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Sensitive skin is no laughing matter. Some have suffered from it since childhood, with allergy issues, eczema and other dermatological problems. For others, it’s something that just springs up, out of nowhere. A change in medication, the menopause or something inexplicable can all cause irritated skin. So, what is causing this problem, and how can we beat it?
According to some specialists, it could be down to the amount of attention we give our skin. The number of products that we apply to our skin might not be the best course of action for some women.
For some skin, less is more and we have a few tips from the bods at Prevention to help us tame our skin splitting sensitive, irritated skin down into six types…
Your Sensitive Symptoms: Taut and itchy skin
It might mean: Your cleanser is too drying. It’s the number one culprit behind unnecessary irritation. Avoid sodium lauryl sulfate and ammonium laureth sulfate, harsh detergents commonly used in facial cleansers and soaps that break down the natural lipids in skin. When this happens, it’s like a double whammy. Little invisible cracks in the skin form, causing moisture to seep out and allowing irritants in. Suddenly, other products in your routine that didn’t irritate your skin before might now.
The fix: Don’t wash your face with soap more than once a day. In the morning, wash with a face moisturizer instead of a cleanser or simply splash water on skin to maintain moisture. Then apply a moisturizer with an SPF.
Your Sensitive Symptoms: Burning and stinging
It might mean: Anti-aging product overload. Packing too many anti-aging ingredients into your routine can make skin misbehave. First, it’s a simple matter of probability. The more products you use, the greater chance one won’t agree with your skin. Second, mixing different anti-ageing ingredients, like retinoids and alpha hydroxy acids—both of which work by sloughing off dead, dull cells to reveal healthier and more youthful skin underneath—means that you’re essentially exfoliating twice, which can seriously strip skin and increase the potential for irritation.
The fix: Stick to one moisturiser or serum fortified with anti-agers. Those that include ingredients that build up skin’s barrier, like peptides or niacin, will help reduce risk of irritation.
Your Sensitive Symptoms: Blushing and flushing, sometimes accompanied by tiny red pimples
It might mean: You have rosacea. Characterized by blood vessels that swell and produce redness at the slightest agitation—from cold, heat, wind, stress, or spicy foods—the condition traditionally develops after age 30. The exact cause is still unknown, and specific triggers differ for everyone. What experts do know: A liberal, daily application of an SPF 30 is a must. Sun exposure breaks down the supportive structures, like collagen, around blood vessels, exacerbating redness.
The fix: Temper sensitivity with anti-inflammatory soothers, like feverfew, or green tea and caffeine. Apply sunscreen daily to prevent symptoms from getting worse. Sensitive skin often can’t tolerate chemical UV filters, like avobenzone, but physical blockers titanium dioxide and zinc oxide protect without irritation. For serious, persistent rosacea, see your dermatologist, who can recommend the right treatment for your skin.
Your Sensitive Symptoms: Scaly, rough patches on the skin
It might mean: You’re having an eczema flare-up. When working properly, the top layer of skin acts like a strong film of plastic wrap that seals in hydration and protects deeper layers of skin. Eczema-prone complexions suffer from a faulty barrier that allows water to easily escape, leading to extreme dryness and flakiness. When irritants like smoke and fragrances then settle on skin, immune cells rush to the area to respond, triggering inflammation. Though 90% of people are diagnosed before age 5 and symptoms often fade during childhood, eczema is a chronic condition that may make you more prone to dryness and irritation at any age.
Having dry skin doesn’t mean you have eczema, though dryness can also make skin more sensitive. Follow the dry skin cleansing advice above and the moisturising advice below to help boost hydration.
The fix: To enhance skin’s resilience, apply a humectant-based moisturizer after cleansing while skin is still moist.
Your Sensitive Symptoms: Eye-area redness, puffiness, and wrinkles that look like they’ve appeared overnight
It might mean: Your eye area is especially thin and delicate, making it more sensitive. But you may mistakenly blame your eye cream for irritation in this area when nail polish is often the real culprit. Why? Many people are allergic to the formaldehyde and toluene in polish—and touching or rubbing your eyes several times a day can trigger a reaction. Fragrances in scented hand lotions and other products can cause similar sensitivities.
The fix: Apply fragrance-free hand creams. In terms of polish, brands like CND (cnd.com) and Orly (orlybeauty.com) no longer contain those chemicals, but they’re still present in many polishes, so read the label or check the Web site of your favourite shade before applying.
Your Sensitive Symptoms: Small red bumps (not pimples) on your face that may itch
It might mean: You’re allergic to one of your products. During an allergy attack, immune cells in your skin react, causing a cascade of symptoms: first, red bumps, then dryness and flakiness, and finally, a leathery texture. Frequent offenders, she says, include topical ingredients like alcohol, fragrance, artificial dyes, and preservatives like parabens. Quell a reaction by applying a .05% over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream for up to 5 days. If inflammation persists, head to the derm.
Allergy symptoms may appear a few hours after using the offending product—or up to 2 weeks later. It’s important to introduce new products slowly and not all at once, so you can better pinpoint any problems. For people with especially sensitive complexions, try products using a patch test. At night, apply the product to the side of your face in a 2-inch-by-2-inch area, following up with your normal routine. If there’s no sign of inflammation (such as a rash or swelling) in the morning, use over your entire face the next night.
The fix: Of course, you can’t eliminate the risk of irritation all together, but you can at least decrease it by using products formulated without fragrances, preservatives, and other known allergens.
One of our best selling products for all types of sensitive skin is from the very trusty Dr. Spiller.
Dr. Spiller Alpenrausch Organic Soothing Moisturizing Emulsion is a regenerating, moisturising care complex that soothes irritated skin. Daily application leaves the skin soothed, smooth, healthy and without an oily shine.
This gentle complex care product has formulations to soothe irritated skin with comforting Alpine Skullcap and Arnica. Meadow-Foam Seed Oil and Hyaluronic Acid provide the necessary ingredients for hydration while Edelweiss restores the elasticity and protection of the skin.
Contains the following active ingredients:
- Rose Water
- Shea Butter
- Sunflower Seed Oil
- Safflower Seed Oil
- Meadowfoam Seed Oil
- Summer Lilac
- Alpine Skullcap
- Hyaluronic Acid