No wipes, ever: How to cleanse sensitive skin

Keep it simple, with warm water, a muslin cloth and a gentle cleanser

Since starting on prescription retinol creams several months ago, I have found my already sensitive skin more troublesome than ever. It was always prone to the odd hysterical fit during times of seasonal change, but retinol has made skincare feel like a high wire walk. Balance, when achieved, is majestic. It means smooth, clear, bright skin. But a stiff breeze or a loss of focus for just a moment and it all starts to plummet. Red, itchy skin. Puffy eyelids. Breakouts or pervasive dehydration and little peeling patches which act as gathering areas for foundation, making me look more tired and unravelled than I actually feel.

You don’t need to be a retinol user to experience sensitive skin. Ireland has long boasted — among our many other unique gifts — the highest rosacea rates in Europe. A lot of us have reactive, sensitive skin, often sensitised further by skincare ingredients such as acids or retinol, and at this time of year when temperatures change and heating goes on (much as we are all delaying that inevitability), this sensitivity can get even worse.

When skin is feeling sensitive, cleansing becomes more important than ever. There are a number of insane videos going around TikTok which feature intense young women engaging in incredibly elaborate cleansing rituals, but there are limits. Cleansing is important. Doing it properly will optimise the health and condition of your skin, and improper or insufficient cleansing will cause inevitable problems. But it’s only cleansing — you don’t need to leave your cleanser on the skin for more than 30 seconds (depending on the product, doing this could cause more harm than good). You don’t need brushes or electronic devices for washing your face. You don’t need to wash your face eight times in the morning.

You need warm — never hot — running water, a decent flannel (or muslin if you prefer), and a simple cleanser which won’t compromise your skin barrier, leave residue on your skin, or strip it, leaving it feeling thirsty and taut.


If you’re already in the midst of a skin tantrum, Environ Skin EssentiA Mild Cleansing Lotion (€47 at is gentle, comforting, non-foaming and highly effective. It won’t make things worse and will help to get your skin back on the right track. REN Evercalm Gentle Cleansing Milk (€27 at is another lovely, gentle option for sensitive and sensitised skin, soothing and leaving skin clean but not irritated or stripped. Dr Sam’s Flawless Cleanser (€19 at is one of my daily go-tos. It’s a highly effective non-foaming gel cleanser that works effectively and doesn’t irritate, even when my skin is broken out or hot and fussy after overenthusiastic retinol use.

Finally, I’m not big on rules, but if I had unlimited power over the beautyverse, I would outlaw make-up wipes. They don’t work (remove your make-up with one, then cleanse properly with a flannel and see how much make-up is still on your face!), are irritating to the skin, and they’re inefficient. Keep a micellar water and some cotton pads by the bed for those can’t be bothered nights. CeraVe Hydrating Micellar Water (€11 at pharmacies nationwide) is ideal.

Laura Kennedy

Laura Kennedy

Laura Kennedy is a contributor to The Irish Times