UNDERSTANDING SENSITIVE SKIN
Many people tell us they have sensitive skin. The question is...sensitive to what? Sensitive skin is a lay term rather than a medical diagnosis.
Some people are simply born with sensitive skin, and research shows this skin type is often genetic. For many, the causes of sensitive skin can be traced back to skincare.
If you notice redness, burning, itching or stinging after applying a product, your skin could be reacting to something in the ingredients list.
Some people truly have thin or a fine-textured sensitive skin. Since it reacts quickly to both heat and cold, sensitive skin sunburns and windburns easily. It is often dry, delicate and prone to allergic reactions.
Other people have skin that is simply sensitive to its environment. Seasonal temperature and humidity changes, very hot water, detergent soaps, synthetic fragrances and colors, preservatives, alcohol (used on the skin), and other artificial additives cause irritation or inflammation, which leads to red, blotchy, and itchy skin.
Are there different types of sensitivity?
Just like there are varying degrees of severity for oiliness, dryness, and acne, there are also different levels of sensitive skin. Sensitive skin can generally be divided into four main types:
- Naturally sensitive skin: This one is genetic, and can be linked to inflammatory skin conditions like eczema, rosacea, and psoriasis.
- Environmentally sensitive skin: As its name implies, this type of sensitivity is triggered by your environment. Sun exposure, cigarette smoke, air pollution - anything your skin comes into contact with might send it into a stinging, irritating frenzy.
- Reactive skin: This type of skin becomes red and inflamed by skin-care products, resulting in very red, warm, and irritated skin.
- Thin skin: As we age, our skin naturally becomes thinner, and thinner skin is easier to irritate.
Most Sensitive Skins Have Triggers
If you have sensitive skin, you may already know some of the “triggers” that create reactions on your skin. There are some common, ones, however, that you may not be aware of. Some well known triggers that can make sensitive skin react include:
• Temperature changes
• Chemical and/or synthetic fragrances
(and formaldehyde releasing preservatives like urea, quaternium-15, and DMDM hydantoin)
• Cosmetics and soaps
• Propylene glycol and ethanol
• Fragrances (the #1 allergen and irritant in cosmetics)
• Bismuth oxychloride and mica (light-refracting ingredients found in makeup)
• Hormonal imbalances
• Rubber latex
• 4-tert-butylphenol in cosmetics (lip liners), plastics, and lacquers
• Chemicals used in pesticides and herbicides
• Menthol and peppermint
• Gold and silver metals
Some people who have allergies to natural trees and grasses, such as ragweed, can also develop allergies to essential oils like chamomile and calendula, since these are cross-reactive ragweed allergens.
Check your labels!
Others can gradually become sensitized to certain skin care products that have formaldehyde, particularly after using them for awhile. This is why it’s important to always be careful about the ingredients in your product, as some harsh chemicals and preservatives can sometimes create skin sensitivity over time as you use them.
Lifestyle Factors to Help Sensitive Skin
Sensitive skin types can benefit from some lifestyle changes that may help protect your skin. First, if you have allergic reactions, check with your allergy doctor. A patch test may reveal exactly what ingredients you are allergic to, so you can avoid these in the future.
Other steps you can try to protect your skin include:
Think of sensitive skin as fragile skin—it needs protection always. Use hats, clothing, and safe sunscreen. Protect from the wind with scarves.
Not in your body, necessarily, though of course you can, but we’re talking here about your home. Get rid of the toxic elements as much as you can, as the more you cut back, the less likely your body (and skin) will be to react. Get rid of chemical and environmental irritants in your personal care items, laundry items, household cleaners, furniture, paint, etc.
Sensitive skin is typically dry, which means that it’s vulnerable to attack. Keep it moisturised always.
Always take your makeup off
Do not sleep in your makeup! Even the most natural products can become clogged in your pores and cause irritation. Use a gentle cleanser and then put on your moisturizing night cream so your skin has a chance to recover.
Be wary of bacteria
This means replacing your washcloth and pillowcase more often, and tossing out old makeup and cosmetic products. Wash your makeup brushes often and let them air dry.
Consider a shower filter
Many sources of city water may contain chlorine or other chemicals that can cause your skin to react. A shower filter can help cut down on your exposure to these chemicals.
When you’re trying a new product, always test it on your wrist, arm, or behind the ear first before putting it on your face or more broadly on your body.
Avoid your triggers
As much as you can, avoid triggers like lanolin, harsh soaps, alcohols, chemicals, fragrances, and the like. Learn to read labels on your skin care products.
Use a humidifier
Unless you live in a humid climate, use a humidifier to help your skin stay moisturized.
Don’t be fooled
Any manufacturer of personal care products can put “hypo-allergenic” on their label. It doesn’t mean you will not have an allergic reaction to it, so always test it first.
Daily Routine for Sensitive Skin
With sensitive skin, the keys are “gentle” and “non-toxic.” Keep these two terms in mind whenever you’re shopping for new products, or thinking about trying home-based remedies.
Wash gently and naturally
Stay away from all harsh cleansers, particularly soaps and cleansers that have sulfates, alcohols, and preservatives in them. All of these can not only make your skin react, but will contribute to dryness, fine lines, and wrinkles. You need a gentle, natural formula that will clean while soothing and calming.
You can also try using straight coconut milk with cucumber juice and a little honey or tea tree oil. No matter what you use, if it leaves your skin feeling tight, try something else.
Sensitive skin types should stay away from regular toner, as it’s usually drying, irritating, or harsh. Instead, what you need after cleansing is something that will help restore balance to your skin that cleansing disrupted.
You can try cool green tea, or regular rosewater, which are both helpful for occasional redness.
Moisturize and calm
Like dry skin types, sensitive skin needs regular moisture. In addition to moisture, however, you need ingredients that will calm. So you’re looking for your moisturizer to hydrate and soothe.
Add to your weekly routine
In addition to your daily routine, take these steps every week for more glowing, hydrated skin:
Exfoliate with the utmost caution!
All skin needs exfoliation, but sensitive skin types can be further damaged by it if you’re not careful. Avoid harsh scrubs and choose natural exfoliators instead (we are working on a product).
This product helps exfoliate while still moisturizing and soothing. Oatmeal and water can also be used. Try once or twice a week, depending on how your skin reacts. Avoid microdermabrasion and other harsh treatments, however.
Sensitive skin needs nourishment even more than other skin types. Here again, the key is “soothing.” You want a mask that’s going to calm and balance. You can use mixing plain yogurt with oatmeal and leaving on the skin 10-15 minutes, or mix heavy whipping cream with brewed tea and honey.
Sensitive skin ages just like other skins, and often shows fine line and wrinkles even more quickly. Try mixing strawberries with yogurt instead, and leave that on your skin for a few minutes. Strawberries have natural hydroxy acids. You can also try salicylic acid, as it’s more gentle than the other types.
LASTLY, AVOID THE FOLLOWING:
Since there are varying degrees and causes of sensitive skin, everyone is different. A dermatologist is your best bet for figuring out your own individual trigger. However, generally speaking, those with sensitive skin would be wise to avoid using personal care products that contain fragrances and dyes.
The same rules apply to the skin on your body — even using laundry detergent that is heavily scented or contains dye can cause a reaction, so choosing detergents that are formulated specifically for sensitive skin.
Exfoliants such as glycolic, salicylic acid, and retinoids, and creams with multiple ingredients should be avoided. Isopropyl alcohol and chemical sunscreens are also common irritants. Another potential trigger is the way you go about your skin-care routine — specifically, the cleansing step. Do not rub or scrub, washing too often will irritate sensitive skin and cause excessive dryness. Instead, stick with mild, gentle cleansers.
Wearing makeup isn't necessarily a total no-go, as long as you choose cosmetics that won't provoke irritation. Seek out mineral makeup and silicone-based foundation and generally choosing cosmetics with fewer preservatives and shorter ingredient lists.
Do not use waterproof cosmetics, you need a special cleanser to remove them. For the rest of your eye makeup, use pencils instead of liquid eyeliners; the latter can contain latex, which can cause allergic reactions.
One last cosmetics tip: Toss out any and all products that have been sitting around for too long. The longer they sit in your medicine cabinet, the more likely they can become spoiled or contaminated.
Learn more about the products to use for Sensitive skin here.