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Choosing the Best Soap for Sensitive Skin and Rosacea

Updated on November 24, 2012

What Is Sensitive Skin?

The American Academy of Dermatology makes an interesting point about sensitive skin care products--they don't specify the type of sensitive skin for which they are marketed. There are four basic types of sensitive skin: acne, rosacea, burning and stinging and contact dermatitis. The one element each of the four types have in common is inflammation.

Acne is caused by oily skin and the presence of high levels of P. acnes, a bacteria.

Rosacea, a condition which as of yet has an undetermined cause, is characterized by flushing of the face, broken blood vessels and pimples.

Stinging and burning skin also has no determined cause and for this reason there are no known products to treat these sensations.

Contact dermatitis may be caused by an allergy or an irritation produced by an ingredient in a product.

Choosing a Soap for Acne

Now that you know that soap and other skin care products labeled for use on "sensitive skin" is a catch-all phrase, you can see the need to delve a little further to determine if that soap is useful for your type of sensitive skin.

Standard treatments for acne are anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial. They may include antibiotics (prescription required), retinoids, salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. Look for these ingredients on the product label.

Soap products containing coconut oil or avocado may cause breakouts if you have acne for some individuals.

Tea tree oil is another natural ingredient that is used to treat acne. You may be interested in using a soap product that contains tea tree oil. This website may get you started:

Some products contain more than one ingredient. If your skin doesn't tolerate a product well, you may be tempted to assume the major ingredient is causing the problem -- but it may be one of the minor additional ingredients. If this happens, try using a product that is a single ingredient. This way you'll know exactly which ingredients work for your skin and which ones don't.

Sonia Badreshia-Bansal, MD, FAAD, a dermatologist in private practice, advises against the use of skin care products that contain cinnamon, cocoa butter or coconut oil to prevent ance breakouts.

Making your own soap is one way of knowing exactly what ingredients are used.
Making your own soap is one way of knowing exactly what ingredients are used. | Source

Choosing a Soap for Rosacea

If you have rosacea, you probably already know that keeping it under control is about avoiding contact with irritants. A flare-up in your symptoms may be due to a cosmetic or skin care product ingredient. Other known factors that induce a flare-up in many individuals with rosacea are ingestion of alcohol, strenuous exercise, exposure to the sun, spicy foods and stress.

When choosing a facial soap, you should look for a gentle, soap-free, alcohol-free and fragrance-free cleanser, such as the ones made by Cetaphil. Wash your face gently; too much rubbing can cause the rosacea areas to become sore and red. The Rosacea Group, an online group dedicated to helping those living with rosacea provides reviews of skin cleansers, moisturizers and sun screen products here:

Skin care products with anti-inflammatory ingredients such as green tea, feverfew, aloe or chamomile may be helpful if product use does not irritate the sensitive rosacea areas.

Skin care products containing vitamin C and alpha hydroxy acids should not be used because their high acidity levels can cause burning and stinging of the affected areas. Avoid cleansers that have granules or abrasives in them.

Dermatologists also recommend the use of sun screens with an SPF of at least 15 and the use of a moisturizer with both emollient and occlusive ingredients. To learn more about moisturizers: Dry Skin Care: Moisture is the Key.

Choosing a Soap for Burning, Stinging Skin

Because science does not understand the underlying cause of this sensitive skin condition, there are no known products to treat it. Skin care products with ingredients such as vitamin C, alpha hydroxy acids, lactic acid and benzoic acid are known to cause stinging of the skin. When choosing a facial soap, avoid products that contain these ingredients.

Not everyone who has burning, stinging skin reacts to any one product the same as another person. Trial and error may be the watch words for your use of skin care products, from soap to moisturizers to cosmetics.

A gentle cleanser, such as is recommended for people with rosacea may produce the most satisfactory results for you. Choosing a cleansing product with as few ingredients as possible may also lessen the likelihood of encountering an ingredient that will irritate your sensitive facial skin.

Choosing a Soap for Contact Dermatitis

In contact dermatitis there are two types of reactions: an allergic reaction where your body produces antibodies against the offending substance or irritation where there is a localized skin reaction but no production of antibodies. Patch testing must be done by a dermatologist to determine if there is an allergic reaction, and if so, to what substance or substances.

Irritants in skin care products are generally fragrances, formaldehyde, color dyes or preservatives.

Organic products offer no assurance of safety over manufactured products because you may be allergic to one or more organic substances or find your skin irritated upon use.

Once you know what ingredient or ingredients cause your irritation or allergy, you will need to closely read labels on skin care products, including soap, to ensure the products don't contain those substances. Again, choosing a basic soap such as Neutrogena or Ivory bar soap may be advisable. Consult your dermatologist for recommendations based on your allergies.

Soap/Cleansing At-a-Glance

Skin Type
Ingredients to Avoid
Ingredients to Look For
Coconut or avocado oil, cocoa butter, cinnamon
Retinoids, salacylic acid, tea tree oil, benzoyl peroxide
Vitamin C, alpha hydroxy acids, alcohol, fragrance
Green tea, aloe, chamomile, feverfew
Burning, stinging skin
Alpha hydroxy, lactic or benzoic acids
Choose a product with only a few ingredients
Contact dermatitis
Avoid whatever ingredient(s) you are sensitive or allergic to
A basic cleanser such as Neutrogena

Natural Glycerine Soaps

This information is not meant to replace or substitute for medical advice. Consult your health care provider as needed. To find a dermatologist in your area, go here.


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    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      7 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Sminut13, glad the information was helpful.

    • sminut13 profile image


      7 years ago from singapore

      thanks for your hub, i've been having sensitive skin lately for a few months now and needed advice.

    • Lady Guinevere profile image

      Debra Allen 

      7 years ago from West By God

      I wrote a hub about my rosacea. If you allow me to put my link for you to add to yours that would be great:

      I went to a massage therapist and she used Cetaphil on my face and it brought the red tones down just a bit. My mom also gave me something that stopped the itchig and burning for a bit of time, longer than what I used so far. It is Curel Ultra Healing.

    • Marisa Wright profile image

      Kate Swanson 

      7 years ago from Sydney

      This is such sensible advice, I wish I could persuade my husband to follow it. He has rosacea and he has a horror of going out in the sun, because he claims he "burns easily". In reality, I observe that he doesn't actually get sunburnt, but it does cause his rosacea to flare up. The problem is that he refuses to wear sunscreen because he has a horror of putting ANY creams on his face, having had reactions to so many of them.

    • mwilliams66 profile image


      8 years ago from Left Coast, USA

      I have terribly sensitive skin. I will definitely look for the clearly natural glycerin soap. I had never heard of I'm bookmarking now. Thanks for the great tips.

    • Angela Brummer profile image

      Angela Brummer 

      8 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

      I have printed this off as with four children I need at LEAST two of the suggestion! Thank YOU!

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      8 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Mary Anne, thank you for this information. I'm relieved you were able to find a product that addresses your needs and sensitive skin.

      I'm going to have to research information on stearic acid myself now.

      I appreciate the read and your comment.

    • profile image

      Mary Anne 

      8 years ago

      I'm allergic to a lot of hypoallergenic skin products. Anything that contains the irritant stearic acid will make me break out in blisters, a rosacea outbreak. Many manufacturers, even though they know that stearic acid is an irritant, use it in their products anyway. The Made From Earth Green Tea Cleanser does not. Not only that but it is also non-drying and leaves my skin feeling soft and looking smooth and clean. I have been very happy with it, and my skin issues have cleared up considerably since I began using it.

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      9 years ago from Oklahoma City

      We have lots of sensitive skin issues in our family, mainly eczema also. Glad you found the information here helpful.

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 

      9 years ago from Western New York

      Thanks for your comment on my hub. My little guys both have eczema, so this article is rather informative for me!


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