Roughly half of all women say they have sensitive skin. But “sensitive skin” has become an umbrella term for a whole host of issues including severely dry skin or a flushed complexion that aren’t always an indicator of genuinely sensitive skin. In an interview with Real Simple magazine, dermatologist Kavita Mariwalla estimated that only 10 percent of people genuinely have sensitive skin. But what exactly it means to have sensitive skin, and what is the right skincare for sensitive skin?
What Is Sensitive Skin?
Many of us experience redness after using a strong exfoliator, or get flushed cheeks on a bitterly cold day. But does that mean you have sensitive skin? Not necessarily. Let’s say that you apply an AHA (alpha hydroxy) peel and your skin starts to tingle and you feel a mild stinging sensation. You may have a red face for 10 to 15 minutes after the peel. This is perfectly normal. What isn’t normal is if the redness lingers, or it’s accompanied by a tight, itchy feeling.
What Are Sensitive Skin Symptoms?
Symptoms such as persistent redness, tightness and the feeling of burning or itchy skin are usually indicators of an underlying skin condition. Truly sensitive skin generally has some type of inflammation such as rosacea, psoriasis or eczema. It could also be contact dermatitis, which is a rash triggered by allergens or certain ingredients. Rosacea manifests itself as redness across the cheeks and nose as well as large blemishes and pustules, and it can also cause a thickening of the skin. Eczema is also an inflammation of the skin, where it looks red, cracked and rough. Psoriasis shows up as red, scaly skin.
When most people describe themselves as having “sensitive skin” what they mean is that their skin is easily irritated and reacts to things such as fragrance or dyes in their cosmetics and skincare. Some people’s skin turns red for no reason. Other signs of sensitive skin including frequent blushing and flushing, as well as extremely dry skin that does not feel relief from moisturizer.
What Is Hyper Sensitive Skin?
Hyper sensitive skin is a more extreme version of sensitive skin. This means the skin reacts to things that normally don’t cause the skin to react, such as extreme temperatures fluctuations, certain ingredients or UV rays. Hyper sensitive skin can also happen when the skin’s barrier is compromised, which is often caused by inflammation or overdoing it with exfoliation and retinols.
How Can I Know If I Have Sensitive Skin?
If your skin is often red and inflamed, and feels tight and burning and possibly itchy, make an appointment with a dermatologist. A doctor can determine if you have sensitive skin or if you are having a bad reaction to a particular product or ingredient. While there is no official test for sensitive skin, a doctor may do allergy testing to rule out certain triggers.
Why Is My Skin So Sensitive?
And that is the million dollar question. There are many reasons why skin can suddenly flare up. Skin irritation on the face can be chalked up to sudden temperature changes, such as going from a heated home to the outdoors in the winter, as well as the win, sun and pollution. Stress can also trigger a flare up, while some people’s skin can react badly to cleaning products or fragrance. Red skin can also be caused by a combination of factors. Narrowing down the culprit can be tricky.
Sensitive skin could be caused by over doing it with products, all in the name of trying to achieve a flawless face. According to the Environmental Working Group, the average woman uses 12 different products with 168 unique ingredients every day, which makes it hard to narrow down the ingredient that could be causing you trouble. If you’re regularly using retinols, alpha hydroxy acids, glycolic peels and occasionally do a physical scrub, you could be doing more harm than good to your skin. Too much exfoliation can backfire as it could be harming the skin’s barrier. Try to limit yourself to just one exfoliating product.
Fragrance in beauty products is one of the most common causes of skin irritation. One rule of thumb is to try and pick products with as few ingredients as possible.
Genetics also play a role. Skin conditions such as psoriasis, acne, eczema, and rosacea are often inherited.
How Do I Prevent Sensitive Skin?
If you want to calm red skin and keep future flare ups and redness at bay, there are many things you can do. Here’s a breakdown.
- Always do a patch test first when trying a new product. If you are switching up your skincare routine, introduce one new product at a time.
- Keeping skin well hydrated is key to preventing red, itchy and flaking skin. Use a moisturizing serum or a facial oil every day – just add a drop or two of oil to your moisturizer. Make sure you moisturize your face twice a day and try to apply it when you’re just out of the shower to lock in moisture.
- Hydration is also important in your home. Try not to overheat your house in the winter which only makes dry skin drier and more itchy. Boost the moisture levels in the air with a humidifier in your bedroom and the most commonly used rooms in your home.
- Try a beauty detox. If something is making your skin red and itchy, half the battle is figuring out the culprit. Think about this way- just how many products are you putting on your skin every single day, from serums to moisturizers, primers and scrubs? You may be bombarding your skin without realizing it. Start slow and for two days, only use moisturizer and cleanser on your face and see how your skin reacts.
- Look for products that are labeled “hypoallergenic” which tend to be free from perfumes, color and alcohol but always read the label carefully.
- Don’t over cleanse the skin, which will just strip it of its natural oils. Try a creamy, soap free cleanser and skip washing your face in the morning as it doesn’t get dirty while you sleep. A splash of water in the morning should be all that you need.
- Take a close look at your cosmetics. If your skin is irritated, try using mineral makeup which has a much lower risk of irritation. Throw out any cosmetics that are old, including lipsticks and eye makeup. Read labels carefully to see if your eyeliner contains latex, a common allergen.
- Wear sunscreen every single day to protect your skin. Chemical sunscreens can cause irritation, so try a mineral based one that contains zinc oxide or titanium oxide.
- Give your face a moisture boost with a hydrating sheet mask. Be sure to apply it to clean skin and aim for doing a sheet mask twice a week to help nourish and sooth the skin. If you want to DIY it, make your own hydrating mask with ingredients such as avocado and banana.
- If you have rosacea, common triggers can include spicy foods and alcohol, as well as excessive heat. So try to lay off food and drink that may cause flare ups, and skip the steam rooms for now.
- Although it sounds counter intuitive, even sensitive skin needs a little bit of exfoliation. Don’t use a physical, grainy scrub which will be too harsh for the skin. Instead try a very mild face wash with salicylic or lactic acid which can help clean pores and give skin a gentle exfoliation. This is also a good time to skip stronger chemical peels and microdermabrasion.
- Apply a cold compress to the face to ease the itching, burning feeling. This can be as simple as a washcloth soaked in water or milk that has been chilled in the fridge.
- While you are waiting for your red skin to subside, buy a green primer. Don’t worry it won’t make you look like a frog; the green hue basically cancels out any redness.
What Is the Best Skincare for Sensitive Skin?
No matter what the symptoms of your sensitive skin are (dry, red, itchy or peeling), your skin still needs to be moisturized and treated accordingly. Remember that when it comes to irritated skin, sometimes less is more- in terms of how many products you use, and how many ingredients it is loaded with. Try paring down your skincare routine to the basics.
Look for skin soothing ingredients to help calm inflamed skin and tone down redness. This includes colloidal oatmeal, aloe vera, willow herb and green tea. Look for ultra moisturizing ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, ceramides and glycerin to help keep skin moisturized and protected.
Buy a box of colloidal oatmeal; just drop it in the bath and it will help relieve any itchy skin on the body that is due to rashes, eczema or psoriasis. You can also make your own oatmeal face mask. If you don’t like the DIY approach, consider First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Instant Oatmeal Mask which contains colloidal oatmeal as well as avena sativa oat bran.
Elizabeth Arden’s cult favorite Eight Hour Cream comes in a fragrance free version as well. It’s a thick emollient that contains petrolatum, lanolin and mineral oil. Some people may find it too heavy or greasy for everyday use. If that’s the case, just wear it at home as mask and tissue off. Give your skin a boost of hydration during the day by spritzing it with Vichy Minéral 89 Hyaluronic Acid Serum Moisturizer Daily Skin Booster. It will add moisture to the face while also soothing it.
Start your day with a dose of moisture thanks to Formulyst’s Advanced Renewal Treatment. The product is formulated to help optimize skin hydration, while also helping to plump and smooth the appearance of wrinkles.