Skincare for Sensitive Skin: Winter Routine

July 22, 2022 (updated April 9, 2024) — Written by

It’s been a long time coming, but it’s here now: my current sensitive skincare routine. I’ll update this post quarterly with what’s working for my reactive skin, so bookmark this for future reference if you’re on the sensitive-skin train. Here’s what’s keeping my skin calm, clear and happy.

A woman with long wavy blonde hair.
My sensitive skin after consistently following the routine detailed below.

By: Nicolle Mackinnon


I’ve had sensitive skin for as long as I can remember. Like, if I itch my leg too hard, I get a bruise; when I get a bug bite, it immediately turns into a quarter-sized welt; and I have a list of ingredients I need to avoid that rivals the length of the great American novel. My sensitive skin is partly due to a collagen disorder, but you don’t have to have any sort of “disease” to know what I’m talking about when I say “reactive” skin. 

I spent most of my teens and 20s trying to calm my skin the eff down, and it wasn’t until I started working in the beauty industry that I really began to understand what was causing my flare-ups. Now, a decade later, I still run into new ingredients that irritate my skin, and product testing for TNK can be hit-or-miss (sensitive skin loooooooooves a routine and consistency, not changing products

Not complaining AT ALL, as the products I get to try have actually made me more aware of what my skin can tolerate, and helped me tune into what ingredients are irritants. Which leads me to the same conclusion that Lisa makes in her anti-aging skincare routine: “I get to try A LOT of product. Some things I try once or twice and others take up residency in my skincare routine. Some products I enjoy, but I wouldn’t purchase again; others I rave about and would purchase a million times over.”

The products you’ll see in this post are level 2 on the TNK hierarchy of skincare, meaning I love them and would repurchase. They offer skincare benefits, work for my sensitive skin and have a beautiful sensory experience.

Before we jump into what’s keeping my skin calm and happy this season, a couple caveats about sensitive skin in general. 👇

RELATED: Lisa’s current anti-aging skincare routine (her top picks for the BEST skincare).

A note about sensitive / reactive skin

If you think you have sensitive skin, memorize this rule of thumb: any ingredient, synthetic or natural or mineral or animal (ha), can be irritating to YOUR skin. Everyone is different, so if you find that you’ve got unidentified redness, irritation, bumps, itchiness, blemishes, flakiness or dryness popping up while you’re using a new (or any!) product, you might have to do a little detective work to figure out what ingredient is the culprit.

Yes, that takes time, energy and effort, but trust me, it’s WORTH IT. Having a list of ingredients you personally need to avoid is a game-changer when it comes to getting a glowy, even-toned, irritation-free complexion.

Example? It took me nearly three years to realize lavender was the cause of continuous breakouts on my face; now, I rarely get cystic acne because I’ve eliminated that ingredient from my routine. It’s incredibly annoying to read through a list of ingredients on a new product and realize I can’t use it, BUT I’d take that annoyance over painful red cystic acne any day.

ALSO. Listen to your skin. If you apply a product and you get itchiness shortly after; or you get a little too much sun and your skin is inflamed; or you’re having any kind of flare up (blemishes, redness, irritation, etc.), TAKE IT EASY. Your skin is trying to tell you something with all those red flags—pay attention and don’t assume that your skin will get over it.

AKA, ignore the adage that your skin needs time to “adjust” to a product. That’s a recipe for grumpy sensitive skin.

RELATED: A simple guide to the best skincare for your specific skin type (with product recs!).

Sensitive skin quick tips

  • Don’t assume that because it’s “natural,” it’s non-irritating for you.
  • Sensitive skin likes a routine—find products that work for you, and keep your skincare consistent, especially while traveling.
  • Figure out what your specific skin reacts to, create a list on your phone (or on a Post-It you can tuck into your wallet, if you’re old school) of ingredients to avoid, and scour the ingredient list of any new product you try to make sure it’s safe for you
  • Your sensitive skin will tell you if it doesn’t like a product—listen to it!
  • Isolation is key: try not to add in too many new products at once. That makes it much harder to identify what might be causing irritation, if your skin reacts negatively.
  • If you have a flare up, revert back to your most basic routine: a very gentle cleanser, a calming / soothing mist and a light moisturizer are all you need.
  • Single ingredient formulas can be a sensitive skin’s BFF. I’m talking pure plum seed oil, straight rosewater or plain aloe.
  • When in doubt, consider a skin “cleanse.” I do this a couple times per month—skip any products for 24 hours and give your skin a break. Lots of caveats here, including that you might need to avoid a workout or sweat sesh during that time too, so you don’t have dirt and grime building up.

Phew. That was a lot of info—now onto the fun part!

RELATED: Got acne-prone skin? This routine is for you.

A close up of a woman's face during a skin reaction.
My skin three days into my flare up before using this sensitive skincare routine.
A close up of a woman's face after using a sensitive skincare routine consistently for two weeks.
My skin two weeks after using this sensitive skincare routine.

What’s up with my skin right now

Phew, this could be its own post, lol. But the short of it is that I’ve been testing a couple of new medications to treat my chronic illnesses and one of them caused a MAJOR inflamed skin reaction. Like I woke up after taking the meds for two days and had an angry, itchy, painful red rash around my eyes, nose and mouth and I started getting these HUGE underground zits that swelled to the size of peas, popped and left dark marks behind, like they branded me with a hot iron. I’m not a cow and I do not appreciate being branded (and let’s be honest, the cows probably don’t either). 

Suffice it to say that I immediately reduced my skincare routine and did the bare minimum, to see what was irritating or supportive to my rashy skin. And guys, this combo of products WORKED. It decreased my redness overnight, helped soothe and reduce blemishes and made my skin less sensitive to the touch. Plus, I haven’t had a major flare up since I started this routine! 

I think I attribute it mostly to a) being suuuuuuper gentle with my skin, not picking anything and not touching it unless necessary; and b) the Magic Molecule. Yep, that hypochlorous acid that Lisa raved about a couple months ago is not only stellar at soothing eczema, but it’s also incredible for sensitive skin. From my mouth to god’s ears. 

RELATED: Does Magic Molecule Actually Work? The Results After 14 Days!

If you’re experiencing ANYthing like this, scroll back up and read my sensitive skin quick tips, and avoid exfoliation of any kind. Your skin does NOT need to shed its protective layer right now; it needs time to calm down.

Okay, let’s jump into what’s been supportive of my reactive skin rn! 

A line up of the products in Nicolle's sensitive skincare routine.
The products in my sensitive skincare routine.

Morning routine

I had to work up to this full routine, but it is what has calmed down my skin amazingly in about two weeks, with clear improvement in two days. If you’re in a really bad flare, stick with water and the gentlest hydrator you have (aloe works wonders!), with the Magic Molecule, if you have it. 

  1. Bushnut Beauty Pure Reveal AHA Oil Cleansing Gel (only if I need to rinse off the Indie Lee overnight blemish treatment; if not, I just use water. Love this for a gentle cleanse that’s in between an oil and a gel.) | $70
  2. Magic Molecule The Solution | $32
  3. Free + True Rambin Rose Hydrating Serum (from BH’s February box—not all hyaluronic serums work for my sensitive skin. It’s a complicated answer as to why, but the short of it is, sometimes the molecules aren’t the right size and they can actually irritate skin. This one WORKS.) | $68
  4. Once my skin started to level out, I added back in Maya Chia’s The Super Lift Concentrated Vitamin C-More Treatment—but not right away. | $110
  5. Stoic Beauty Agathos Blueberry, Plum & Rosehip Oil (I like this better than Le Prunier, but don’t tell Lisa!) | $24
  6. de Mamiel First Fix Solution Premiere (from BH’s January box, and Lisa loved it too—it was a phenom deal, smells amazing and is really calming without being too heavy.) | $216
Bushnut Beauty Pure Reveal AHA Oil Cleansing Gel
Bushnut Beauty Pure Reveal AHA Oil Cleansing Gel
Magic Molecule The Solution
Magic Molecule The Solution
Free + True Ramblin Rose
Free + True Ramblin Rose Hydrating Serum
Stoic Beauty Agathos
Stoic Beauty Agathos Blueberry, Plum & Rosehip Face Oil
de Mamiel First Fix Solution Premiere
de Mamiel First Fix Solution Premiere
The Beauty Heroes Discovery Box January 2024
The Beauty Heroes Discovery Box January 2024

RELATED: Lisa’s current skincare routine.

Evening routine

  1. I’ve been skipping a cleanser at night (I don’t put on any makeup when my skin flares like this, so I don’t have anything to wash off) and using just warm water and my Jenny Patinkin Urgent Care Cloths.
  2. Magic Molecule The Solution | $32
  3. Free + True Ramblin Rose Hydrating Serum | $68
  4. Stoic Beauty Agathos Blueberry, Plum & Rosehip Oil | $24
  5. LILFOX Succulent Pudding (totally decadent and seriously good at reducing redness) | $130
Magic Molecule The Solution
Magic Molecule The Solution
Free + True Ramblin Rose
Free + True Ramblin Rose Hydrating Serum

Stoic Beauty Agathos
Stoic Beauty Agathos Blueberry, Plum & Rosehip Oil
LILFOX Succulent Pudding
LILFOX Succulent Pudding

Treatments (as necessary)

  1. Indie Lee Banish Solution (the only thing that helped my underground blemishes to release)| $21
  2. Rael Beauty Miracle Patch (amazing for covering popped zits overnight, and helping to reduce redness) | $7.99
Indie Lee Banish Solution

RELATED: Rosacea treatment tips from an esthetician.

Coupon codes

Check out our Coupon Codes page to save on these products and more!

Have you tried any of these on your (sensitive or otherwise) skin this year? What’s working for you?

xo, nicolle

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By Nicolle Mackinnon

Nicolle Mackinnon is TNK's content manager. She has a penchant for vegan lip color, cold-brew coffee and helping women feel empowered to make informed choices about their health by opening them up to new information and trends. Better, clean beauty is just one outlet to changing the way we shop and live.


  1. Reply


    I love these sensitive skin updates–thank you! Do you have any experience or advice for rosacea? My dermatologist prescribed something, but I wonder if there is a less harsh version or other options. Also, wondering if Nicole and/or others have makeup tips for sensitive skin…

    1. Reply

      Nicolle Mackinnon

      Hi Faith!
      My best tip is in my note from the blog, which I should have tattooed on my forehead: Everyone is different, so if you find that you’ve got unidentified redness, irritation, bumps, itchiness, blemishes, flakiness or dryness popping up while you’re using a new (or any!) product, you might have to do a little detective work to figure out what ingredient is the culprit. Same goes for rosacea-prone skin (and I’m NOT a derm or a doc or an esthetician, so this is just from my personal experience!). Then, find makeup (and skincare) that is free of those irritating-to-you ingredients.

      And I’d add this: ignore the adage that your skin needs time to “adjust” to a product. That’s a recipe for grumpy sensitive skin. If you have any reaction, at any point, stop using that product.

      But in general, if we’re talking the best makeup for reactive skin, I’ve found that mineral based makeup is less irritating – and fewer ingredients can be a great place to start. Alima Pure is a great brand for that, as their entire line is mineral based (like a better, cleaner version of Bare Minerals). Jane Iredale is also a great line to check out. I’m wondering if I should do a makeup routine post… or at least brands that have worked for my sensitive skin. Thoughts?

      One last thing, and I would have HATED to hear this a decade ago, but I’ve honestly found it to be true: Focus on your skincare and helping to get your skin in balance FIRST; then consider makeup. My skin is the best it’s ever been since I stopped wearing makeup every day (it’s one good thing I can take from the pandemic…). I know that’s NOT what someone with skin sensitivities wants to hear, but it’s worked for me. I still wear makeup but not counting on it daily has changed my skin.

  2. Reply


    I’m with Faith! I’ve got rosacea as well so looking forward to your recommendations.

    1. Reply

      Nicolle Mackinnon

      I’m going to get our team esthetician to do a post about this, since I’m not an expert. See my reply to Faith about makeup, but keep your eyes peeled for more from Hayley about rosacea!

  3. Reply


    I also have trouble with rosacea, and flaky dry skin on my face year round. Any help you can offer would be appreciated. Products from the derm have not been helpful for the flaky skin.

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Hi Mary! Have you tried Le Prunier’s Plum Beauty Oil? It’s one of my faves! xo, Lisa

  4. Reply


    Thank you, Lisa! I just started plum oil. I am hopeful it will help.

  5. Reply

    Isabel Suarez

    Amazing tips! Thank you so much! I really needed these tips for my skin. How about eye creams? I still cant find one for my sensitive eyes 🙂
    Tons of blessings!

  6. Reply

    Nicolle Mackinnon

    Hi Isabel!

    I’m so sorry you’re struggling with eye creams for sensitive eyes! Tell me more about what you’ve tried… I love these:

    Mukti Age Defiance Eye Cream

    Evolve Organic Beauty Hyaluronic Eye Serum

    LILFOX Eye Mask

    Let me know if that helps!

  7. Reply


    What about teens with sensitive skin? My daughter is 14 going on 15. She has some pimples., as teenagers do, but also redness and sensitivity like some dermatitis on her chin. I never see articles for teens with that combo skin. I was looking at odacite. We have tried peach and lily ( not thrilled) and I’m curious also about Live Botanical’s ( she lived the cleanser) and Om. Thank you!

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Hi Danna! Love Live Botanical, Carolyn, the founder / formulator is so knowledgable. If you DM or email her with your daughters specific skin type she will be able to recommend an effective routine for her. You can also follow along with Nicolle Mac’s sensitive skincare routine here for inspo ; ) xo, Lisa

  8. Reply


    Hi, Lisa and Nicolle – I’ve turned 70 and am working on “cleaning up my act” re my health and beauty needs. I have sensitive skin and very sensitive eyes. I can’t find a light, daily, healthy foundation to wear that doesn’t make my eyes tear up all day. What do you suggest? – Robyn

    1. Reply

      Nicolle Mackinnon

      Hi Robyn! I hear you – I just had an eye reaction to a serum yesterday! What foundations have you tried? I’ve had great success with WELL PEOPLE’s foundation stick, INIKA’s BB Cream (which Lisa loves for her over 40 skin too) and ILIA Beauty’s Skin Serum Foundation (another one Lisa also loves). Let me know if there’s a specific formula you’re looking for too and happy to give a couple other recs! Also, an obvious note: Make sure you’re not getting it too-too close to your eyes, especially if they’re so sensitive!

  9. Reply

    Brooke Mudd

    Hello Nicolle

    Can you give recommendations of a simple cleanser, mist and moisturizer for when I am experiencing a flare-up? You mentioned plum seed oil, rose water and aloe. I’ve never used those before but willing to try anything to calm things down. I keep buying more and more products that claim they will help and they just don’t. And I think lavender may be an issue for me as well as I had an itchy reaction after a “calm” product that included it. Thank you for mentioning that in your post as I might not have made the connection!


    1. Reply

      Nicolle Mackinnon

      Hi Brooke! Oh, so happy to help. It took me YEARS to figure out that lavender is a trigger for me. I’ve also talked with a few formulators who’ve said that the strains of lavender that brands are using, as we produce more to accommodate the demand, are getting stronger (they’re blends of different types of lavender), which could be part of the sensitivity! And I hear you on the buying products and nothing helping – I’ve been there! Honestly, a skin cleanse (like from this book) also helps me when my skin is cranky. I just let it lie for a day or two, no products at all.

      When I AM having a flare up, I revert back to these tried and true products:
      Heritage Store Rosewater Face MistActivist Skincare Calming Force Serum
      Prima’s The Afterglow
      I also love LILFOX’s Cupu Cool Jelly Balm for when things are SUPER inflamed.

      For sure skip anything exfoliating or anything with acids. The simpler the ingredient list, the better (as long as that list doesn’t include anything you’re allergic or sensitive to!).

      None of these have ever flared up my skin, and I depend on them to take things back to basics! I do this simple routine in the morning and evening for three to four days, or until my skin calms down. LMK if you need more recs!

  10. Reply

    Melinda Elyaderani

    Do you have any experience with the solawave wand? Any suggestions on which products to uses with it if you aren’t a fan of their serum? I don’t know which products are good for conductivity snd the what to use after. Thank you!

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Hi Melinda! No I haven’t used that devise but my friend Suzi has and she blogs about clean beauty too, you can DM her! xo, Lisa

  11. Reply

    Melissa Johns

    Hey Nicolle!

    Could you share a little bit more about your preference for the Stoic Beauty Agathos over Le Prunier and even Maya Chia’s Naked Plum (which I think you’ve mentioned in a previous post)?

    I have tried LP and MC and have stuck work MC but the price of the Stoic blend is very interesting!

    Thank you so much! Love y’all both, so much!

    1. Reply

      Nicolle Mackinnon

      Hi Melissa! So glad you asked! Part of my love of the Stoic Beauty Agathos is the texture. I found the MC one a little thinner in viscosity and the Le Prunier a little thicker; the Stoic Beauty blend is that Goldilocks texture to me – not too thick, absorbs easily and doesn’t leave too much shine on my skin. Also, my skin just liked it better! The MC blend and the Le Prunier never seemed to do anything noticeable to my skin, but the Stoic Beauty plum oil calms redness, helps decrease sensitivity and helps my skin feel moisturized. Plus, I like the scent of it the best! And, as you mentioned, the price point is incredible. If you try it, let us know! Xo, Nic

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