Sensitive skin can affect just about anyone. Sensitive skin often means skin that gets red quite easily, or skin that flares up at the slightest irritation. For some people, the skin simply looks inflamed or stings when applying skin products. For others, medical conditions like rosacea, eczema and psoriasis can develop. As you can see, sensitive skin encompasses a wide range of symptoms.
If you have sensitive skin, there is hope. The advice in this article will help you heal and repair sensitive skin once and for all by making a few simple updates to your skincare regimen.
Signs of sensitive skin
There are many types of sensitive skin. Some of the most common signs of sensitive skin include:
- Facial redness
- Dry, flaky skin
- Thin or delicate skin
- Skin irritation
- Stinging upon application of skincare products
- Rashes and acne breakouts
- Dry patches and sores
- Painful, cracked skin
What causes sensitive skin?
Sensitive skin causes can range from genetics to lifestyle factors and even the skincare products we use.
Healthy skin has a strong moisture barrier that protects it from the outside world. Dry air and prolonged sun exposure can be tough on skin. Harsh chemicals and strong ingredients like sodium laureth sulfate (SLS), fragrances and alcohols can also disrupt the skin’s moisture barrier.
One of the most common sensitive skin triggers is over washing. Over washing strips the skin’s natural moisture barrier, or NMF, which is an invisible protective barrier that sits on the skin’s surface. The skin’s NMF (natural moisture factor) is made up of ceramides, proteins, hyaluronic acid and other natural ingredients that work like a shield to protect the delicate skin underneath.
The NMF will naturally build up again on the skin after washing your face and body, but why make your skin work so hard? Avoid washing your face more than twice per day, and stick to gentle cleaners.
Over exfoliated skin can also be problematic, especially for sensitive facial skin. Face scrubs and body scrubs not only strip away NMF, but they also irritate the skin due to the scrubbing action. Chemical exfoliants can also be stripping.
If you have sensitive skin, we also advise you to put down the Clarisonic. Sonic face brushes can aggravate sensitive skin types.
For those of you with acne-prone skin or oily skin, it can be tempting to wash your face more often. However, stripping the NMF layer leaves skin without a protective shield to keep bacteria out. Unfortunately, this can lead to more acne, or even a pimple-like rash known as folliculitis.
Folliculitis is an infection of the hair follicles that spreads easily. It is common on sebum-producing areas of the body that are warm and often covered by clothing — think back, shoulders, chest and buttocks.
It’s normal for sensitive skin to develop acne, skin rashes and other skin problems because sensitive skin isn’t strong and healthy. Skin that lacks a healthy moisture barrier is prone to flare up. What happens is that an inflammatory process occurs when sensitive skin gets triggered. The skin cells come in to help to stop that inflammation.
Then there are conditions like rosacea, eczema and psoriasis. Rosacea can be triggered by frequent sun exposure, hot showers, spicy foods, lack of sleep, alcohol and anxiety. Eczema and psoriasis triggers include cold, dry weather, drying cleansers, stress and certain foods such as red meat and dairy. Both eczema and psoriasis symptoms as well as rosacea symptoms can range from mild to severe. Nonetheless, if you have either condition, you do indeed have sensitive skin.
Finally, allergic dermatitis (also known as contact dermatitis) can develop in patients with sensitive skin. This is when the skin develops an allergy from exposure to an irritant. Some of the most common culprits are washing powder, perfumes and dyed or scented laundry detergent, among others. These can lead to itching, redness and even a skin rash. Trying a new skincare product, body wash or soap bar may produce a similar reaction. Often, chemicals, dyes and fragrances are to blame.
Learn how to calm sensitive skin once and for all
The #1 goal of healing sensitive skin is to restore the skin’s barrier function.
Step 1: Best cleanser for sensitive skin
First, a gentle cleanser is a must to avoid disrupting the moisture barrier. You don’t need to use a harsh scrub. A pH-balanced cleanser that is fragrance-free and dye-free is a good idea. Avoiding harsh chemicals like SLS is also key.
Cleansing twice per day is more than enough. Resist the urge to wash, wash, wash!
Even oily skin types can be quite sensitive. You can easily clean excess sebum from the skin with a gentle cleanser. Choose low-lather face washes or milk cleansers, and rinse with tepid water. If your skin gets oily throughout the day, reach for blotting paper for oily skin rather than cleansing more.
Foaming face wash often contains high levels of SLS and other surfactants, which irritate sensitive skin. They tend to strip even the good oils and NMF from the skin surface. If you ever felt that “squeaky clean” feeling after cleansing, that is exactly what you don’t want to happen.
Removing good oils often leads to combination skin — skin that is oily in some areas with dry, flaky skin in other areas. This only doubles the trouble when it comes to caring for your skin.
Further, over washing stimulates oil production as the skin tries too hard to compensate for the dryness caused by excessive washing. That’s one reason you might notice shiny skin or greasy skin by mid-afternoon. In fact, the less often you wash your face, the less oily it is likely to become.
Of course, dry skin types are prone to sensitive skin even more so than oily skin. This sensitive skincare regimen is designed to help everyone, no matter your skin type.
A gentle cleanser like Aspect Dr. Cleansing Cream, micellar water or Hungarian water essence applied with a cotton pad can help keep sensitive skin clean without stripping it.
The latter is even suitable for oily skin types because it cleanses while nourishing the skin and hydrates as it cleans. It’s everything sensitive skin wants, no matter what type of sensitive skin you have, all rolled into one. Many brands of Hungarian water essence also contain niacinamide to reduce skin redness, refine skin and control oil production for healthy, happy, hydrated skin that glows.
Step 2: Toner optional
Skip toners with alcohols, fragrance and dyes. These can mess with the skin’s pH levels. In fact, you may want to alternate days when using skincare products that can be drying or irritating.
If your skin is experiencing a flare up, give those skincare products a rest for a few days. You don’t want to disturb the moisture barrier any more than it already is. It can be tempting to want to treat sensitive skin with anything you have on hand. It may make you feel like you are at least doing something, but please don’t reach for any old skincare product you find in the bathroom vanity. Exposing skin to possible skin irritants and drying agents can make matters worse quickly.
Here’s what to reach for instead….
Step 3: Soothe sensitive skin with serum
Treat your skin to a soothing serum. Niacinamide serum (vitamin B3) is sensitive skin’s best friend. It can really help improve and heal sensitive skin. This is a wonder ingredient that restores skin, reduces redness and even shows promise to balance oily skin.
Step 4: Moisturizer — a must for sensitive skin
Now that you’ve got cleansing, toning and serum down, the next step is hydration. As you know, moisture is essential for keeping sensitive skin protected. An impaired moisture barrier needs all the help it can get. Both oily, normal and dry sensitive skin need moisture to stay balanced.
Moisturizers help create a barrier between the skin and the elements, locking in hydration and even helping to balance oil production since the skin needs to produce less oil to keep itself moisturized when a good moisturizer is used. Again, avoiding fragrance, dyes and hard-to-pronounce chemical ingredients is a good first step.
Step 5: Sun protection
Next up is sunscreen. Sun protection is essential for sensitive skin. While some women and men love a bronzed glow, UV rays can trigger diffuse redness. This is different from a sunburn, as it is just general pink skin or redness caused by the skin’s inflammatory response to prolonged sunlight and/or heat. You can even get diffuse facial redness without getting a sunburn. Rosacea sufferers know this all too well. As if aging and fine lines from sun exposure weren’t enough to deal with!
SPF 30+ is good enough for daily wear. If you recently had a skin treatment done, SPF 50 may be your best bet. When you have sensitive skin, it’s always good to err on the side of caution.
But don’t just reach for any sunscreen on the shelf. Chemical sunscreens can make sensitive skin sting. We don’t want that to happen. Stinging is a sign that the skin has begun an inflammatory process to protect itself and that the skin’s barrier function has been compromised. This leads to skin redness and irritation.
Instead, Lea recommends physical sunblocks that contain zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide.
“We really want something that is paraben free and preservative free when you’re looking for sunscreen for sensitive skin,” she says.
Mineral sunscreens are a good choice for sensitive skin types. Aspect Dr’s mineral sunscreen is the perfect match for sensitive skin. It’s a really light powder that dusts on easily on-the-go, thanks to the handy brush that comes with it. Women love that it has a hint of color correction, too — something red, sensitive skin benefits from.
Step 6: Treat irritated skin
If you are just getting started on reforming your skincare routine, you may need to do some damage control. Let’s face it — You probably stumbled on this article because you need help to calm sensitive skin fast.
Lea Barclay, our dermal therapist at Specialist Skin Solutions, swears by a product called Real Skin Balm. This one is amazing to have in your tool kit at home, she says.
“Any little scratches, irritants, insect bites, anything like that, [this product] is really good for the skin, and for the rest of the body. Something that’s highly hydrating is always really good. If you’ve got a rash or irritant on the skin, the Real Skin Balm, I’ll put that on it,” says Lea.
Raw aloe vera straight from the plant is also very calming. It helps repair the skin. Simply wash the leaf, break it open and smear the clear gel inside the plant on skin irritations. Like magic, skin irritations heal faster. Keep in mind that you can buy aloe vera gel at the store, but many brands contain a bevy of chemicals, fragrances, dyes and other irritants that can make sensitive skin worse. This only defeats the purpose.
Psoriasis and eczema sufferers may get relief from a combination of sulphur soaps and fragrance-free moisturizers. It is also vital to keep the skin hydrated. Emollients and occlusive creams are two classes of face and body moisturizers that can lock in moisture and soothe irritation. Thicker formulas can be very healing. Occlusive dressings may also help psoriasis, according to this study.
Then there is sulfur for rosacea. People with mild rosacea may see improvement with OTC rosacea treatments that contain sulphur. Medicated sulphur gels are available without a prescription. For more severe cases, we can treat rosacea at Specialist Skin Solutions with the latest technology. Laser Genesis, for example, can dramatically improve the skin.
Step 7: Look for sneaky culprits that can trigger sensitive skin around the house
Finally, you want to take a look at the household products you us. Laundry detergent should be mild, hypoallergenic and fragrance free. New clothes should be washed before wear to remove excess dye that can irritate skin.
Basically, anything that comes into contact with skin, it’s a good idea to take a minute and think about what it contains. Ingredient lists that are a mile long and chemicals with so many syllables it makes your head spin should give you pause. A bit of critical thinking goes a long way to prevent sensitive skin flare ups.
Natural and organic household products are usually less irritating, but that doesn’t mean they can’t bother sensitive skin. These products often contain natural essential oils instead of synthetic fragrance in order to have a naturally pleasant smell. Surprisingly, many essential oils can be highly irritating. Synthetic fragrances may be more damaging to the skin than essential oils, but it pays to be extra cautious when you have sensitive skin.
Keep calm, and carry on
A lot of times, all that sensitive skin needs is to be left alone and hydrated. The goal is to avoid irritating it in any way. The skin protects itself naturally, and often the things we do to it (excessive washing, scrubbing and trying zillions of new skin products) can make matters worse. If you nurture your skin properly, your skin is going to reward you with a beautiful, vibrant glow.
Next article: Smart Tips for Boosting Collagen for Skin