What is sensitive skin?
Truly sensitive skin is inherited and normally leaves you prone to blushing and allergies. True sensitive skin types have particularly thin skin and often less pigment which leads to an easily broken skin barrier. Blood vessels are often closer to the surface and are easily stimulated by outside irritants.
Sensitised skin is the skin becoming sensitive caused by environment or lifestyle choices. Factors such as pollution, stress, medication, hormones, diet, climate changes, skincare products and smoking can all contribute to an impaired skin barrier, allowing external aggressors to cause redness or irritation.
Unfortunately as true sensitive skin is genetic little can be done to cure it, but its symptoms can be calmed and managed with a specialised skincare regime. Sensitised skin, on the other hand, can be restored by improving the skin’s natural barrier and removing the external factors which are causing the skin to become sensitised.
If you have sensitive skin, you’ll be all too aware of the wide variety of emotional and environmental factors that can affect it – from a change of weather, to household pets, stress and even dust. Read on to discover more about the triggers of sensitivity and how you can protect your skin from them.
What causes it?
Sensitive skin is caused by nerve endings in the top layer of skin becoming irritated. This occurs because your skin’s natural barrier function is weakened and has broken down due to a trigger. Common causes of sensitive skin can include:
• Sun exposure
• Exposure to air pollution
• Frequent changes in temperature
• Cold, harsh weather
• Hard water (water with higher mineral content)
• Very hot water
• Lack of sleep
• Hormonal changes during your menstrual cycle or pregnancy
• Stress and late nights
• Chlorine in swimming pools
• Dry skin
How do I know if I have sensitive skin?
If you aren’t sure whether you have sensitive skin, take a look at these common signs below or book a consultation with a skin specialist. If you experience any of them, you may need to use skincare that provides a little extra comfort and protection.
• Often feels tight and uncomfortable
• Is sometimes sore or sensitive to touch
• Needs extra hydration in winter
• Dries out during flights
• Can be oily in summer
• Flushes easily after a spicy meal or drinking alcohol
• Has patches of redness that may or may not fade
• Has areas of uneven texture, with dryness and flakiness
• Reacts to skincare
• Becomes itchy or develops a rash after contact with irritants
• Can feel itchy after wearing coarse, synthetic fabrics
• Turns red and dries out after a hot shower or bath
• Becomes irritable after continued washing with hard water
What makes sensitive skin worse?
If you’re suffering from skin sensitivity, there are a few ways of making sure it doesn’t get worse and the skin’s natural barrier isn’t further weakened. First of all, try not to touch your skin or scratch any itches, and keep your hands clean at all times so as not to spread bacteria.
Next, apply a high-factor sun protection to your face and body, as exposure to the sun and its harmful UVA and UVB rays can further irritate the skin. Don’t forget that UV rays are present all year round, even when it’s cloudy and grey outside.
Finally, make sure to check the ingredients in your skincare and cosmetics as this can be a common cause of irritation. If you suspect your skin is reacting to a product you’re applying, strip back your routine and only use very simple or cosmeceutical formulations until your skin has improved.
What’s the difference between an allergic reaction and sensitive skin?
If you have a skin allergy, contact with that particular allergen will cause a reaction such as a rash, itching or a burning sensation. Allergic skin reactions tend to be more severe than sensitivity, and in extreme cases can cause vomiting and difficulty in breathing. If this happens, get medical attention right away.
Common skin allergens include:
• Gold, nickel and other metals
• Parabens and fragrances in skincare and cosmetics
• Antibiotics in first aid creams
• Rubber and latex
Can sensitive skin be healed?
You can definitely eliminate some of the causes of skin sensitivity, true sensitive skin may never be completely kept at bay. However, with the right skincare regime, you can protect and prevent your skin from irritation, keeping it hydrated, smooth and glowing.
Are women more prone to sensitive skin?
No. Sensitive skin can affect men as much as women. However, because women generally use more facial skincare products, they may be more likely to put their skin into contact with potential irritants.
Which products can I use if I have sensitive skin?
Use a daily skincare routine that is suitable for your skin type, formulated especially for sensitive skin. Look for products with relatively few ingredients.
Cleanse every morning and evening, moisturise and wear an SPF of 20+ with UVA protection. Always choose cosmetics that are suitable for sensitive skin, too. Avoid chemically laden cleaning and laundry products and hair shampoo and conditioner which can also irritate your skin.
We know it feels like there’s nothing worse than using a harsh scrub on an already painful face but don’t give in to the temptation to skip exfoliation. Exfoliation keeps pores free from bacteria and dead skin cells that can further damage the delicate dermal layer leading to dry, sore patches, be mindful which products you use and always opt for a gentle exfoliator like glow.
Use cosmeceutical serums tailored to your skin to target symptoms and help cell turnover and hydration.