Sensitive skin is one of those phrases that you hear about all the time, and you might think you have it, but you’re probably not 100% sure. And if you do actually have it, you’re most likely unsure of what causes it and the complexities of caring for it.
Is sensitive skin something you’re born with? Can it happen to anyone? Are there different types and degrees of sensitive skin? Then there is the million dollar question, what should I avoid to prevent making it worse and how do I treat it?
Sensitive skin is not just a cosmetic issue. Studies show, that itch is harder to ignore than physical pain. PLUS, beyond just being distracting, broken skin (on the hands, in particular) can lead to many hours of lost productivity & even people having to find new careers.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF SENSITIVE SKIN?
If you aren’t sure whether you have sensitive skin, take a look at these common signs below. If you experience any of them, you are likely to have sensitive skin and would certainly benefit from using skincare that provides a little extra comfort and most importantly, improves its resilience.
If your skin...
Feels tight & uncomfortable
Is sometimes sore or sensitive to touch
Develops a rash
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 & flakiness
Reacts to skincare or other irritants
Can feel itchy after wearing coarse, synthetic fabrics
Turns red and dries out after a hot shower or bath
WHAT TRIGGERS SENSITIVE SKIN?
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 overreacts to a stimulus. Some people’s barrier need a lot of support to function well (i.e. people with allergies, some skin conditions). Some common triggers include:
Frequent changes in temperature
Cold, harsh weather
Very hot water
Lack of sleep
Stress & late nights
Exposure to irritants (ie. Harsh chemicals)
Over-drying your skin with stripping ingredients (Sulphates, over-washing, over-sanitising)
Sensitive Skin often goes hand in hand with Asthma and/or Hayfever
WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT VERY SENSITIVE SKIN?
In addition to avoiding some of the triggers listed above, the 2 most important things you need to do to help treat sensitive skin is :
BREAK THE ITCH CYCLE
When your skin becomes red, inflamed & itchy, that is because your skin is releasing a compound called histamine. Horribly, when you scratch, your skin releases more histamine. So it becomes itchier and redder and itchier until you want to divorce your body…. So, if you get a lot of itches, carry protection around at all times with you and treating it as soon as it starts.
Here are some treatments for sensitive skin flare-ups. When one step doesn’t resolve the situation quickly, you move to the next step. Quickly means within in a few minutes!
Step 1: Apply a really rich, soothing, anti-itch emollient to the area. Don’t rub it in too much. Look for products which contain a lot of rich oils, glycerine or colloidal oatmeal in them)
Step 2: Apply an appropriate steroid cream on the area (talk to your pharmacist or GP)
Step 3: Pop a non-sedating antihistamine like Zyrtec or Claratyne
IMPROVE YOUR BARRIER FUNCTION
The better your skin’s barrier, the less reactive your skin will be. Healthier barrier = less itch, less redness, less reactivity. Simple Math but what steps can you take to improve your barrier?
Use the richest possible moisturisers, ALL THE TIME! The oilier & gooier, the better.
Drench your body in moisturiser immediately after bathing.
Avoid using heaters, layer up instead.
Have a humidifier on in your bedroom
Avoid long showers
Avoid hot showers
Minimise hand-washing & always opt for a low-foaming/sulphate free handwash & shower gels
Wear gloves when you clean/wash up – ideally with hand cream on underneath
Avoid synthetic fibres in your clothes, so your skin can breathe.
Treat Hayfever early & regularly
Stop the itch cycle
Choose skincare specifically formulated for sensitive skin
Choose skincare with as few ingredients as possible, as you may not know what your triggers are.
HOW DO YOU CHOOSE THE RIGHT SKINCARE FOR SENSITIVE SKIN?
Skincare that is specifically formulated for sensitive skin is the best option to help improve your skins’ barrier function. Go for what is NOT in the products over what IS in the products.
To protect your skin from irritation, it’s essential that you look for the following features in your skincare:
Ingredients that absorb into your skin and build it from within – ie. Shea Butter, Cocoa Butter, Jojoba Oil, Rosehip Oil
Avoid ingredients which sit on the skin, like mineral oil (a kindly name for petrolatum) & lanolin (a kindly name for wool fat, a common allergen in itself)
Avoid known irritants such as parabens, sulphates, formaldehyde, artificial fragrance & colours.
Article written by Shoshana Eisner, QED Skincare Founder