How I Got Tough on My Sensitive, Broken-Out Skin

These are the products that proved they can work hard to better my complexion without hurting it.

My skin is many things: dry, hyperpigmented, somewhat acne-prone, but above all those things, it is VERY sensitive. In spite of all the annoying things my skin can be, it’s mostly pretty good. I rarely wear complexion makeup, and generally, when I look in the mirror, I like what I see.

Unfortunately, a few months ago, my special snowflake of an epidermis tried its hardest to make me feel otherwise. In January, I started getting gnarly hormonal breakouts along my jawline that left nasty scars in their wake. I’ve always gotten the occasional pimple here and there but these were different—they were cystic, painful and seemed to come out of nowhere.

After about a month of just diligently washing my face and hoping things would work themselves out, I decided it was time to take action. After an ill-fated tryst with some prescription treatments that were way too intense for my skin, I finally figured out the proper combination of products to improve my skin without irritation. (Please excuse the semi-busted condition of these products, but I wanted to actually use them for a while before I recommended them to y’all!)


I’m still really happy with my In Fiore Cleansing System, and I use it most days. One day a week, however, I use a cleanser that’s a little more powerful.

I’ve been using Sunday Riley Ceramic Slip Cleanser and I love it. The vitamin C helps combat hyperpigmentation, and the French green clay is a great pore clearer. In addition to these deep-cleaning ingredients, it also contains jasmine and sandalwood to soothe as it cleans.

I know $45 is certainly a lot for a face wash, but since I only use it once a week, I’m able to make it last for a long time and it feels totally worth it to me.


On Sundays, I take an absurdly long shower and do a mask to dry out any pimples and get all the gunk off/out of my face. I’ve used a lot of different enzyme masks in my time (including a DIY one that gave me a chemical burn, but that’s another story), and they are usually too harsh for my face. I can always feel them tingling right away, and if I leave it on for more than two minutes, there’s a good chance I’ll end up with some peeling.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Ole Henriksen Blue/Black Berry Enzyme Mask had no such effect. The berry enzymes and papaya extract exfoliate and resurface the skin while the lavender extract soothes any irritation, and the vitamin B5 promotes hydration.

This mask is a must-try for anybody who’s worried about skin sensitivity but still wants the exfoliating benefits of an enzyme mask.


While I’m pretty crazy about the aforementioned cleanser and mask, the product that improved my skin’s texture and tone the most was definitely the Drunk Elephant TLC Framboos Glycolic Night Serum. Recommended to me by our very own Hannah, this amazing serum is packed with tons of highly effective ingredients to basically resurface your face.

When I first started getting into skincare, I had a pretty bad experience with glycolic acid because I didn’t really know how to use it. I thought that if a little bit could help improve my skin then a lot must be even better! Needless to say, I was very wrong, and my skin punished me for it. Even though this serum contains a 12% glycolic concentrate plus salicylic and lactic acids, it also contains skin-soothing ingredients like aloe, green tea, marula oil and horse chestnut extract to combat any aggravation the acids could cause.

It’s rare to find something as effective as this serum that causes absolutely no irritation, and I think it’s only a matter of time until this product gains cult status.

Whenever I use any of these products, I like to boost their efficacy with Heritage Store Rosewater & Glycerin in place of a more aggressive toner. It’s really simple (basically just water and rose oil), and the glycerin is a nice humectant.

I’ll also sub out my regular moisturizer with a couple drops each of Skin Owl Mangosteen Beauty Drops PM and Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Concentrate to further pamper my skin and make sure I wake up looking radiant.

There’s an obvious trend here of using products that not only exfoliate, brighten and fight acne, but also soothe and calm my skin at the same time; and regardless of what kind of products you like to use, I think that’s really the key to treating skin that is problematic but also sensitive. I’m not gonna make some kind of outlandish claim that I don’t have any scars and I never break out anymore, but my skin is doing a LOT better, and that’s good enough for me!

  • Do y’all have any over-treating horror stories in your skincare history?
  • What are some of your favorite strong but sensitive skincare products?