Sensitive skin is not a medical condition as it may seem. Instead, it is considered a skin type, focusing more on how your skin interacts with certain ingredients as well as environmental factors. You may not be aware that your skin is sensitive until you have a reaction to makeup or you suddenly develop redness and irritation when making changes to your regular skincare routine. In other cases, you may have always had flare-ups, leading you to gravitate towards products made specifically for sensitive skin.
Luckily, dealing with skin prone to irritation and inflammation is fairly simple. In this guide, we share some insight into skin sensitivity.
DEALING WITH SENSITIVE SKIN
The most effective ways to deal with sensitive skin include knowing whether your skin is sensitive, knowing what causes sensitivity and knowing how to treat skin gently.
HOW DO KNOW IF YOU HAVE SENSITIVE SKIN?
Speaking to Byrdie, board-certified dermatologist Iris Rubin, MD. says that many people make assumptions about this skin concern.
"Most people think their skin is sensitive, and most are wrong. It's harder than you think. Unless you have a substantial reaction to certain ingredients or a pre-existing condition like rosacea, chances are your skin isn't really sensitive,” she says.
Signs that your skin is sensitive include redness, dryness, flakiness, breakouts, burning or stinging sensations, and inflammation. Reacting to one or two ingredients does not automatically mean that your skin is sensitive. If you frequently have reactions and your skin is generally tender and prone to irritation, you most likely have sensitive skin.
WHAT CAUSES IT?
Some conditions such as eczema, rosacea, psoriasis and contact dermatitis cause skin sensitivities. The fatty outer layer of the skin can also play a role in skin sensitivities. Speaking to SELF, Marlys Fassett, M.D., PhD, a UCSF dermatologist and expert on dermatitis explains why this happens: “People who have a thin lipid barrier absorb products more deeply.” A thinner layer of outer skin can also increase dryness, which further increases the chance of sensitivity.
Skin can become more sensitive as you age, because of the skin barrier thinning. “As we age, that lipid barrier replaces itself less frequently, so people can become more irritated more easily,” says Melissa Piliang, M.D., speaking to SELF.
Another potential trigger is ingredients in skincare products - especially synthetic fragrances, colourants and other harsh ingredients. Even active ingredients such as retinol can trigger inflammation, breakouts and irritation. Mechanical exfoliants are also too harsh, damaging the skin’s outer layer.
HOW DO YOU TREAT IT?
The best way to treat sensitive skin is to be aware of triggers. Always do a patch test when trying any ingredient. Get used to reading skincare product labels carefully. Know your skin - what it likes and what it doesn’t like. Look for products made specifically for your sensitive skin or those that contain nourishing ingredients and try to reduce the number of products you use in general.