How parabens affect sensitive skin - Garnier SkinActive How parabens affect sensitive skin - Garnier SkinActive

How alcohol, parabens and fragrance can affect sensitive skin

Alcohol, parabens and fragrance are in many products on the skin care market. Chances are high that you’ve used or owned a skin care product that contains these ingredients. They can perform beneficial functions in moisturizers, cleansers and more — they can prolong the shelf-life of your product, produce a lightweight finish on your skin or improve the smell of the product making for a more sensorial usage experience. However, on certain skin types these three ingredients can cause discomfort, irritation and blemishes. We’re looking at why skin care products contain these three ingredients, and why you should potentially avoid them if you have sensitive skin.


There is widespread use of parabens in cosmetic products, as they can help prolong product integrity and the shelf life of your skin care product. According to the FDA, “Chemically, parabens are esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid. The most common parabens used in cosmetic products are methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben. Typically, more than one paraben is used in a product, and they are often used in combination with other types of preservatives to provide preservation against a broad range of microorganisms.”

Very rarely sensitive skin can be impacted negatively by parabens, which can cause adverse reactions such as redness, irritations or breakouts. Many products exist with parabens at low levels or as a consumer you can avoid parabens all together just to play it safe.

“Parabens are used as preservatives,” says Dr. Angelike Galdi, Chief Scientific Advisor of Garnier SkinActive’s skin care labs. “They keep skincare products from growing bacteria, fungus and other microbes. Parabens are used at very low levels, and generally should not affect skin. There are other preservatives available besides parabens, so depending on consumer preference, they can choose paraben-free products.“


Alcohols are used in many skin care products although they are not always the same type of alcohols. There are simple alcohols such as isopropyl or ethanol, and fatty alcohol which are thicker in nature and have names such as cetyl or behenyl. Fatty alcohols are derived from oils and can have moisturizing qualities on skin. Simple alcohols are derived from sugars and starches and antiseptic and antibacterial functions. They can also accelerate how quickly a product dries on your skin.

Simple alcohols can dry out your skin and also impair your barrier function particularly if your skin is already weakened, dry or sensitive. “Alcohol dehydrates the skin by evaporation of water and a breakdown of lipids in our skin's top layer,” says Garnier consulting dermatologist Dr. Diane Madfes. “This causes a disruption of our epidermal carrier and increased skin sensitivity.”


Fragrance is added to many products so that they smell pleasant to the consumer or mask other unpleasant scents contained within a product. Fragrance can also be used in products to be mood-enhancing, invigorating, energizing, or soothing.

According to the FDA “some individuals may be allergic or sensitive to certain ingredients in cosmetics, food, or other products, even if those ingredients are safe for most people. Some components of fragrance formulas may have a potential to cause allergic reactions or sensitivities for some people.”

Fragrance can affect certain skin types negatively but there ways to safeguard your skin from irritations. You will need to take some extra precautions if you have sensitive skin.

“Fragrance can be an irritant and stimulates a release of inflammatory mediators leading to redness, itchy skin and sometimes hives,” says Dr. Madfes. “Not all fragrances cause irritation to the same degree. Dry skin is definitely more susceptible to irritant reactions. If you are concerned, test a product on a small portion of your arm daily for one week. If you have no reaction, then you can use it on your face.”

Exercise caution and don’t forget to patch test if your skin is frequently irritated or prone to breakouts.

Alcohol, Paraben, and Fragrance-Free Products For Sensitive Skin

If your skin is sensitive and reacts easily to these ingredients, there are many products that you can use that don’t contain alcohol, parabens or fragrance. When it comes to cleanser, the best cleanser for you is a gentle one that doesn’t dry out your skin, irritate your complexion or harm your barrier function. Garnier SkinActive MiCellar Cleansing Water is suitable for even sensitive skin. It removes makeup and cleanses skin with no rinsing or harsh rubbing. Always follow cleansing with moisturizing. Garnier SkinActive Moisture Rescue Actively Hydrating Daily Lotion Fragrance-Free SPF15 is formulated without fragrances and will hydrate your skin without irritating it. Your sensitive skin will feel stronger and look healthier. By using the right products and avoiding ingredients that can harm your sensitive skin, you will avoid tightness, flakiness and irritation on your skin.

Skin Care Routine Without Fragrance and Alcohol

1. Cleansing

It’s important to cleanse your skin in the mornings and evenings. Sometimes people with sensitive skin avoid cleansing in fear it will make them break out. If your skin is sensitive to ingredients such as fragrance or alcohol, you can still find products that can easily cleanse your skin without making it feel tight or irritated. A great alcohol- and fragrance-free cleanser is Garnier SkinActive MiCellar Cleansing Water which easily dissolves dirt, make up and oil from your face. Just apply the lotion cleanser to two cotton pads and gently wipe across your face, no water or rinsing necessary. It contains powerful cleansing agents that can dissolve waterproof mascara and impurities without irritating your skin. Use this cleanser morning and night to clean skin without harming it.

2. Mist

A great way to refresh and cool off sensitive skin throughout the day is with a soothing mist. Use it after cleansing or carry it with you to calm your skin or throughout the day. It can be a great way to lock in extra moisture before you moisturize particularly if you have dry and sensitive skin. Just make sure to apply moisturizer shortly after spritzing to capture the water particles onto your skin.

3. Moisturizer

For sensitive skin it’s important to find a moisturizer that can hydrate and moisturize but that does not make your skin feel irritated by containing fragrance. Garnier SkinActive Moisture Rescue Actively Hydrating Daily Lotion Fragrance-Free SPF15 has a moisturizing and non-comedogenic formula compatible with sensitive skin types. Its formula is infused with glycerin which helps strengthen your skin's barrier to protect against moisture loss, and can keep your complexion hydrated all day. Use this product in the mornings before you head out for the day as it will protect your skin from the sun. The sun can trigger sensitive skin for breakouts and irritation and with this product you will be preventing premature aging, sunburn and the sun negatively impacting your sensitive skin.

4. Should You Exfoliate

Exfoliation with a harsh or abrasive product can wreak havoc on sensitive skin as can cause irritation, redness and inflammation. This is particularly true of products that are very granular and contain crystals, sands or salts, which can harm sensitive skin. Instead opt for more gentley exfoliating ingredients such as oatmeal or rice. Scrubs with these ingredients will gently lift dead skin cells, dirt and grime from your skin without harming your skin’s delicate barrier function and irritating your skin. Another option for you to exfoliate sensitive skin is to use a chemical exfoliator, rather than a mechanical exfoliator which can irritate skin. Look for a gentle product with acids or enzymes specifically formulated for sensitive skin, ideally a fragrance-free product. Apply to damp skin and leave on as long as instructed on the packaging then gently wash off with lukewarm water. Your skin should feel soft and refreshed after exfoliating, however if it feels irritated or tight you may have a product that is too harsh for your sensitive skin. It can be a challenge to find a product that’s gentle enough for your skin, especially if you have very sensitive skin. Once you find a product that’s good for you use it once or twice a week to make your skin more radiant and luminous. It can help your complexion look more energized and more even-toned.