My Skin Is Sensitive AND Congested AND The Bane Of My Existence

I took good skin for granted when I was younger and couldn't be bothered to take care of it. It now appears to be exacting revenge.

My little sister leaned across her cup of coffee: “I’ve never seen you this grown up before.” She backpedaled, “I mean, you always seemed so…young.”

My sister is 19 years old. I am 35. Before I had a chance to give her the ol’ oh-no-she-di’n, I realized that she might be onto something.

It was not too long ago that I would do ultra-mature and emotionally stable things like eat pizza twice in one day (and nothing else) or stay out until 2 am on a Monday. Hey, I have matured!

So why can’t my skin get its proverbial shizz together?

Sometimes I think the power of the universe is sending its wrath down upon my face because I was such a careless little imp in my younger years. I took my skin for granted, frankly. I look at pictures of me at 18 and weep (partially due to the crimes against fashion). I was blessed with resilient skin that did not seem to mind being neglected.

Sleep in makeup? No problem. Moisturize? OK, but sometimes I might just use some hotel body lotion that’s been sitting on my bedside table for a few years. I even spent 30 days hiking through the Rockies, my only beauty products a toothbrush and a tube of sunscreen. My skin glowed. I received compliments. I told people, “Oh, I don’t do anything. It just looks this way,” and I understand now that they probably wanted to pummel me.

Then I turned 30, and I went through a Teen Wolf hormonal change or something. I call it my second puberty. My chin would erupt in hard, painful, cyst-y lumps. My pores appeared to double in size. My face stung. I was suddenly someone who blushed--hotly.

I saw a dermatologist and he informed me that I have a mild case of rosacea.

I was prescribed an antibiotic that I came to learn was unnecessary due to the mildness of my condition. It also made my chest break out in a very unattractive, very itchy rash. I used prescription MetroLotion, which may have helped with some of the redness, but I was too distracted by the gooey film on my face to notice.

My face felt unclean. I wanted to exfoliate. I wanted to scrub until my face squeaked like a Windex’d mirror. But like the old Buddhist koan tells us, “The face that both calls out for and hides from a good scrubbing is like a snake eating its own tail” or something.

How do you de-flake and de-gunk skin that is so very sensitive? How?!

(Disclaimer time: If you think you have rosacea, please do see a doctor. I’m about to talk about doing things to my face that some dermatologists will tell you not to do with this condition, namely exfoliation.)


I might be breaking a few beauty rules in that I don’t have a strict routine. I do this hippy dippy “listen to what my skin tells me” thing that may be more like a lazy college kid grabbing what’s convenient. Then you all can give even better tips in the comments section.

So, if you have sensitive skin, chances are you’ve already discovered a cleanser that works for you. Most agreeable products are fragrance-free, soap free, non-foaming, creamy and/or contain very few ingredients.

Do not wash your face with hot water, and resist that urge to scrub the devil out of your pores. If you’re super-sensitive, you may only need to wash at bedtime. Pat dry. Pat, pat like little leaves waving in a rain shower. Was I incorrect about you having already found a cleanser that works for you? Then try Eucerin Sensitive Skin Gentle Hydrating Cleanser.

Usually, I apply cleanser with my fingers and wipe it off with a warm, moist washcloth. Wipe gently, though your heart may be breaking. Some mornings I forgo the washcloth and just rinse with tepid water. Some mornings I don’t wash my face at all.

About twice a month, I use a Clairsonic brush with a delicate skin brush head, but only on my chin, where the evil lives. I like how the brush makes my skin feel clean, but I will not lie: it makes me red, hence its limited appearance in my “routine.”

Look for moisturizers featuring words that don’t harsh your buzz, man. Calming. Soothing. Hypoallergenic. Fragrance-free. Your mom dancing braless in a gauzy dress.

Do a patch test behind your ear lest you look like Kelly Kapowski after her run-in with Zit-Off. Apply as liberally as you can stand it. Drink lots of water. Eat your vegetables.

I suggest Vanicream Moisturizing Skin Cream.

And that would be that, except we have CONGESTED skin. This is where you get to make some truly exciting decisions about your face.

Do you prefer mechanical exfoliation, including brushes, washcloths, loofahs, scrubby scrubs with granules/sugars/grains/beads, and shoot, why not, your fingernails? (Please don’t use your fingernails.) Or do you prefer chemical exfoliation, which covers your enzymes and alpha-hydroxy, glycolic, lactic, what-have-you acids.

It seems counterintuitive to slough a face that turns bright red at the merest touch of a fingertip. However, my friends, it is a much better thing to experiment and find a gentle exfoliant than to stand over the sink after a stressful day at work and molest my pores until I’m scabby.

The most sensitive skin may only be able to handle a soft washcloth once or twice a week. Those with rosacea may find that a gentle exfoliator with enzymes is be the best choice. AHAs can be irritating, but some find that glycolic acid is gentle enough for occasional use.

If I had to pick one: Jurlique Fruit Enzyme Exfoliator.

I also use Mario Badescu’s Buffering Lotion for outbreaks. I use a cotton swab to apply it to those under the skin, feel-em-before-you-see-em spots. Miracle lotion.

I will be returning to my dermatologist quite soon to address my broken capillaries, and I hope he does not tell me that I’ve ruined my complexion. Le sigh.

If you suffer from this odd sensitive-yet-congested combination, I would love to hear how your search for relief is going.