Ask a Beauty Editor: The Best Anti-Inflammatory Ingredients for Irritated Skin

If your skin gets irritated after cleansing, there’s one probable culprit.

Ever wanted to pick the brain of a beauty editor? Or get beauty product recommendations from someone who has tried them all? You've come to the right place. In our weekly series, beauty editor Hana Hong answers your biggest skincare, hair care, and makeup questions, all submitted by Real Simple readers.

Reader question: I have inflammation when cleansing, and I know it's not from the products I currently use. Are there any types of ingredients or products I can apply that help lessen inflammation? — Erin Smith

Inflammation can mean a lot of different things, but skinflammation (inflammation of the skin) is especially tricky to pinpoint. For starters, it can manifest in a number of ways, such as redness, dark spots, itching, breakouts, and/or swelling. And even if you haven't added any new products into the mix, an overwhelming number of environmental factors could trigger skinflammation, making it even harder to root out.

Hard Water

If your inflammation is chronic, only happens when cleansing, and you've already ruled out products, I'm guessing you probably have sensitivity to hard water. That's a term used to describe tap water that's high in dissolved minerals, largely calcium and magnesium. Some areas of the United States have higher concentrations of hardness in their water, whereas other areas have less.

Over time, this skin residue can disrupt the skin barrier. It causes your pores to clog up, which can lead to acne and exacerbate skin conditions like eczema and dermatitis. If you've noticed that your skin improves dramatically when you travel elsewhere, or that your face wash and body wash don't lather as well at home, there's a high chance that your water is to blame.

Water Filtration

What to do? First, I recommend getting a good mineral filter for your faucet and showerhead. This can help screen out the minerals that are triggering your irritation. Also try cleansing with micellar water whenever possible, which effectively cleanses skin without requiring you to wash your face. When you do use the sink, always use cool water—never hot.

And of course, there are general steps to take to counteract irritation. Keeping a simple skincare routine that focuses less on exfoliation and more on moisturizing/calming is essential for treating inflammation. Whatever you do, don't pile on a bunch of products (especially anything fragranced) as this will most likely make things worse.

Beneficial Ingredients

So what ingredients should you use to combat irritation? The right anti-inflammatory ingredients work by inhibiting the body's negative response and blocking the effects of certain enzymes that contribute to inflammation. I'm sure the last thing you want to do is experiment with already irritated skin, so I've compiled a list of soothing ingredients that are ideal for sensitive complexions.

01 of 08


Niacinamide, also known as vitamin B3, is an anti-inflammatory ingredient that reduces redness and is often used in moisturizers for dry skin. Several of our favorite night creams also contain niacinamide. It's a choice brightening ingredient, too, combating hyperpigmentation by blocking the transfer of pigment from the pigment-producing cells (melanocytes) to the skin cells on the surface where discoloration is visible, according to Kenneth Howe, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City.

Try: Glossier Super Pure ($29;

02 of 08

Aloe Vera

Aloe vera has a very long track record as a skin-soothing agent. Not only is it moisturizing and protective, but it's also rich in essential amino acids, fatty acids, and vitamins A, C, E, and B-12, which create a protective barrier and locks in moisture (without contributing to skin oiliness).

"Aloe vera has been shown to decrease a chemical called thromboxane, which is known to slow down wound healing," explains Rachel Nazarian, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City. And as an added benefit, it also contains magnesium lactate, a chemical that can decrease itching and irritation.

Try: Nature Republic New Soothing Moisture Aloe Vera Gel ($8;

03 of 08

Witch Hazel

Witch hazel is a naturally cleansing, soothing, and healing extract full of compounds known as gallic acid and tannins. These compounds contain conditioning properties that help calm and maintain the skin's moisture balance.

"Witch hazel toner can be used on all skin types after cleansing to eliminate excess oil, calm inflammation, unclog pores, and smooth complexion," says Kavita Mariwalla, MD, board-certified dermatologist in West Islip, New York. She recommends Dickinson's toner infused with rosewater (bonus: rosewater also has anti-inflammatory properties).

Try: Dickinson's Enhanced Witch Hazel Hydrating Toner with Rosewater ($6;

04 of 08

Sea Buckthorn Oil

Sea buckthorn oil is an unsung hero in the skincare industry. According to studies, it contains a rare palmitoleic acid (omega-7), which stimulates cellular regeneration in the epidermis. That's why it's often applied topically in hospitals to soothe skin burns, chafed skin, and bedsores (although you can find it in skincare products too).

"Using this powerhouse fruit daily helps nourish the tissues in your skin and body, hydrating your complexion and preventing wrinkles," says Elina Fedotova, cosmetic chemist, celebrity esthetician, and owner of Elina Organics Skincare & Spas. "It's also a very promising treatment for rosacea and other adjacent skin conditions."

Try: The Ordinary 100% Organic Virgin Sea-Buckthorn Fruit Oil ($17;

05 of 08


Calendula is a natural oil extracted from marigold flowers native to the Mediterranean region. This sweet juice contains flavonoids with antiseptic properties and carries anti-inflammatory abilities that help heal wounds and calm eczema. Calendula's skin-soothing benefits can also be attributed to its ability to limit trans-epidermal water loss, which in turn strengthens the skin's defenses against potential irritants.

Try: Kiehl's Calendula Deep Cleansing Foaming Face Wash ($33;

06 of 08


You may sip on chamomile tea to chill out before bedtime, but it can also have the same effect on skin when applied topically. The anti-inflammatory herb contains high levels of an antioxidant known as apigenin that has many health benefits. Some research shows that chamomile helps block signals in the body known as prostaglandins, which are responsible for inflammation.

Try: Naturopathica Chamomile Cleansing Milk ($34;

07 of 08

Tiger Grass

Tigers in India have been known to heal their trauma wounds and infections by rolling around in this herb plant (hence the name), which is native to the wetlands in Asia. Also known as cica, or sometimes gotu kola, tiger grass has the plant extract centella asiatica as its active ingredient.

"Known for its antioxidant properties, the plant is rich in amino acids, beta-carotene, and fatty acids. Together, these are great for restoring the skin moisture barrier, protecting against external pollutants, and increasing collagen production," says Ife Rodney, MD, board-certified dermatologist of Eternal Dermatology.

And the best part? Its true power lies not in the leaf but in its water, which is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. In fact, it's even been used to treat serious conditions, like leprosy, lupus, and ulcers.

Try: Dr. Jart+ Cicapair Tiger Grass Color Correcting Treatment SPF 30 ($52;

08 of 08


Love or hate the trend, CBD does work wonders for some people with inflammation. The modern CBD craze can be fatiguing (and to be honest, potentially dangerous considering it's unregulated by the FDA), but there's a lot to be said for the anti-inflammatory properties found in high-quality CBD.

When applied to skin, it interacts with skin receptors to turn down its inflammatory response. In short, you may see less redness and itching, and even help treat eczema and psoriasis, per a study published in Clinical Therapeutics. That said, always choose dermatologist-trusted brands and track where your CBD is coming from to ensure it's not contaminated with toxins and pesticides.

Try: Lord Jones Acid Mantle Repair Moisturizer With 250mg CBD and Ceramides ($75;

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