils: bergamot, lemon, sweet & bitter orange aka neroli also promote cell turner and can be sensitizing in general, so I avoid these when my skin is in crisis mode.

Vitamin C: Is acidic to the skin. It also has exfoliating properties. You’ll see it listed on ingredient labels as – ascorbic acid, L-ascorbic acid, ascorbyl palmitate, ascorbic acid polypeptide, ascorbyl glucosamine, ascorbyl glucoside, ester-c.

Apple cider vinegar: Contains malic acid which is a natural form of AHA.

Willow bark extract: Watch out for “gentle” cleansers that contain willow bark extract; the natural form of BHA salicylic acid.

Witch hazel: This is a natural astringent that removes excess oil from the skin. It can dry out and irritate sensitized skin.

Hibiscus water/extract:  The hibiscus flower is a natural source of AHAs. I’ve seen this ingredient in rose waters, hyaluronic acids and gentle cleansers. It’s very gentle, but when your skin is sensitized, it can cause stinging and irritation.

Baking soda: This appears on ingredient labels as “sodium bicarbonate” and I’ve seen it frequently in natural powder cleansers. It’s a strong exfoliant and can further irritate over stripped skin.

Milk/yogurt: Hydrating masks often contain milk or yogurt, which do have soothing properties, but the natural lactic acid in them can irritate over exfoliated skin.


Below are a few product recommendations of tried and true products I reach for to get me through the healing process when I’ve over stripped and sensitized my skin. They do not contain any of the above ingredients.



Era Organics Cleanse + Restore Natural Face Wash: This face wash got me through my roughest bout of perioral dermatitis. It has minimal ingredients, all of which are soothing and nourishing, like Manuka honey, aloe, and hyaluronic acid. It has a pH of 5.5, which is ideal for rebalancing the skin.

Marie Veronique Pure E.O. Free Oil Cleanser: This is a very gentle oil cleanser that uses omega-6 rich oils dissolve oil, debris and dirt in pores. And the ingredients are safe if your skin has been over stripped: It contains soothing vitamin e, pre/pro biotics to strengthen the skin’s barrier, antioxidant rich elderberry extract, and naturally antiseptic rosemary.  



From Molly With Love Sea Kelp Bioferment Essence: I discovered this brand recently at the Indie Beauty Expo and I’m obsessed with the travel sample I received! This is a great restorative essence to use on sensitized skin. It combines numerous soothing ingredients, like rose water, aloe, vitamin e, green tea, and hydrating vitamin b3 with antioxidant/vitamin/mineral rich fermented sea kelp! Love this mist! 

MV Skincare Rose Hydrating Mist: Rose floral mists are amazing for soothing dry, irritated skin, but I’ve found many contain citric acid. This one does not. It’s a very simple plain rose water mist great for hydration and soothing the skin. 



Lina Hanson Global Baby Sensitive Serum: The fact that you can use this oil on babies lets you know it’s GENTLE. I LOVE this oil. It’s impeccably well crafted with soothing kalahari melon and cucumber oil, anti-inflammatory jojoba and nourishing vitamin e. You’ll get a lot for your money with this one because you can use it as both a cleanser and face oil. And the scent is DIVINE; it smells like fresh melons! 

Apoterra Simple Facial Oil with Jojoba + Flowers: This face oil is incredibly reparative and the five organic ingredients – jojoba, chamomile, calendula, comfrey and safflower oil – are all focused on repairing, healing and nourishing skin. This is another great oil I love for healing sensitized skin. 

Crave Skincare Salvation Oil Serum: This oil uses anti-inflammatory CBD (the non psychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana) to soothe inflamed skin. The long ingredient list is like a who’s who of anti-inflammatory hydrating ingredients: jojoba, macadamia oil, rose hip, moringa, chia seed oil, bisabolol (rich in vitamin B3), vitamin E and sea buckthorn. The founder created this line to support her own struggles with rosacea. 

Herbivore Lapis Face Oil: This is another great soothing anti-inflammatory face oil. It contains squalane (one of my favorite “dry” oils), jojoba, vitamin E and yummy blue tansy oil. *But it does contain coconut oil, which should be noted for those who breakout from coconut derived ingredients. 



May Lindstrom Blue Cocoon: Everyone talks nonstop about May’s Blue Cocoon and I’m here to add to that chorus. I turn to this balm when my skin is inflamed. The list of beautiful anti-inflammatory ingredients is almost never ending: blue tansy, geranium, schisandra, immortelle and myrrh. They all work to provide redness relief and soothe skin. 

Eu’genia 100% Pure Shea Butter: Shea butter is incredibly anti-inflammatory. This balm is hard, and once you scoop away a little (a little goes a long way) and warm it between your fingers, it will melt into your skin. I recommend their pure shea butter. 



Manuka Honey: This isn’t actually a skincare product, it’s just good ole’ manuka honey you can pick up at your local health foods store. I use the brand Wedderspoon because it’s non-GMO and natural. When my skin is stressed, I apply it morning and night. Manuka honey is highly anti-inflammatory and soothing! 

Written by Amy Chang, founder + editor; photographed by Wing Ta