Half of our clients call their skin sensitive. And indeed, research shows that actually half of the world population describes their skin as sensitive. Still, finding the right product that successfully tackles this problem seems impossible for many affected. This is because this skin condition may creep in many shapes or forms. Some people experience mild occasional flare-ups while others have to put up with redness, blotchiness and discomfort all the time. The causes of sensitivity also vary. In some cases it’s down to genetics, in others it’s fuelled by stress, diet, hormonal changes, product ingredients or even pollution. Another cause I come across very often is overwhelming your skin with incorrectly picked products. The average woman uses 12 different products with 168 unique ingredients every day, according to research from the Environmental Working Group in Washington D.C. No wonder we are getting so many sensitive skin complaints such as dehydration, burning sensation, breakouts, redness, compromised barrier and rashes or extreme dryness and peeling every week. Correct product prescription is where relief begins.
What causes sensitive skin?
First of all, let’s discuss the difference between sensitive and sensitised skin.
Sensitive skin is the skin’s natural predisposition you are born with. Clinically speaking, when skin’s protective outer layer is less efficient at blocking irritants, microbes and allergens, it becomes more prone to reactions such as flushing, stinging and allergies. Even though this condition is genetic, it can be managed with appropriate skin care.
Sensitised skin is when the skin becomes irritable to external factors. It is triggered by lifestyle so avoiding the triggers and certain lifestyle changes can prevent it and symptoms can be managed by using appropriate skin care.
Factors responsible for causing skin sensitivity and/or sensitisation:
1) Compromised protective lipid barrier
If we expose our skin to some of the factors mentioned above, our natural healthy protective shield may become damaged and therefore unable to serve its function of holding moisture in and pollutants and bacteria out!
2) Thin skin texture with a translucent appearance. Skin’s protective barrier is worn out, thinned due to e.g. over exfoliating, resurfacing treatments, using stripping products, not protecting it against the environment.
3) Redness/blotchiness. Watch out! It signals over reactive capillaries or a tendency to rosacea! So better prevent than cure!
4) Visible redness, flaking or cracking, usually on cheeks and/or forehead. It indicates dehydrated skin and impaired barrier function, again usually because of overexposure to the factors or using too harsh cosmetics.
5) Blushing and itching/burning sensations, also a sign of over reactive capillaries! Burning often happens due to impaired barrier function when the applied products get into the skin very quickly and it’s a natural skin’s mechanism to send a message to our skin receptors to feel a sting.
6) Small, rash-like bumps or breakouts, unlike acne breakouts! Sensitive skin is prone to these because it’s naturally prone to inflammation. Be sure to vet any new products by performing a patch test on a small area first. Wait 24 hours to see if a rash develops before applying it to your entire face or body.
7) A feeling of tightness =dehydration that leads to skin reactions from products.
8) Genetically dry skin, doesn't produce enough oil, so nothing protects it and when dryness peaks, skin cells can start to lift, causing irritation and itchiness.
9) Eczema, a type of dermatitis characterised by a leaky skin barrier that doesn't effectively trap moisture. Scaling and flaking develops the longer the dryness persists. For mild eczema, over the counter creams can help but for more persistent flare-ups, only a topical steroid can provide relief.
10) Broken capillaries are just tiny blood vessels that become visible near the surface of the skin and are often seen on the nose and cheeks. Those with sensitive skin, which is thin and has less protective layers, are more prone to having broken capillaries.
HOME CARE TIPS TO REDUCE SENSITIVITY:
- Do not take hot baths/showers, wash your face with tepid water as hot water strips the skin’s barrier. And if you do, remember to moisturise the whole body within 5 minutes of leaving the bath/shower.
- Avoid fragranced laundry detergents and softeners. They can aggravate sensitive skin.
- Seek your skincare professional advice on the choice of a suitable exfoliator.
- Quit smoking as it constricts blood vessels suffocating the skin from the inside causing skin stress.
- Alcohol, caffeine and certain medications can cause dry sensitive skin. So tea, coffee and fizzy drinks are also on the naughty list!
- Be careful not to overprocess your skin. Excessive bathing, scrubbing or the use of harsh products are all stripping our skin off the existing sebum and that leads to inflammation and red irritated skin.
- Shaving also falls into category of stripping skin’s barrier function unless suitable protection is used.
- Spicy foods. Pay attention to what you eat and what reaction it has on your skin to be able to avoid certain foods and therefore sensitivity flareups. While spicy foods can increase redness in the skin, taking probiotics can prevent skin sensitivity by blocking the release of inflammation-causing chemicals in our skin. *Avoid sugary foods, as they are highly-inflammatory, and introduce more zinc-rich items (beans, cashew nuts) into your grocery cart. Adjusting diet can go a long way toward improving levels of sensitivity in the skin.
- Air travel sucks all moisture out of the skin making it blotchy and nearly itchy from dehydration. Bring your hydrating mask on the plane with you and sneak it on when nobody is looking, I do it every time! (Dermalogica Skin Hydrating Mask is invisible and does the trick!)
- Extreme temperatures. When going from inside out and the other way around, stop in the hallway for a few seconds to let the skin adjust to the change of temperature it’s experiencing. Rapid changes can cause our capillaries to break which shows on our skin as ugly-looking little red veins.
- Sun exposure can also irritate skin, so don’t forget about your SPF. And pick your sunscreen wisely. Use physical sunscreens, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, as opposed to chemical sunscreens. The latter trap the heat in the skin causing irritation.
- Use a barrier protecting product if exercising outdoors in different weather conditions.