Is your skin freaking out right now? Regardless of your skin type, it can become sensitive from time to time – which can be such a pain when a big event is coming. What gives? Well unfortunately, a number of factors are to blame for a seemingly life-long battle against inflammation, sudden skin flushing, itching, and niggling reactions to almost everything that touches your skin (or that is what it felt like).
What can you do to keep your skin feeling its best? How can you thwart skin sensitivity and finally enjoy days of good skin bliss? Read on to find the answers.
The Cause of Sensitive Skin
While several factors can trigger skin sensitivity, it all boils down to one culprit: a compromised skin barrier. The stratum corneum – a specialized layer that forms the outermost layer of your skin (epidermis) – acts as your body’s protective barrier with one tough job of keeping harmful substances out and protecting what lies within (locking moisture in). It is constantly hard at work, and sometimes your skin barrier does not function at its best – it can be thinned, weakened or damaged, which leaves your skin susceptible to irritants like allergens and harsh chemicals. “The stratum corneum is a vital front-line defense, protecting us against the perils of the environment: UV, pollution, infection, toxic chemicals and so on,” explains cosmetic dermatologist, Dr. Sam Bunting.
Factors That Trigger Skin Sensitivity:
More people are now reporting that their skin is sensitive. In fact, more than 50 percent of women categorize themselves as having sensitive skin. The reason for this is believed to be the use of different skin care products, specifically those that are formulated to fight skin aging.
Here are the reasons your skin barrier becomes thin, weak or damaged. You need to be careful with these factors if you want to prevent skin irritation and other adverse events.
1) The Environment
As the season changes, you should modify your skin care regimen accordingly. During winter, the cold weather outside combined with central heating indoors quickly dehydrates your skin. This is why sensitivity reactions are more common during this season. During this time of the year, you need to moisturize your skin more often and use a richer and more nourishing product. You should also factor in the sun’s harmful rays, which can damage the barrier of your skin. Aside from wearing sunscreen, you can also protect your skin by using an antioxidant serum.
2) Dirt and Pollution
Smoke, dust, exhaust fumes, etc. can irritate your skin, but the problem is that these are not easy to avoid. Airborne pollution constantly sticks to your skin, which is then absorbed and it wreaks havoc in the inner layers. This will eventually weaken the natural barrier and leave the skin more sensitive. Proper cleansing and moisturizing can help protect your skin from irritants.
Speaking of cleansing, it is a little more complicated than buying a cleanser and using it two to three times a day. Using the wrong product can irritate your skin and leave it sore so you should be very careful in choosing a cleanser. Also, avoid over-cleansing and make sure that the product you buy doesn’t use harsh ingredients. The right product, when used correctly, can help improve your skin’s barrier function, which will reduce its sensitivity. More tips in choosing a cleanser and other skin care products for sensitive skin will be covered later on.
4) Hard Water
High levels of minerals like calcium, iron and magnesium, can be found in hard water. This is the reason there are signs of hard water in sinks, taps and kettles (lime scale). Sensitive skin can be easily irritated when washed with hard water – the solution to this problem is to install a water filter for your shower and faucet.
5) Your Raging Hormones
This factor frequently affects women and it usually manifests around the menstrual cycle. Women who are pregnant can also suffer from skin issues like melasma aside from general sensitivity. However, men with hormonal problems can also experience skin sensitivity. There are medications and topical formulations that can be used to calm the skin and prevent reactions. Consult your physician or dermatologist if you suspect that this is the cause of your skin’s sensitivity.
6) Stress and Lifestyle
Problems at work or home can cause high levels of stress, which disrupts hormone production and has a negative effect on your skin. It affects the skin’s normal function and can weaken its protective barrier as well, dehydrating it and allowing irritants to enter. Lack of sleep, working in a very hot or cold place, and smoking can also have a significant impact on your skin’s health. Exposure to chemicals, such as chlorine in swimming pools, can also cause skin irritation and other problems.
7) Diet and Hydration
Aside from what is applied directly on your skin, sensitivity also depends on the food that you consume. Eating a balanced diet rich in skin-beneficial nutrients (like omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E) can help keep your skin healthy and free of problems. Contrariwise, some people can experience itching, rashes and other skin reactions from eating certain food. Internal dehydration can also contribute to your skin becoming dry so make sure to drink plenty of water, especially during hot weather or when you perform physical activities.
8) Ingredients in Topical Products
If you have sensitive skin, you should be very careful with the products that you apply to it. Watch out for dyes, artificial fragrance, and harsh chemicals that can irritate your skin. Remember that just because an ingredient is natural doesn’t mean it can’t cause irritation. Before buying any skin care product, you should carefully scrutinize its ingredients and check for common irritants. Read reviews from people who have tried it as well, and if possible, test it first on a small area of your skin before purchasing.
9) Clothes and Accessories
Aside from products that are applied topically, clothing and other objects that come into contact with your skin can also cause sensitivity reactions. One example is nickel, which can cause skin irritation in a lot of people. The washing detergent and conditioner you’re using may also cause reactions if you have highly sensitive skin. On a positive note, there are gentler formulations like those that use natural, organic ingredients only – these are typically more suitable for sensitive skin.
10) Cleaning Products
Most household cleaning products contain irritants so you should wear gloves before handling these substances. Even dish washing liquids and air fresheners can contain chemicals that irritate sensitive skin. To avoid problems, opt for mild formulations or even those that use natural active ingredients – these have a much smaller chance of causing side effects on your skin.
As you get older, your skin’s natural barrier gets weaker so dryness becomes more common. Aside from drying up, your skin also becomes less resilient so irritants are able to penetrate its barrier easily. You can address this factor by using anti-aging formulations, such as night creams and eye serums, to slow down and reverse skin aging, which will help reduce sensitivity.
12) Skin Color
In general, you have a weaker skin barrier if you have fairer or paler skin – this makes it more prone to irritation, redness and rashes. If this is the case, you should be a lot more careful with the products that you use on your skin.
13) Skin Disorders
There are many skin conditions that make your skin more sensitive, such as rosacea, eczema and allergic contact dermatitis. If you have any of these disorders, you should be aware of your triggers or the things that cause flare-ups (negative reactions). Some examples are caffeine, spicy food, and chemicals. Work with your skin care professional to better manage your condition.
Signs and Symptoms of Sensitive Skin:
However, just because you experienced some kind of sensitivity reaction doesn’t mean you have sensitive skin. Here are common symptoms to help determine if you really have this skin type:
1. Taut and Itchy Skin
These symptoms usually mean you are using a cleanser that’s too strong. According to experts, a harsh cleanser is the top reason for unnecessary irritation. Most soaps and cleansers contain strong detergents and other harmful chemicals that can damage the natural lipids in the skin. This results in moisture loss and at the same time allows irritants to enter your skin easily. Then suddenly, products you’ve been using for a long time can now irritate your skin.
2. Burning and Stinging
A common mistake people make is using too many products, specifically those that claim to have anti-aging effects. Remember that the more products you use, the higher the chance that one (or several) ingredients will cause sensitivity problems. Moreover, you may be using active ingredients that have the same effect, such as hydroxy acids and retinoids – they both exfoliate the skin, which can leave it more prone to irritation (when the two are used).
3. Blushing and Flushing
Often accompanied by small, red pimples, blushing and flushing tend to occur because of conditions like rosacea; this happens when blood vessels swell and the slightest agitation can cause redness. The common triggers are heat, cold, wind, spicy foods and stress – avoiding these is the key to managing this skin disorder.
4. Scaly, Rough Patches
Eczema flare-ups cause these symptoms because of a compromised skin barrier that allows water to easily escape. Aside from the skin drying up, irritants can also effortlessly enter the skin and cause inflammation. However, just because you regularly suffer from dry skin doesn’t mean you have eczema; dryness can also make your skin more sensitive.
5. Puffiness, Redness and Wrinkles Around Your Eyes
When these symptoms seem to appear overnight, you may be using a bad eye cream. Your nail polish may also be to blame because of the formaldehyde and toluene it contains – when you rub or touch your eyes constantly, a reaction can develop. Fragrances in skin care products, such as scented lotions, can also cause these symptoms.
6. Small, Red Bumps
If you get tiny bumps that are itchy, you are probably having an allergic reaction to a topical product. Watch out for these common irritants in skin care products: alcohol, artificial dyes, fragrance, parabens and preservatives. This reaction can also be due to a strong detergent or fabric conditioner that you’re using on your clothes.
How to Diagnose Sensitive Skin
Dermatologist can determine if you have sensitive skin by asking about your symptoms. In case allergy is suspected, patch testing can identify what you’re allergic to.
What is the Treatment for Sensitive Skin?
There is no cure for sensitive skin but it can be managed, which will help prevent reactions from occurring. Here are simple steps to do so:
- Treat the underlying skin condition that is causing it.
- Ease the symptoms (itchiness, redness, etc.) using a soothing topical formulation or one that reduces inflammation.
- Prevent flare-ups by knowing your triggers and avoiding them. For example, you may want to avoid fragranced skin care products or those that contain alcohol.
Strengthen Your Sensitive Skin
Once your skin develops a reaction, its outermost layer is already compromised so other problems are more likely to occur – this is a seemingly endless cycle. Fortunately, you can improve your skin’s barrier function and reduce the risk of sensitivity reactions by following these tips:
1. Keep Skin Care Simple
A very common mistake is having a complicated skin care routine with several products and procedures. Watch out for ingredients that are known to cause irritation (these will be covered in detail in the next part) and cut out unnecessary products. Additionally, make sure to only use formulations that are designed for sensitive skin.
2. Exfoliate Carefully
You shouldn’t skip exfoliation altogether if you have sensitive skin because this is still an important part of your regimen. However, avoid harsh formulations and make sure to choose products that only use gentle, natural ingredients, such as glycolic acid, kojic acid and lactic acid.
3. Do Not Use Scrubs
You don’t really need physical exfoliation so throw away those brushes and hard cleansing cloths. In fact, using these can do more harm than good as they are usually too harsh for sensitive skin. Aside from irritating your skin, more serious problems like infection can occur as well.
4. Read Product Labels Carefully
Even if you don’t have sensitive skin, you should check the ingredients of a product before applying it topically. Some formulations contain chemicals that can cause redness, dryness and irritation. There are also active ingredients you should look for like niacinamine, which boosts the production of ceramide and improves your skin’s lipid barrier function.
5. Always Be pH-Conscious
Watch out for detergents, which are known for stripping the skin’s natural oils and leaving it susceptible to irritation. They also throw the skin’s pH balance off and disrupt its normal processes. Conversely, there are skin care products (like toners) that help restore the skin’s pH balance.
6. Use Cool Water for Cleansing
You should only wash your skin using tepid water; do not use hot water as this will strip its moisture. Generally, showers and baths should be short and warm water should be used – this will also prevent itching, which can further damage the surface of the skin.
7. Make Protection a Big Part of Your Regimen
Proper care for sensitive skin isn’t just about strengthening its barrier function; there are also ingredients that protect the skin to prevent sensitivity reactions. For instance, neutralizing free radicals is arguably one of the best ways to protect your skin from stressors. Of course, it is necessary to wear sunscreen properly before going out every day.
8. Manage Stress
Strengthen your skin from inside out; controlling your stress level helps enhance its natural healing process. Remember that your skin will not be able to heal itself optimally during stressful periods so you should get enough sleep, exercise regularly and relax, to keep your skin healthy.
9. Improve Your Diet
Eating a balanced, nutritious diet can help boost your skin health and at the same time reduce sensitivity. Skin care experts recommend a diet that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as flax seed, fish and walnuts. Food that is rich in vitamin E (almonds, yams, avocados, etc.) should also be consumed regularly to keep your skin in tip-top shape. There are skin-beneficial supplements as well, like skin restoring wheat ceramide capsules from Japan.
Ingredients People with Sensitive Skin Should Avoid
Caring for sensitive skin is not really that difficult with the right regimen. It is imperative to be aware of the components in topical formulations that you should avoid in order to avoid reactions. These ingredients are known irritants that you should watch out for:
- Alcohol – According to the top skin care experts today, this is the most common irritant used in skincare products. The problem is that most formulations use too much of it, which delivers a quick-dry finish but this usually strips your skin’s moisture – the result is irritation, itchiness and uncomfortable skin.
- Fragrance – Most products use synthetic fragrance that tends to react with sensitive skin, and this causes inflammation and compromises your skin’s inner layers. Choose fragrance-free products instead or look for those that use natural fragrance.
- Sodium/ammonium lauryl sulfate – Many reports are questioning how safe sulfates really are. These are used in facial washes to toothpastes and are recognized as one of the most common causes of irritation.
- Apricot kernels – Often used in natural exfoliating products, these are just too harsh for sensitive skin. You can use them on your knees, elbows and feet but the delicate skin on your face will only be damaged, and this will result in irritation.
- Chemicals in sunscreens – Instead of chemical, opt for physical sunscreen because chemicals like avobenzone can cause problems for sensitive skin.
- Petrochemicals – These are ingredients that are sourced from petroleum, such as mineral oil and liquid paraffin. They are used to create an oily layer and prevent moisture loss, but they can cause a build-up of product, clogging and the proliferation of bacteria – often, the end result is acne.
- Phthalates – Commonly listed as DBP or dinbuytl phthalate in ingredient lists, this is a carcinogen that also causes allergic reactions and eczema flare-ups. You should be aware that it is actually a plasticizing ingredient used in nail polish to increase pliability.
- Triclosan – A popular antibacterial agent used in soaps and hand sanitizers, this compound can irritate your skin and worsen rashes.
Recommended Ingredients for Sensitive Skin
Conversely, there are also components in skincare products that can help soothe and nourish sensitive skin. Look for these ingredients to reduce sensitivity symptoms:
- Hyaluronic Acid – This ultra-hydrating compound is light and it offers remarkable moisturizing benefits; it helps restore the youthful properties of the skin. It doesn’t just improve skin texture but also makes it suppler and helps reduce signs of aging.
- Glycerin – It has unique properties that make it one of the best emollients available. Most anti-aging products now use this impressive ingredient because of its ability to even out skin texture and boost its natural protective barrier.
- Eriobotrya Japonica Extract – A fruit extract that is naturally enriched with antioxidants and vitamins, it fights oxidative stress and calms inflammation. This ingredient has been shown to stimulate hyaluronic acid production as well. It is an ideal component of skincare ingredients, specifically those that are made to fight skin aging.
- Seaweed Extract – Many new ingredients in skincare products are sourced from the sea, such as this extract, which is known for its youth-boosting nutrients. This ingredient has been shown to provide powerful rejuvenating effects and at the same time calm/soothe inflammation – the two top symptoms of sensitive skin (redness and swelling) can be neutralized quickly.
- Jojoba Seed Oil – Well-known as a luxurious emollient that also has fast absorbing properties, this plant extract helps the skin retain moisture. It helps reduce inflammation and irritation as well, which is the reason it has become very popular today.
- Apricot Kernel Oil – Fatty acids (like the ones in this remarkable ingredient) can fortify the protective barrier of the skin and seal in moisture. It is also packed with antioxidants and nutrients that help fight premature aging of the skin.
- Squalane – It is a common skin care ingredient because of its ultra-moisturizing effect and non-oily texture. Aside from providing intense hydration, it also leaves the skin soft and smooth.
Can Sensitive Skin Be Prevented?
Because having sensitive skin is mostly hereditary, you can’t really prevent it. However, irritation and other adverse reactions can be avoided as long as you follow these rules:
- Use skin care products that are formulated for sensitive skin.
- Make protection a vital part of your skin care routine.
- Wash your face or take a shower using lukewarm water only.
- Use fragrance-free formulas and avoid those that contain harsh chemicals.
- Keep your skin moisturized with a product designed for sensitive skin.
- Take note of whatever causes a sensitivity reaction so you can avoid it.
- Stop touching or scratching your skin especially when you have a flare-up.
Sensitive Skin Do’s and Don’ts
- Do apply nourishing and moisturizing products that are made for sensitive skin (hypoallergenic).
- Do not use hot water to cleanse your skin.
- Do cleanse your skin properly.
- Do not use topical products that contain harsh chemicals.
- Do use lukewarm water to shower or wash your face.
- Do not use regular soap to wash your face.
- Do use a toner but make sure its alcohol content isn’t too high.
- Do not use skin care products that contain fragrance.
- Do use sunscreen daily (preferably SPF 30 at the highest to avoid irritating skin).
Frequently Asked Questions About Sensitive Skin
1) What’s The Medical Term For Sensitive Skin?
There’s no official medical term for this condition. As a matter of fact, sensitive skin is not a medical disorder; it is a layman term to describe frequent adverse reactions of the skin.
2) Does Diet Play a Role In Sensitive Skin?
Yes. There is a direct connection between your diet and skin health. Certain food types have been shown to trigger breakouts and there are also those that can cause instant skin irritation to some people. Nutritious, whole food can help your skin look its best and reduce the incidence of skin sensitivity.
3) Can a Moisturizer Help Sensitive Skin?
Yes. Some people with sensitive skin will benefit from using a gentle, non-fragranced moisturizer. This will relieve dryness and help prevent irritation.
4) Is There a Medical Test For Sensitive Skin?
Some skin care professionals order a skin patch test to determine what causes skin sensitivity reactions.
5) Should Men Be Concerned About Sensitive Skin?
Absolutely! This skin type is as common in men as it is in women.
6) What Types Of Cosmetics Should You Use For Sensitive Skin?
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, people with sensitive skin should:
- Use face powder with few preservatives.
- Use foundation that’s silicone-based.
- Avoid waterproof cosmetics since they need a strong cleanser for removal.
- Use black eyeliner and mascara because they tend to be less irritating.
- Avoid liquid eyeliners and use pencil eyeliner and eyebrow filler instead.
- Dispose of old cosmetics – they can become contaminated or spoil after a certain time period.
7) How Can You Test For Sensitivity Reactions When Using a New Skin Care Product?
For a few days, test it by applying a small amount behind one ear and then leave it on overnight. If no reaction occurs, do the same thing on a small area around an eye. If no reaction develops, you can start using it.
8) How Is Sensitive Skin Diagnosed?
Dermatologists usually check first if you have a condition, like rosacea, eczema or contact dermatitis. For allergies, skin patch tests are used. Your skin care regimen is also scrutinized to identify the possible cause/s of sensitivity, and other substances, especially household products are also taken into consideration.
9) Are “Hypoallergenic” Skin Care Formulations Better For Sensitive Skin?
Generally, yes. However, the term “hypoallergenic” can be used by skin care companies any way they want, because no federal standards govern its use.
10) Can You Outgrow Sensitive Skin?
There are conditions, such as eczema, that can be outgrown, but there are also those that are lifelong diseases (like psoriasis). The skin tends to be more sensitive between the ages 11 and 30 due to acne.
11) What Are The Most Common Causes Of Sensitive Skin Reactions?
In most cases, this condition is due to skin disorders or allergic skin reactions, including rosacea, eczema and allergic contact dermatitis. Another common cause of sensitive skin reactions is overly dry or damaged skin that doesn’t have enough protection. Environmental factors that can damage the skin (sun, wind and very low temperature) are also common triggers.
12) Is pH Balance Connected to Sensitive Skin?
Normally, your skin’s pH should be around 4.5 to 6.5, which makes it a little bit acidic. This is the optimal pH level because it maintains the skin’s acid mantle or protective barrier. The acid mantle keeps moisture and other essential substances in while keeping harmful compounds, such as dirt and chemicals, out. When your skin’s pH increases, it becomes more prone to problems like dryness and oiliness.
Take note that soap and other cleansers cause the alkalinity of your skin to increase, and this is why you shouldn’t use harsh soaps or cleanse too often. On the contrary, skin care products (like exfoliators and skin brighteners) can increase your skin’s acidity, which is the reason you should avoid formulas that are too strong.
When you have sensitive skin, you must have a skin care regimen that works to maintain pH balance. There are products that can help you achieve this, such as toners that use gentle, natural skin-balancing components.
Sensitive skin has become more common today because of the many skin care products that contain strong ingredients. However, with the right skin care regimen, you can manage this condition and significantly reduce the incidence of adverse events. Take note of the tips and other essential information in this article and don’t forget to share this page with your family and friends who have this complicated skin type.