The Ultimate Korean Skincare Guide for Sensitive Skin

The Ultimate Korean Skincare Guide for Sensitive Skin

In this guide you will learn what sensitive skin is, how you can tell if you have sensitive skin, ingredients that can help soothe sensitive skin (and those you should be careful of), and how to take care of your sensitive skin. Scroll down for product recommendations! ⬇️

What is sensitive skin

Sensitive skin is a skin type that is not able to tolerate harsh conditions, chemicals, environments or even certain diets. It is a fairly common skin type with some reports claiming that 60-70% of women and 50-60% of men around the world suffer from sensitive skin.

Sensitive skin is characterized by the appearance of unpleasant sensations including burning, stinging, itching, tingling and/or redness that occurs in response to stimuli that should otherwise not cause these sensations. It is caused by nerve endings in the top layer of skin becoming irritated. 

According to dermatologists, sensitive skin can generally be divided into four main types: naturally sensitive, environmentally sensitive, reactive, and thin.

  • Naturally sensitive skin: This is genetic, and it can be linked to inflammatory skin conditions like eczema, rosacea, and psoriasis.
  • Environmentally sensitive skin: This type of sensitivity is triggered by your environment. Sun exposure, cigarette smoke, air pollution etc.
  • Reactive skin: This type of skin becomes red and inflamed by skin-care products, resulting in very red, warm, and irritated skin
  • Thin skin: Skin that naturally becomes thinner with age

It is important to note that your skin type is not static i.e. your skin sensitivity can change over time depending on how you look after it. Sometimes sensitivities and allergies can be 'induced' by repeated exposures to irritants or ingredients that are known allergens. So if your sensitive skin appeared around the same time as you started using a new product, it's worth evaluating your skin care routine. 

How can you tell if you have sensitive skin

If you find that your skin is more reactive than normal, it is likely that you have sensitive skin. Or if you are cautious with trying new skin products and find that you're frequently battling red, flaky, itchy, or bumpy skin, then you probably have sensitive skin. However, to be sure, it is best to consult a dermatologist to get an official diagnosis of your skin type and concerns. 

Ingredients that are considered soothing for sensitive skin

  • Aloe vera: Aloe vera is an herbaceous and perennial plant that belongs to the Liliaceae family and used for many medicinal purposes. Aloe vera gel can not only increase the amount of collagen in wounds but also change the composition of collagen, increase collagen cross-linking and thereby promote wound healing. Scientific studies have shown that the gel can increase the flexibility and reduce the fragility of the skin since 99% of the gel is water
  • Algae extract: Algae are among the wealthiest aquatic commodities that are considered healthy and have negligible effect on human cytotoxicity. They are considered as a resourceful material for bioactive compounds, including vitamins, polyphenolic compounds, carotenoids, chitin, and others that have been reported to have powerful skin benefits. Full benefits can be found here
  • Birch sap/juice: Birch sap, birch water or birch juice is the sap directly tapped from birch trees. In a Clinical study, sprays containing birch juice improved cutaneous biophysical properties in participants with sensitive skin. It is known to have anti inflammatory, hydration and moisturizing properties
  • Centella Asiatica (Cica): Centella asiatica is a perennial plant that grows in swampy areas of tropical and subtropical regions of India, Southeast Asia, and Malaysia, as well as some temperate regions of China, Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. The herb, also known as gotu kola or Indian pennywort, is a valued medicinal plant widely used in the Orient to treat infectious skin diseases and accelerate the healing of skin ulcers and wounds. The full list of benefits can be studied here
  • Green tea: A long-term 2013 study of 24 people showed that skin damage caused by sun exposure was reduced with the topical application of cosmetics containing green tea extract. Researchers suggested cosmetic formulations including green tea extract have improved skin microrelief and have pronounced moisturizing effects.
  • Glycerin: Glycerin is a colorless, odorless, viscous liquid found in animals, plants and humans and a component of the skin’s Natural Moisturizing Factor (NMF). In skincare, glycerin is extracted from soybeans, cane, or corn syrup sugar, resulting in a clear, gel-like texture. The moisturizing and humectant action of glycerin depends on the concentration and the formulation. Glycerin has been shown to be effective from as low as 3% with even more benefits for dry skin at higher concentrations up to 20-40%. More can be studied here
  • Heartleaf: Also known as houttuynia cordata and chameleon plant, heartleaf is a flowering plant native to Southeast Asia. Rich in plant-based compounds called polyphenolic flavonoids, it carries anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and antioxidant properties. A study researching heartleaf in facial toners can be found here
  • Niacinamide: Niacinamide has become popular as a cosmeceutical ingredient. Cosmeceuticals contain three primary forms of vitamin B3 including niacinamide, nicotinic acid and nicotinate esters. Niacinamide is the most well studied form of topical B3 and is generally regarded as the most efficacious.  Niacinamide readily penetrates the stratum corneum and has a favorable tolerability profile, as it does not cause cutaneous irritation or flushing commonly seen with nicotinic acid. It can be used in formulations, at concentrations up to 5%, with a very low incidence of irritation. More benefits can be studied here
  • Mugwort (Artemisa): Mugwort has a number of possible skincare advantages, mostly because of its all-natural elements and components. Although there is still little and ongoing research on the effects of mugwort on the skin, it is known to have a number of important anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, moisturising, anti-aging, anti-acne, anti-hyperpigmentation, and soothing properties
  • Propolis: Propolis, also called bee glue, is a resinous substance collected by bees from buds of trees, shrubs, and green plants. Propolis is not only antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory but also it increases cicatrization and reduces pain. The full benefits can be studied here
  • Panthenol: Panthenol is a natural compound which is very similar in nature to vitamin B5. It is basically a derivative of vitamin B5 and is just one metabolic step away from it. Based on its chemical properties, Panthenol is much more beneficial for your skin since it has the ability to penetrate deep into your skin.It is used in pharmaceutical and cosmetic products for its benefits for dry, damaged and sensitive skin. It is recommended for people with skin problems such as eczema and is very well tolerated, even by the most sensitive skin.
  • Shea butter: Studies have shown that shea butter possesses anti-inflammatory properties. The phenolic compounds present in shea butter, such as catechins and tannins, exhibit anti-inflammatory effects by inhibiting enzymes involved in the inflammatory process
  • Tea tree oil: Tea tree oil (TTO) is an essential oil, steam-distilled from the Australian native plant, Melaleuca alternifolia. It has a minimum content of terpinen-4-ol and a maximum content of 1, 8-cineole. Terpinen-4-ol is a major TTO component which exhibits strong antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Tea tree oil exerts antioxidant activity and has been reported to have broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity against bacterial, viral, fungal, and protozoal infections affecting skin and mucosa. Further benefits from a study can be found here

Ingredients that you should be careful with if you have sensitive skin

  • Isopropyl alcohol: Isopropanol or isopropyl alcohol is a clear, colorless liquid that is a major component of rubbing alcohol as well as regular household items such as cleaners, disinfectants, and hand sanitizers; it also can be found in pharmaceuticals
  • Retinoids: The term retinoid refers to a group of compounds that derive from vitamin A. This means that they possess structural or functional similarities to vitamin A. Retinoids can be natural or synthetic and include many types and forms, such as retinol, retinal, and retinyl esters. Retinoids when used on sensitive skin can lead to dryness, peeling, redness, and discomfort
  • Sulfates: The most common sulfate-based ingredients found in personal care products are sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate, which are used to remove dirt and sebum from skin. However, sulfates can often dry out the skin, and some people find they may lead to more acne when their skin is in frequent contact with sodium lauryl sulfate. 
  • Salicylic acid: There are two main classes of acids that are used in skincare, namely Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs) and Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs). Salicylic acid is a chemical exfoliant that classifies as a BHA. Salicylic acid-based products are chemical exfoliants that can cause skin irritation and dryness. This is especially seen in first-time users or those with dry and sensitive skin. 

Things you should take note of if you have sensitive skin

  • Avoid over washing or exfoliating too often: Cleansing and exfoliation are both important steps in one’s skincare routine. Washing removes dirt, oil, makeup and can help prevent breakouts, while exfoliation can remove excess oil and dead skin cells that can clog pores. However, if you have sensitive skin, it is important not to overdo it. Stick to mild, gentle cleansers and use a gentle liquid exfoliator versus a physical exfoliator (scrubs or polishes).
  • Be disciplined: Avoid products that have fragrances, alcohols, dyes/colors and preservatives. Fewer ingredients mean fewer chances to react to something.
  • Perform a test: Testing can help you figure out what may be contributing to your symptoms. If you are concerned about your response to a new skin product, apply a small amount of the product in a concealed area, like the inside of your arm. If you notice no redness or reaction to the product after applying it to the same spot for several days, you are likely not allergic to the product. 
  • Avoid long, hot showers: Excess heat isn’t great for the skin. Hot water can strip your skin of moisture and increase your skin’s dryness and sensitivity. 
  • Safeguard against the sun: Wear protective clothing to minimize sun damage risk and sensitivity. In addition, choose a fragrance-free sunscreen formulated for sensitive skin. Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 50+ and apply sunscreen even on cloudy days!

Product recommendations for sensitive skin

We hope that this guide helps you decide on which products to use for your sensitive skin. If you have any questions or need any guidance, feel free to reach out to us on Instagram @uncover.skincare or on WhatsApp, where our founder will guide you personally!

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