Dealing with red, reactive skin and rosacea — a chronic condition where skin is overly sensitive, often with visible blood vessels and raised bumps on the face — usually means tiptoeing around anything that could trigger a flare-up. The problem is that virtually “anything that makes the face flush can cause a rosacea flare,” says dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital.
Common triggers include stress, extreme temperatures, spicy foods, fragrance and alcohol in skin care, and alcoholic drinks (especially wine), says dermatologist Debra Jaliman, an assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine. Even hot showers and skin-care acids can worsen symptoms. But there are ways to tame outbreaks and lessen their effects, so we asked four dermatologists to suggest the products that might calm and camouflage inflamed skin, from creams and cleansers to tinted primers and sunscreen.
If you have reactive skin, you know that even the cleansing process has to be gentle. Zeichner and David Lortscher, a board-certified dermatologist and CEO of Curology, both recommend this foaming Neutrogena face wash for its extra-gentle ingredients. “The technology in this cleanser prevents the cleansing ingredients from compromising the integrity of the outer skin layer,” says Zeichner.
The general rule with red, rosacea-prone skin is “the less ingredients, the better,” so Lortscher also suggests this Free & Clear liquid cleanser, which is noncomedogenic (so it won’t clog pores) and free of common dyes, fragrances, preservatives, and chemicals.
Another foaming cleanser Zeichner suggests is this one from Aveeno because it contains feverfew, a calming ingredient associated with chamomile, which has been clinically proved to reduce redness and irritation. Other perks: It’s free of fragrances and hypoallergenic, too.
Another gentle option is EltaMD Foaming Facial cleanser, an oil- and paraben-free face wash that’s formulated without additives. Miami-based dermatologist Roberta Del Campo of the Del Campo Dermatology and Laser Institute likes this one because it also gently removes makeup and oils.
Certain ingredients found in cleansers (menthol or eucalyptol, specifically) can throw off the skin’s PH level, says Zeichner, making rosacea worse. His go-to recommendation is Dove’s Sensitive Skin Beauty Bar, a simple, skin-barrier-supporting, ultra-affordable option that you can use to cleanse both your face and body. “It uses a gentle cleansing agent and is particularly moisturizing,” he says.
As someone with routinely reactive, red skin, I would personally also suggest using an alcohol-free toner. This calming toner from Korean brand Swanicoco is the best I’ve ever used for calming my skin — instead of stripping your pores like an astringent, it gently soothes and brightens with fermented rice extract and vitamin C. Instead of a liquid-y texture, it’s gel-like and very hydrating.
For some additional soothing after you tone, Jaliman suggests this serum specifically formulated for rosacea-prone skin from La Roche-Posay. “This visible redness-reducing serum does what it says. What’s nice about it is that it’s free of parabens, it’s oil-free and fragrance-free, so it’s really good for sensitive skin. It’s made with an ingredient called ambophenol, which soothes skin.”
If you’re prone to rosacea, you already have an impaired skin barrier — which is why Del Campo recommends this hyaluronic acid serum, which can help to fortify the skin’s barrier and lock in moisture. “This hyaluronic acid serum has multiple forms of HA, which means it’ll hydrate the skin more intensely,” she says.
Del Campo also likes Neocutis Bio Serum, which helps to boost collagen without the use of retinoids, which can be irritating for rosacea-prone skin. “Many products that are capable of boosting collagen are unfortunately too harsh for rosacea-prone skin,” she says. “This product uses human-derived growth factors (proteins that are found naturally in the skin, then synthesized in labs) to improve skin quality and repair damage, without causing any irritation.”
Moisturizing is equally important, and Jaliman says to look out for creams containing niacinamide (or vitamin B3), “one of my favorite ingredients to reduce redness.” This one targets inflammation and weak blood vessel walls, so it’s very well suited for redness and rosacea.
“Research indicates the possible role of a gut-skin connection in rosacea,” says Lortscher, which is why probiotics might be helpful for calming your skin. If you want to dabble, Jaliman suggests this Clinique Redness Solutions cream because, she says, it’s very gentle and contains probiotic technology.
Del Campo recommends this Nia24 moisturizer, which she says both calms down and conceals any redness. “It contains niacinamide,” she says, “which is calming to the skin.” Plus, she says, the moisturizer itself is tinted light green, which helps neutralize redness in the face. It also uses licorice root to sooth the skin, and vitamin E to moisturize.
For a less pricey option, Lortscher suggests this gel cream from Neutrogena: It’s hydrating (boosted with hyaluronic acid), yet fragrance-free and noncomedogenic.
And if your skin is particularly dry and sensitive, Lortscher says, “you could try a thin layer of a heavier moisturizer in the morning to help protect your skin, such as pure petrolatum (Vaseline) or EltaMD’s Intense Moisturizer.”
“Even on a cloudy day, UVA rays penetrate the clouds and can trigger rosacea flares,” says Jaliman, which is why she suggests wearing sunscreen every day if you have rosacea or sensitive skin. “I always recommend a physical sunscreen with a high concentration of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. It’s what’s used for diaper rash.”
Here’s one that Jaliman and other derms have recommended to us in the past, containing anti-inflammatory niacinamide.
Zeichner likes this zinc-oxide-filled mineral option too, which provides broad UV protection without leaving a white cast behind. It also contains antioxidants and ceramides, which help to reinforce the skin’s barrier and protect it from environmental aggressors.
For chronic redness, a more concentrated moisturizer can also be helpful. “Thermal spring water and calming peptides help reduce facial redness,” says Zeichner of this mask from Avène’s Antirougeurs (or anti-redness) line.
Tinted primers and creams
“Green tint bases can help mask the pink color of irritated or flushed skin,” says Lortscher, which is why he recommends using primers or color-correcting fluids with a green tint. He suggests this one from E.l.f., which is mineral-based and inexpensive.
Another best-selling green-tinted primer is this Smashbox redness-reducing one that contains peptides and antioxidants.
One color-correcting fluid we love is this one from Urban Decay, which blends well with skin without looking splotchy or cakey.
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