Sensitive skin is becoming more common. The rising incidence of food allergies and intolerances, as well as changes to the environment, have seen an increase in people citing sensitivity as a skin concern.
Skin sensitivity can manifest in different ways at different times, making it sometimes difficult to identify and treat. The good news is that sensitive skin can be soothed and managed with the right approach to skincare.
Let’s take a look at the symptoms and causes of sensitive skin.
Table of Contents
The telltale symptoms of sensitive skin
- Tightness, particularly after cleansing
- Redness or blotchiness
- Irritation – during a reaction, symptoms can include: itchiness, visible rashes or hives (welts on the skin), swelling, and a tingling, stinging, or burning sensation
In addition, signs of sensitive skin can also include:
- Premature aging (due to dryness)
What causes sensitive skin?
Sudden skin sensitivities can be caused by a reaction to an ingredient or product. This could mean you have an allergy, even if a product hasn’t troubled you before. People can develop allergies with exposure over time, so it’s best to check in with a doctor just in case. Dermatologists can conduct a simple and effective skin patch or prick test, so you can learn which ingredients to avoid to find the right skincare products for you.
Medical conditions and medications
Medically diagnosed skin conditions like dermatitis, acne, psoriasis, rosacea, and eczema increase the likelihood of skin sensitivity. Once you’ve identified skincare products that are safe for use, being consistent and diligent about your skincare ritual will help manage any symptoms.
Some medications can also increase skin sensitivity, especially with exposure to the sun. Common culprits are certain antibiotics and painkillers, so always read the information on the pack or ask your pharmacist – you may need to take extra care and stay out of the sun during treatment.
Even normal skin can become sensitized when faced with heavy pollution or excessive sun, heat, humidity, air conditioning, cold, wind, rain, or snow. For example, you may notice your hands and face feel drier and more sensitive during winter. Ensure adequate hydration, both inside and out – make sure you drink lots of water and apply a rich moisturizer to protect your skin against the elements.
Naturally, sensitive skin is often an inherited genetic trait, just like other skin types (including dry skin). Many of the medically diagnosed skin conditions listed above are also genetic to some degree. If you’ve had a predisposition to sensitive skin for a while, it might be time to visit your doctor.
Poor nutrition, alcohol, smoking, stress, dehydration, and even use of harsh chemicals like household cleaners can all sensitize skin over time. Elimination can help identify external aggressors to avoid.
What you wear
Finally, clothing and jewelry can affect sensitive skin. Coarse fabrics like wool often irritate, as well as the chemicals found in laundry products such as washing powders and fabric softeners. Nickel, a metal found in costume jewelry, has also been known to trigger contact reactions.
Swapping materials for natural fibers like cotton and bamboo, as well as using laundry solutions suited to sensitive skin, may help. With jewelry, remove it at bedtime and buy stainless steel or sterling silver (and not just plating) to protect yourself against possible irritation.
Aging skin and changes in hormone levels can cause skin sensitivity. While some aspects lessen with age (e.g. blemishes), some others increase (e.g. dryness) as skin layers weaken and become more fragile.
How to manage sensitive skin
Just like all skin types, sensitive skin needs cleansing too. A gentle cleanser for the face like our Soothing Foaming Cleanser helps remove impurities and rebalances sensitivity with the power of Lavender.
Using gentle products with natural ingredients will protect the skin against environmental aggressors, preserving the skin’s natural defenses.
Look to specially formulated products like our Masks to help reduce redness to hydrate and soothe skin.
A light moisturizer in warm weather will ensure optimal balance and hydration for sensitive skin. Our Soothing Day Care Lotion is a light-textured moisturizing lotion to help calm and protect against daily environmental aggressors.
For overnight protection, deeply hydrate and soothe sensitive skin with a serum like Calendula Redness Rescue Restorative Treatment Serum. This helps provide a natural protective barrier and restore the skin’s epidermal defenses.
Of course, don’t forget to keep up your water intake, too.
- Seek out natural skincare products, without common irritants like artificial colors and fragrances.
- Steer away from harsh exfoliants as they can aggravate sensitive skin. Pat, don’t rub, your face and body after showering, and finish with a lightweight moisturizer.
- Discard and replace any old makeup or skincare products, as well as medications or other topical treatments past their expiry date.
If you have sensitive skin, it’s always a good idea to patch test any new products before using them – especially if they contain unfamiliar ingredients. If you’ve never done this before, please consult your doctor.
Sensitive skin 101
“Three-quarters of my patients call their skin sensitive,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, “and treating skin too aggressively is one main reason why.” Even if you’re not intending to, you could be overwhelming your skin: 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. All that on top of the usual stressors—pollution, hormonal changes, anxiety—and it’s no wonder derms are seeing an increase in sensitive skin complaints such as breakouts, redness, rashes, and extreme dryness. Need relief? Check out these strategies for calming your complexion.
Sensitive skin complaint #1: Red blotches
Think you’ve got them? When you see blood vessels, bumps, enlarged oil glands, and thick skin on the nose, cheeks, and chin, all signs point to rosacea, a condition that affects more than 16 million Americans. People with rosacea flush easily, thanks to facial blood vessels that become dilated, drawing blood closer to the surface, says Leslie Baumann, MD, a dermatologist in Miami and author of The Skin Type Solution.
What to do: Seek out soothing soap-free ingredients that also act as anti-inflammatories, such as licorice, algae, and colloidal oatmeal. Forgo rough facials, steer clear of spa treatments like chemical peels and microdermabrasion, and avoid acidic skin-care ingredients, including glycolic acid and, surprisingly, vitamin C. Tweaking your diet may help, too. While spicy foods can exacerbate redness, “eating foods rich in probiotics—such as yogurt with live cultures—can prevent skin sensitivity, redness, and itching by blocking the release of inflammation-causing chemicals,” says Whitney Bowe, MD, a dermatologist in New York City.
Sensitive skin complaint #2: Allergic reactions
Think you’ve got them? Skin freak-outs that arrive at lightning speed are typically an immune response to something that doesn’t agree with your system, says Neal Schultz, MD, a dermatologist in New York City and creator of the skin-care line Beauty Rx. Constantly flaring up? That’s often caused by genetic abnormalities in your skin’s barrier function, according to research from the University of Vienna and the University of California, San Francisco. Translation: If Mom’s skin erupts when exposed to certain products, yours could, too.
What to do: Ease symptoms with a homemade milk compress: Soak a cloth in equal parts warm water and milk, then place on irritated areas. Aloe and over-the-counter cortisone cream are also helpful. Sidestep sugary foods, which have been linked to inflammation, and toss more zinc-rich items (beans, cashews) into your grocery cart.
Sensitive skin complaint #3: Super-dry skin
Think you’ve got it? If your face feels tight and has a sandpapery texture, it could be dry—or simply dehydrated. Dehydrated skin is exactly what it sounds like: a complexion lacking water, says Karen Kim, MD, a dermatologist in Chesnut Hill, Mass. It could be a result of your diet, the weather, or the products you’re using. (Too much alcohol in a product is a common culprit.) But dehydrated skin is a temporary condition, whereas dry skin is a type—the one you’re born with. Dry skin doesn’t produce enough oil, so it’s always in need of a dose of moisture. And when dryness peaks, skin cells can start to lift, causing irritation and itchiness.
What to do: If you wash your skin twice a day, consider doing so just at night, with a gentle soap-free cleanser. And keep your skin-care regimen simple, says Dr. Kim: “No toner, astringent, or products that contain alcohol.” Don’t attempt to scrub away any flakes; harsh exfoliants can worsen the problem. Instead, layer on a mega-hydrating cream that has ceramides, a peptide complex, and niacinamide. And be generous, advises Dr. Kim: “I tell my patients with dryness to apply emollients two or three times a day.” Overnight masks—used once a week—can also pack a potent hydration punch.
Sensitive skin complaint #4: Breakouts
Think you’ve got them? Even though you’re well beyond puberty, pimples pop up the way they did before the prom. What gives? Acne occurs for several reasons, including stress, lack of sleep, overactive oil glands, and exposure to comedogenic (pore-clogging) products—but sensitive skin types are particularly susceptible because they’re naturally prone to inflammation.
What to do: Take note of when you break out—are there situations or products that bring on blemishes? If you get pimples after wearing a specific makeup product, say, stop using it (obviously) and scrutinize the ingredient list for suspects that could be to blame. Stick with a mild cleanser, then spot-treat with salicylic acid—it not only helps unplug clogged pores but is also less irritating than benzoyl peroxide, which can be harsh on sensitive skin. Treatments with sulfur, which draws oil out of blocked pores and inhibits breakouts, can also be worked into your regimen. Don’t forget to moisturize, and be sure to follow with SPF. Finally, consider spacing out your trips to the sushi bar: “Eating a lot of iodine, found in shellfish and spinach, can lead to acne by clogging hair follicles,” says Dr. Schultz.
Reviewed by Dr. Hun Kim Thao
Grace Skincare Clinic
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0-09-2019 "I would love to thank Dr. Hun Kim Thao and her amazing staffs for helping me through a skin improving journey over an almost year while I was staying in HCM. I received acne facial and peel every other week and the service was superb! Each procedure was well explained and Dr.Thao was very attentive. I loved her holistic way of approach to improve patient's skin. Not only she prescribed very effective acne gel but also shared great tips such as reducing the amount of simple carb intake, cutting down sugar, and most importantly highlighting the importance of getting enough sleep. She even recommended a well known doctor in town who could help me with my sleeping problem. In addition, the price was very reasonable and I was very happy with all the service I got from Grace Skin Clinic. Oh Dr. Thao even asked her staff to make me a cup of tea one day as she she thought I looked overly exhausted. I was very moved. How warm hearted she is! I will definitely recommend this place to anyone who wants to check up their skin and improve their skin. Amazing place!"
This place is amazing; they help me improve my terrible skin condition which had affected my identity, and my confidence for many years. I have been visiting Grace Clinic during summer time for the past two years, and every time I am here, they create a different program in order to fit my skin condition and my limited time. Furthermore, people from Grace Clinic always greet me with warm hearts. They once invited me to have boba tea with them which made me no longer feel like a customer but a friend which it has created a friendship overtime. I cannot stress how highly I would recommend this place. Again, they are amazing and very professional. There is one thing, you can do walk-in just fine but it would be better if you schedule the appointment so they can prepare and create the best service for you.
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