Last updated: Feb 13, 2009

Even if your skin was once a total sport no matter what you subjected it to—harsh climates, ingredient-du-jour creams, even (God forbid!) tanning beds—times have likely changed. Chances are, at some point youve suffered from redness, itching, flaking, and stinging. Uncomfortable? No doubt. And, lets face it, not so pretty, either.

Truth is, sensitivity—which affects 56% of us—increases with age. Skin becomes, on average, 10% drier each decade after the age of 20, according to Doris Day, MD, a dermatologist in New York City. And dryness and sensitivity are often intimately linked. “The cells that form your skins outermost layer work as a two-way barrier, keeping moisture in and the outside world out,” Dr. Day says.

The less moisture your skin retains, the weaker the cellular barrier and the more irritants that muscle their way in. It doesnt help that, as we get older, we tend to add more—and more powerful—ingredients into our skin-care mix. Any one of these products may cause irritation, but used in concert, theyre all the more likely to do so.

Theres no need to toss all your antiaging products, though. These simple tweaks to your beauty routine should make your skin a whole lot more resilient. And whichever at-home measures you choose, see a dermatologist if irritation persists for more than a few weeks.

Your skin-care routine, tweaked

Truly gentle makeup
Look for the word “hypoallergenic” when youre shopping for new cosmetics—it means that the product has been shown to cause fewer allergic reactions, Dr. Day says. We like Neutrogena Nourishing Eye Quad (at left, $9.99). Mineral makeups also tend to be gentle on sensitive skin. We like Physicians Formula Mineral Wear Bronzer ($13.95; drugstores).
Prime timers
Slightly heavier than moisturizers, primers fill in the skins grooves and create an even surface on which to apply makeup. And though less is usually more with sensitive skin, primers are an exception. “They create an additional protective barrier,” Dr. Day explains, so fewer potential irritants can get through. Try Youngblood Mineral Primer ($37.50).

Skin-irritating preservatives
Some preservatives that are formaldehyde-based (such as imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, and quaternium-15) can cause skin sensitivity. Another type of preservative called parabens (methylparaben, ethylparaben and propylparaben) are among the most irritating cosmetic preservatives, Dr. Bank says. Look instead for formulations with gentle yet effective preservatives, such as the antioxidants vitamins C and E and citrus seed extract (found in skin-care lines like Carols Daughter and Burts Bees).

A second moisturizer after you shower
The first layer should be applied to damp skin, the next to dry skin a few minutes later for an extra boost, notes David Bank, MD, a dermatologist in Mt. Kisco, New York. You can use the same product both times, but it should contain humectants (agents that bind water to skin), such as glycerin and hyaluronic acid. A good choice: Natures Gate Fragrance-Free Moisturizing Lotion for Sensitive Skin ($7.99).
Special treatment at night
“Studies have shown that women lose more water from their skin at night,” Dr. Day says. “So use this time to bolster your skins barrier.” A night cream will not only prevent water loss (by trapping moisture) but also add moisture. Look for fragrance-and-dye-free formulations, such as Olay Complete Night Fortifying Cream ($11.99; drugstores).

That looong, hot shower
Yes, its among lifes simplest pleasures, but a hot shower is a huge source of moisture depletion, Dr. Day says. A 3- to 10-minute, tepid to warm shower is key to avoiding sensitivity.
Soaps with strong cleansing agents
Face and body washes that alkalinize skin (i.e., raise pH to 6 or higher) can deplete the skins barrier,” says Mary Lupo, MD, a dermatologist in New Orleans. Look for a nonirritating cleanser, such as the coconut-derived cocamidopropyl betaine found in Dove Sensitive Skin beauty bars ($2.49; drugstores) and Clean & Clear Makeup Dissolving Foaming Cleanser (above left, $5.99; drugstores).

The right UV protection
Chemical sunscreens—such as those containing parsol and benezophenones—can irritate sensitive skin. Zinc- and titanium-based physical sunblocks that sit on the skins surface are your best bet, Dr. Day notes. Our pick: Biore Dual Fusion Moisturizer SPF 30 (at right, $14.99; drugstores).
Downtime after a reaction
Let your skin calm down for a week after you spot any skin irritation. Then, reintroduce products one at a time by patch-testing each on your inner forearm. “When your skin gets red, youve found your answer, and you can either eliminate the product or try a less-irritating version,” Dr. Bank says.

Hand-to-face contact
“People touch their faces more than they realize,” Dr. Day notes. “Bacteria, fungus, and viruses on your fingers can slip through the microscopic cracks in a compromised barrier and irritate your skin.” Start paying attention to where your hands are in relation to your face, and youll gradually reduce contact.
A vigorous rubdown
With a soft towel, gently pat dry your face and body, Dr. Bank says. This approach is less irritating and leaves more water molecules on your skin to help seal in moisturize.