Testing New Skincare Products With Sensitive Skin: What Worked, What Didn’t, What I Learned

Regular ILLUUM readers know that when it comes to my skin, I tend to keep it simple: I cleanse with water or Manuka honey, use a simple tea tree oil and water toner, and eschew serums and moisturizers in favor of a single layer of my Sage & Violet Morning Ritual Skin Soothing Oil and Rosebud and Frankincense Luminous Overnight Oil. But—big news!—I recently started writing some beauty columns for The Zoe Report, and have since received seemingly endless shipments of skincare products to test and write about.

It’s exciting, yes, but also a little nerve-wracking; my sensitive skin is not cut out for the try-everything-and-see-what-works life. I’ve slowly started incorporating a few of these products into my routine (full disclosure: not all were gifted!) as a way to dip a toe into the waters of non-DIY skincare.

Here’s what worked, what didn’t, and my number one tip for trying new products as the proud owner of extremely sensitive skin.

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eXo Skin Simple Bio.digital Perfection Moisturizer

I was most hesitant to try this moisturizer from eXo Skin Simple, simply because I’ve had bad experiences with moisturizers in the past. So many leave my pores clogged, and I feel like I get enough moisture from my daily oils without bringing another product into the mix. But this one proved me wrong.

The Bio.digital Perfection Moisturizer relies on engineered exosomes, or messenger cells that are like the “influencers” of your skin’s surface. These exosomes are essentially encoded with data toinfluence the cells they come into contact with to do things like hold hydration and slow the aging process. It’s all very scientific and I don’t completely understand it, but what I do understand is how soft my skin feels after using this moisturizer and how clear and glowy it looked after just a week.

SheaTerra Kigelia & Licorice Facial Wash

Licorice root is one of my favorite natural ingredients for skincare—it brightens patches of hyperpigmentation without being irritating (which is my main gripe with Vitamin C serums)—but I’ve always made my own DIY toners by boiling licorice root, since it’s tough to find in prepackaged formulations. It goes without saying that I was overly excited when SheaTerra sent me their Kigelia & Licorice Facial Wash to try.

As the name suggests, it also includes kigelia, otherwise known as African sausage fruit, which has long been a staple in the South African Tonga women’s skincare routines. This fruit extract is anti-inflammatory and has been known to treat eczema, and is also used to “firm” the skin and protect it from sun exposure. SheaTerra says it’s “even believed to decrease sun spots.”

As far as use, this cleanser has the perfect texture. It’s very liquid-y, which I like because I don’t need a lot of product in order to work it into my entire face and neck, and it has a very light, nutty scent. But the best part is how it makes my face feel: after it washes off, my skin feels almost slippery; and once it dries, my skin is so hydrated and soft. It’s like the opposite of that dreaded “squeaky clean” feeling.

Fourth Ray Beauty BFD Cleansing Oil

I was very intrigued by Fourth Ray Beauty’s Cleansing Oil because it’s 1) natural, 2) organic, and 3) only $14. Made with camellia, juniper berry, and meadowfoam seed oil, it’s meant to remove makeup and while keeping skin hydrated—both of which it does. However, it also gave me some serious whiteheads. I’m not sure what about this formulation made me break out, but I stopped using it after about three days. Next!

Nyakio’s Sweet Almond Cleansing Oil Balm

This oil cleanser, on the other hand, is heaven. I’m a huge fan of Nyakio Beauty’s founder (check out her Skin, Deep feature on her African heritage) and the brand’s mission, which is to bring natural, heritage ingredients back into the skincare space. Their Cleansing Oil Balm is made with sweet almond oil, shea butter, and coffee seed oil; and transforms from balm to oil once it’s warmed in the hands.

You can use it as a first cleanse to remove makeup, but I find myself using it as my only cleanser in the morning. Then, instead of rinsing it off with water, I just wipe away the excess oil with a tissue and allow what’s left to sink into my skin for an extra layer of hydration.

Dr. Loretta Intense Replenishing Serum

It’s very rare that I feel comfortable trying a product that’s not at least mostly natural, but Dr. Loretta’s new line of skincare was intriguing enough to get me to break my own rules. I met with Dr. Loretta—a dermatologist with 40 years of experience and one of the first doctors at Harvard to study the sun’s effects on the skin in the ‘70s—in Los Angeles a few weeks ago, and she was just so knowledgeable about skincare (duh) that I had to try some of her products for myself.

The one I still find myself reaching for everyday is the Intense Replenishing Serum. It has the most gorgeous, slippery, but sinks-into-the-skin texture and is made with Lipochroman, one of the only skincare ingredients that’s proven to protect from all three kinds of environmental pollution. (Fun fact: antioxidants only protect from oxygen-based pollution, but nitrogen- and carbon-based pollution particles can affect our skin, too.) Basically, Dr. Loretta convinced me that anti-pollution skincare is the new SPF and now I wear my Lipochroman serum without fail.

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Grown Alchemist Deep Cleansing Facial Masque and Vanilla Watermelon Lip Balm

I’d never tried Grown Alchemist before but always wanted to—the packaging is just so chic and #shelfie-worthy—so when the brand offered to send me some products to try I of course said Hell yes, please and thank you. So far, my favorites of the bunch are the Deep Cleansing Facial Masque and Vanilla Watermelon Lip Balm.

The former is made with white clay and definitely works like a clay mask—it goes on wet, dries, and gets all the gunk out—but, unlike most clay masks, it doesn’t leave my skin tight and dry. It also includes wheatgerm, ginkgo, and cranberry to deliver antioxidants and fatty acids (which explains that hydrated feeling).

The brand’s Vanilla Watermelon Lip Balm is just a basic must-have. It smells good, goes on glossy, sinks in quickly, and tastes delish when I accidentally eat some of it (an unavoidable hazard of wearing lip gloss).

Like I said, this is a lot of new product for my sensitive skin to handle. I didn’t—and wouldn’t—try them all at once.

Instead, I introduce one new product at a time and incorporate it into my tried-and-true line up of foundational, natural skincare. This way, if my skin gets irritated, I know exactly what caused it and can discontinue use immediately. Even if you don’t have highly sensitive skin, the one-and-done technique is really the best way to introduce something new into your routine.

What new products have you been trying lately? What are you loving, what are you leaving? Talk to me, tell me all about it.

SKINJessica DeFinoComment