My Cure For Red, Sensitive, Extremely Dry, Flaky Skin

Updated 2/16/17. One of the best rewards of being an esthetician is working with clients hands-on giving facials, peels and other treatments and visibly seeing the great results that both professional treatments and home care products can deliver. Plus, I love the one-on-one time connection—after all, it’s the reason why I got into this profession in the first place over 25 years ago. (You can read a bit more about me here.)

When my client, Tracey Schwartz first came to me complaining of dry, extremely red and sensitive skin, I ran through my usual list of questions for this type of skin. (Note: those who have eczema and rosacea will also benefit from the information in this post since both of these conditions are related to a weakened skin barrier which I discuss in great detail below.)

During my consultation with Tracey, she expressed the following concerns…

“My skin is always red and every product that I use stings my skin, so I have to be really careful with what I use on it.”

“I have to keep my skin care routine really simple and use products for sensitive skin but my skin still feels irritated.”

“My skin is constantly dry and flaky and always looks red.”

“I’ve always had sensitive skin but it started to get worse in my mid 40’s.”

“My doctor diagnosed me with rosacea and gave me a prescription which I used for a while and it only made my skin more irritated.”

Looking at Tracey’s skin, there was no doubt in my mind that her skin was extremely fragile, so I knew I had to go easy. However, my diagnosis of Tracey’s skin was pretty simple. Her skin’s protective lipid barrier was damaged which was the underlying cause of all her redness, dryness and hypersensitivity. She’s a classic skin type #9. (Find your skin type.)

What is a damaged lipid barrier?
Your skin has a moisture barrier made of natural lipids that help keep moisture in the skin and irritants out. When this barrier is damaged (due to age, hormones, genetics, incorrect products and more), it creates tiny, invisible cracks in the skin that allow moisture to escape causing dry, flaky skin. Also, irritants will enter more easily making even sensitive skin products cause a stinging, and uncomfortable sensation. In the case of Tracey’s skin, all the moisturizer in the world wouldn’t help fix her dry, flaky, sensitive skin until her skin’s protective barrier is repaired.

How do you fix a damaged moisture barrier?

Avoid washing your skin with anything that leaves it feeling tight. Look at your cleansers and make sure to avoid the ingredient Sodium Laureth Sulfate or Ammonium Laureth Sulfate as these only further damage the skin’s barrier. If you’re using too strong of a cleanser, you’re instantly stripping the moisture out of the skin which is the worst thing you can do for sensitive skin. (I suggested to Tracey that she use Moisture Protecting Cleanser as it’s a gel-to-milk cleanser and is so incredibly gentle for red and irritated skin types.)

Always use a toner to give your skin extra hydration, but make sure it’s alcohol-free. Toners are misunderstood. People aren’t really sure what they do and many have experiences with alcohol-based ones that only left their skin feeling tight and dry. I’m here to tell you that toners are incredibly hydrating and reparative to the skin’s barrier and are important to use for the health and integrity of the skin. (For Tracey, Moisture Infusion Toner is what I recommended since it’s so effective for improving the skin’s ability to retain moisture.) Read: Five Reasons You Need To Be Using A Toner

Use a vitamin C or antioxidant serum daily but choose the best formula for sensitive skin. The ingredient vitamin C has been proven over and over to be so effective for protecting the skin cells from environmental damage but for red, sensitive and easily-irritated skin types, you need to be very careful which type you use.

There are two general categories of vitamin C serums.

Stable forms of topical vitamin C: This means it doesn’t discolor and won’t break down and lose its effectiveness over time. It’s good to the last drop.

These ingredients are known as:
Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate (also a proven skin lightener to fade brown spots and discoloration from age, sun, breakouts, and hormones)
Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate
Ascorbyl Methylsilanol Pectinate
Ascorbyl Palmitate
Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate

Unstable forms of topical vitamin C: This means it will turn dark yellow or golden brown over time as the air oxidizes the formula, resulting in less benefit to the skin. This unstable type, due to its acidic nature, can cause stinging when applied to the skin resulting in irritation, especially for sensitive skin types and retinol, prescription retinoid users and those who exfoliate their skin regularly.

These ingredients are known as:
Ascorbic Acid
L-Ascorbic Acid

The best one for Tracey is Vitamin C&E Treatment since it’s a stable, no-sting, non-irritating formula so it will deliver the best and safest results.

To further understand the oxidation process and unstable vitamin C, think about If you take a bite of an apple and set it down on a table. What will happen? it will start to discolor and turn brown within 20 minutes. This happens because the air is oxidizing the apple. (Check out this cool experiment I did with an apple and a vitamin C serum.) When you’re using an unstable form of vitamin C on your face, it runs the risk of oxidizing quickly on the face and may not give you all the amazing benefits as it’s starting to lose its potency.

Wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen every day is a must. UV rays from daylight cause inflammation in the skin which only makes sensitive skin more reactive so apply a generous coat to the face and neck every day under makeup. Daily Protection SPF 30 uses zinc oxide and is very gentle as well.

Use a moisturizer with lipid-rich oils to reinforce skin’s natural barrier.
This tip is really important as a lot of moisturizers will feel like they are hydrating but not necessarily fix a damaged barrier if they don’t contain these special repairing ingredients.  Look for moisturizers with ingredients like Linoleic Acid, Soybean Sterols, Jojoba Oil, Phospholipids, Borage Oil, Merospheres (liposome encapsulated rosemarinus officinalis), Kukui Nut Oil, Grapeseed Oil, Glycolipids, Squalane and Rose Hips Seed Oil. Many of these are found in Phytolipid Comfort Cream and Pro Remedy Oil (which I suggested that Tracey use) since they are both formulated to repair the skin’s protective barrier down deep, where damage begins. I told Tracey that within weeks, visible redness and skin sensitivity will be greatly reduced — if not eliminated. (Trust me, this cream and oil really work however, you have to give them time since there is so much repair that needs to occur.)

Be sure to use products exclusively formulated for the unique needs of your skin.
From the very start of my esthetics career, I learned that every skin is unique and the ‘one-size-fits-all approach’ is simply not effective in achieving healthy, balanced and beautiful skin. Classifying skin into the standard dry, normal and oily skin types is just so limiting and so many cosmetic companies still say “This product is for all skin types” but all skin types have such different needs. I believe there are nine different types of skin and my skin type quiz will let you know exactly which one you are. (However, more than likely if you’re reading this post, you’re more than likely a skin type #5 or #9.) Take my Skin Type Quiz to find out yours.

With all that being said, here is what I did for Tracey. I performed a Moisture Infusion Facial, concentrating on barrier repair. I recommended that Tracey purchase skin care products formulated for skin type #9. She was apprehensive about purchasing the entire collection, as she has experienced so many false promises from other skin care professionals and sales people, but she trusted me and felt like I really understood her skin and the underlying cause of her concerns. However, I certainly suggested that she introduce the products slowly as I discuss in this post by only using one new product every five days. To start with, I suggested she use Phytolipid Comfort Cream and add a few drops of Pro Remedy Oil to it for for the first few days and then work in the other products slowly and I wanted to see her back in four weeks.

When she returned a month later, her skin looked so much better. The combination of the gentle products had improved the redness and dryness dramatically, and she was so happy with the results so far. Her skin felt less hot and so much more comfortable. She then purchased additional products from that routine and now Tracey is using all of the products for skin type #9, and she has never felt or looked better. She is a loyal and happy lifelong client and has referred so many of her friends and colleagues to us through the years. Thank you, Tracey! I knew my trusty magic skin wand would cure you! 🙂

Which skin care products are best for you? See our nine skin types or take the Skin Type Quiz and get products recommended.

Need expert advice from a licensed esthetician? Schedule a virtual consultation to get customized advice in person, over the phone or online via Skype or FaceTime.

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Content found on, including: text, images, audio, or other formats were created for informational purposes only. The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.