9 soothing ingredients to calm down sensitive skin

What are the best soothing ingredients for irritated and sensitive skin? Or just to soothe a bad rash? Maybe you used a skincare product your skin doesn’t like. Or you’ve stayed in the sun a little too long. Or you’re dealing with another rosacea outbreak. Whatever the reason, your skin is now a big, red and inflamed mess. Using random skincare can backfire. Your skin is now so delicate, it may not be able to tolerate retinol or Vitamin C. So what do you use instead? How do you give it the soothing care it needs? Don’t worry, I’m here to help. Here are 9 best soothing ingredients to calm the irritation and bring your skin back to normal:

What Are Skin-Soothing Ingredients?

Skin-soothing ingredients are ingredients with powerful anti-inflammatory properties that can visibly calm down the signs of irritations, including redness and itching. They’re often derived from plants, but can be made in a lab too. We tend to appreciate skin-soothing ingredients when our skin gets angry and irritated, but everyone can use them at any time.

Why? Pretty much every skin condition, including acne, dark spots, and wrinkles is caused, at least in part, by inflammation. Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Corey L. Hartman says: “Since most skin damage via skin disorders has been linked to inflammation, this class of ingredients is beneficial for just about anyone dealing with a skin disorder. Even melasma has been identified as having an inflammatory component. The more we learn about the role of different receptors in the inflammatory skin cascade, the more important this class of ingredients becomes”.

The Best Skin-Soothing Ingredients For Irritated Skin

1. Aloe Vera

You must be living after a rock if you don’t know aloe vera is one of the best soothing ingredients ever. When I was younger and didn’t yet know the importance of sunscreen, aloe vera was my go-to on those rare occasions I got sunburnt. But it’s good for all kinds of irritations.

Aloe vera works because it has  glycoproteins that help speed up the healing process by reducing pain and inflammation, and polysaccharides that stimulate skin growth and repair.

But if the aloe vera you use hasn’t been properly processed, its soothing properties go out the window. Always check the label to make sure your lotion uses cold-processed aloe vera derived from the whole-leaf.

Best Picks:

  • Benton Aloe Real Cool Soothing Gel ($8.00): This refreshing gel contains 93% aloe vera to deeply moisturise and soothe sensitive skin. It’s a good alternative to pure plant juice, if you don’t have aloe vera at home. Available at Soko Glam and Yes Style.
  • Holika Holika Aloe 99% Soothing Gel (£7.85): This gel contains a whopping 99% aloe vera gel + a bunch of soothing agents, like cucumber and centella asiatica. Super soothing! Plus, the bottle is shaped like an aloe vera leaf. How cute is that? Available at Beauty BayiHerb, Look Fantastic, and Yes Style

Related: Can Soothing Aloe Vera Treat Stretch Marks And Wrinkles, Too?

Struggling to find skincare products that don’t irritate your sensitive skin? Download your FREE “Skincare Ingredients To Avoid” cheatsheet to find out what the most common culprits are and cut them out of your skincare routine:

paula's choice 10% niacinamide booster 01

2. Niacinamide

A form of Vitamin B3, niacinamide is still the underdog of the vitamin world. And that totally sucks because it’s an amazing multiatasker everyone should include in their skincare routine.

Niacinamide treats acne, fades hyperpigmentation, and improves skin’s barrier function and elasticity. But, to go back to the point of this post, niacinamide also has anti-inflammatory properties that can soothe irritations and relieve the symptoms of rosacea.

Just be careful when you use it with L-Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C). While most people will be ok with this combination, a small percentage with inflammatory acne or erythema will experience flushing and tingling. For the science fanatics out there, mixing Niacinamide with L-Ascorbic Acid (or any other acid, for that matter) turns it into Niacin, the substance that may cause flushing.

Best Picks:

  • Paula’s Choice Resist 10% Niacinamide Booster ($42.00): It shrinks your pores, hydrates your skin, and brightens the complexion. Plus, it’s full of antioxidants (including Vitamin C) to help you keep those pesky premature wrinkles at bay, too. Available at Cult BeautyDermstorePaula’s ChoiceSephora, and SpaceNK
  • The Inkey List Niacinamide ($6.99): On top of hydrating niacinamide, it also has hyaluronic acid to add moisture back into the skin and Squalane to strengthen its protective barrier. Plus, it brightens skin and helps prevent wrinkles. Available at BootsCult BeautyThe Inkey List
  • The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% (£5.00): Suitable only for oily skin, it reduces excess oil, helps treat acne, and reduces redness and inflammation. Available at Beauty BayBootsCult BeautySephoraSpaceNKThe Ordinary, and Ulta

Related: Is Niacinamide A Skincare Do It All?

3. Avena Sativa (Oat) Extract

Oats are one of the best things you can put on your skin. I kid you not. Oats (you’ll find them hiding under the name Avena sativa on the label) are super soothing.

A 2002 study found oats can reduce skin irritations caused by contact with a high dose of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. SLS is one of the most irritating things you can put on your skin. If oats can soothe that, they can soothe everything.

A 2012 study confirms that “the daily use of moisturizers and/or cleansers containing colloidal oatmeal significantly improved many clinical outcomes of atopic dermatitis” and was “well tolerated in babies, children, and adults with AD.”

Plus, it’s a skin protectant. In plain English, it creates a barrier on the skin that slows down water loss for extra hydration and helps it better withstand environmental aggressors. It also helps keep germs and bacteria out of your body. Avoid it only if you’re allergic to oats, bran or related ingredients.

Best Picks:

  • Aveeno Bath Treatment ($6.97): If you can’t be bothered to ground your own colloidal oatmeal for your bath, get this treatment. Pour it into your bath water to relieve rashes, sunburns, eczema, and irritations. Available at iHerb and Walmart.
  • Eucerin Eczema Relief Body Cream ($10.43): A moisturising cream with colloidal oatmeal, ceramides, and mineral oil to strengthen your skin’s protective barrier, reduce irritations, and soothe skin. Available at Walmart
  • First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream ($38.00): A rich cream with 0.5% colloidal oatmeal, shea butter, and soothing extracts to deeply moisturise skin and reduce irritations. Available at DermstoreFeel UniqueSephora, and Ulta

Related: Sensitive Skin? Why You Should Add Oats To Your Skincare Routine

green tea in skincare

4. Tea

Did you know your skin fancies a cup of tea, too? Green and white tea are both rich in epigallocatechin gallate, a powerful antioxidant that does double duty: it stimulates collagen production and reduces inflammation in skin conditions such as eczema, acne, and psoriasis, helping them heal faster. FYI, you can go with black tea as well, but I wouldn’t. It has the smallest amount of epigallocatechin gallate so it won’t work as well.

Best Picks:

  • Benton Deep Green Tea Serum ($17.00): This serum is packed with every type of green tea you can think of (leaf water, leaf extract, seed extract, and root extract). Plus, hyaluronic acid to deeply hydrate skin and Centella Asiatica to soothe irritation. Hydrating, soothing, and anti-aging, it’s suitable for all skin types. Available at Sephora, SokoGlamStylevana and Yes Style.
  • Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum ($80.00): A dupe for Skinceuticals CE Ferulic, this Vitamin C serum brightens skin, fights free radicals, and enhances sun protectuin. Plus, it’s enriched with antioxidants, including green tea, that help prevent premature aging. The texture is a little sticky, but if you don’t mind that, this is a wonderful serum that gives you results. Available at Cult BeautySephora and SpaceNK.
  • Mad Hippie Face Cream ($26.99): One of my fave moisturisers, it has natural oils to moisturise skin, every antioxidants under the sun (including green tea) to prevent premature aging, and niacinamide to soothe skin and help reduce acne. Best suitable for dry to combination skin. Available at Ulta.

Related: Is White Tea More Effective Than Green Tea?

5. Vitamin C

You may be surprised to find Vitamin C on the list of best soothing ingredients. It’s true I always say you have to be careful with vitamin C if you have sensitive skin. High doses can irritate it. But, some forms of vitamin C have powerful anti-inflammatory properties, too. L-Ascorbic Acid, the pure form, may irritate sensitive skin when used at 15% or higher concentrations, but smaller doses can help your skin reduce sun-induced inflammation.

Vitamin C derivatives have anti-inflammatory properties too. For example, 5% Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate reduces inflammation caused by acne. That’s the kind of vitamin C you want to go for if you have oily skin that’s also sensitive. While it’s at it, Vitamin C also boosts collagen production and fades away hyperpigmentation.

Best Picks:

  • Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum ($33.99): The only Vitamin C I recommend to my clients with oily and acne-prone skin, it uses Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate + vitamin E + ferulic acid to prevent wrinkles, reduce pimples, and brightens your skin tone. and Available at iHerb and Ulta.
  • Skinceuticals Serum 10 AOX+ ($70.00): A 10% Ascorbic Acid serum enriched with ferulic acid for further antioxidant properties and hyaluronic acid to provide a little extra hydration. Available at Blue MercuryDermstore and Skinstore.

Related: Forms Of Vitamin C Used In Skincare

blissoma phototonic facial sunscreen + daily moisturizer SPf 25

6. Zinc Oxide

Zinc Oxide is my fave UV filter. Why? It’s the only UV filter that protects from ALL UV rays on its own! Plus, it’s super gentle. Not only it doesn’t irritate skin like most other UV filters tend to do, it also acts as an anti-irritant. You can use it to treat various forms of skin irritation, including diaper rash. It works in two ways. It temporarily protects injured or exposed skin from harmful or annoying stimuli, so they can heal faster. It also soothes irritations. It also has anti-inflammatory properties that are particularly good at soothing acne (although it can’t single-handedly heal it). Oh, it’s safe enough for babies, too. That’s how gentle it is.

Best Picks:

  • Drunk Elephant Umbra Tinte Physical Daily Defense Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 30 ($36.00): A tinted mineral sunscreen that provides broad spectrum protection. Most suitable for dry skin. Available at Cult BeautySephora, and SpaceNK
  • EltaMD UV Pure BroadSpectrum SPF 47 ($25.00): A wonderful, lightweight formula for oily skin that provides broad-spectrum protection without leaving a greasy, white mess. Available at Dermstore and Walmart
  • Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protection SPF 50 Sunscreen + WetForce For Sensitive Skin & Children ($42.00): Lightweight and waterproof, this sunscreen provides high broad-spectrum protection gentle enough for sensitive skin. Available at Neiman Marcus and Sephora

Related: Why Zinc Oxide Is The Best UV Filter Ever

7. Licorice Extract

I loved licorice candy as a kid. Now, I put licorice on my skin. FYI, if you’re looking for it on skincare labels, you need to look for Glycyrrhiza glabra, Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate, and anything that ends in “Glycyrrhizate”. I know, just to make skincare harder than it already is…

Licorice is a rich source of glycyrrhizate, compounds that have powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Licorice can soothe contact dermatitis, psoriasis, irritations. It works by reducing hyaluronidase, one of the MMP enzymes that break down healthy tissue when your skin is inflamed. Plus, Dr Chwalek points out that another compound found in licorice extract, licochalcone A, inhibits two inflammatory markers that trigger the inflammatory cascade, thus further helping soothing skin. I

Best Picks:

  • Neostrata Dark Spot Corrector ($30.00): A powerful exfoliant with 1% Kojic Acid, Ascorbic Acid (Pure Vitamin C), and Licorice Root Extract to brighten skin and fade away dark spots. It’s best suitable for dry skin. Available at Dermstore and Look Fantastic.
  • Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum ($80.00): This powerful Vitamin C serum includes a bunch of antioxidants, including licorice extract, to fight wrinkles and brighten the complexion. Available at BootsCult BeautySephoraSpaceNK, and Ulta.
  • Paula’s Choice Calm Redness Relief Serum ($34.00): A soothing serum with every anti-inflammatory ingredient you can think of. Ideal for sensitive skin that gets easily irritated. Available at Cult BeautyPaula’s ChoiceSephoraSpaceNK.

Related: Three Reasons Why You Should Add Licorice Extract To Your Skincare Routine

8. Salicylic Acid

Salicylic Acid is an exfoliant. I usually recommend it to oily skin because its gets inside the pores and unclogs them from within. Bye bye pimples! But it’s good for sensitive skin, too. Salicylic acid is a relative of aspirin so it has anti-inflammatory properties, too. It can reduce inflammation related to acne, rosacea and “other superficial inflammatory disorders”. Salicylic Acid (like all exfoliants) can irritate skin, if you overuse it. For best results, use it every other night.

Best Picks:

  • Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum ($90.00): Don’t let the name fool you. This exfoliant has both salicylic acid to unclog pores and glycolic acid to fade away the dark spots pimples sometimes leave behind. Available at Cult BeautySephora and SpaceNK.
  • Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid ($29.00): The cult exfoliant from the brand, it unlclogs pores and treats blackheads and acne. The texture’s a little sticky, but if you can take that, this is one of the best salicylic acid exfoliants out there. Available at Cult BeautyDermstoreNet-A-PorterPaula’s ChoiceSephora, and SpaceNK.
  • The Inkey List Beta Hydroxy Acid (£9.99): A simple, no-frills salicylic acid exfoliant for people on a budget. Available at Cult Beauty and Sephora.

Related: Why Salicylic Acid Is Key To A Pimple-Free Complexion

9. Chamomile Extract

One of the best soothing ingredients, chamomile is another old wives’ remedy. Chamomile is the name of several plants that belong to the daisy family.  It’s made up mostly of antioxidants like flavonoids and quercetin and anti-inflammatory agents like α-bisabolol and chamazulene.

A 1981 study shows that chamomile suppressed inflammation in albino rats.  According to scientists, chamomile is so soothing because it’s loaded with anti-inflammatories, including matricine, a-bisabobol, levomenol and chamazulene.

Levomenol and chamazulene are a particularly powerful duo. Together, they soothe allergies, erythema and sunburns. A-bisabol goes the extra mile, too. It reduces inflammation and helps wounds heal faster.

But be careful! If you’re allergic to chamomile or any other plant in the daisy family,  you can get an allergic reaction instead! If that’s the case, opt for products that contain bisabolol alone. That way, you’ll get the soothing benefits without the irritating side effects.

Best Picks:

  • Clinique Redness Solutions Daily Relief Cream ($49.50): Loaded with moistyrusiung shea butter to nourish dry skin, this cream has its fair share of soothing agents with antioxidant properties (think green tea and liquorice extract) to reduce redness, calm down irritations, and prevent wrinkles. Available at BootsCliniqueSelfridgesSephora, and Ulta.
  • Niod Modulating Glucosides (£21.00): This baby is loaded with every anti-inflammatory ingredient you can think of – and many more you’ve never heard about. It soothes redness, irritation, rosacea, eczema, acne… You name it. Available at HarrodsNiod, and Selfridges
  • Paula’s Choice Resist Super-Light Wrinkle Defense SPF 30 ($33.00): A tinted mineral sunscreens packed with antioxidants with soothing properties. It has a lightweight texture that doesn’t leave a white cast behind. Available at Cult BeautyDermstorePaula’s Choice, and Sephora.

The Bottom Line

Irritated skin won’t bother you anymore. Now you know the best soothing ingredients to calm down redness, irritations, and rashes, you have an entire arsenal that’ll help you keep your skin in top shape – no matter what life throws at it.