JL dry & sensitive skin tips
What is sensitive skin?
When someone tells me they have sensitive skin, what that means to me is that their skin has a tendency to be more reactive than average. That usually means their skin is easily irritated by environmental factors such as the sun, wind or cold or lotions or perfume.
How does it manifest itself?
That irritation usually manifests with burning, stinging or itchiness and general discomfort. When your skin comes into contact with the trigger such as environmental condition or a particular ingredient.
Could it be an underlying condition?
Know that everyone’s skin can overreact to certain irritants but if this is happening to you frequently, it could be a sign of an underlying skin condition such as eczema, rosacea or psoriasis.
Eczema, which my kids and I have suffered from, is also known as atopic dermatitis and makes the skin dry, itchy and inflamed.
Rosacea is when the skin becomes inflamed, very red and there are lots of broken visible blood vessels.
Psoriasis is when there are patches of dry, scaly skin with rashes.
Contact dermatitis is when the skin reacts with irritants and allergens and looks inflamed with rashes – a very common skin condition amongst hair stylists.
How can you tell if you have sensitive skin or an actual skin condition?
Simply put, if you put a product on and your feel stinging or burning or your skin gets a little red from it – that’s probably skin sensitivity. But if you get persistent symptoms such as extreme redness, painful burning or stinging, itching, blistering with rashes, that suddenly come out of the blue no matter which products you use – then you most likely have a actual skin condition.
What is the cause of skin sensitivity?
To understand what is going on with skin when it becomes sensitive it to know about the protective barrier on the outer layer of our skin. This is often called the acid mantle and it has a couple of jobs: keeping water in and keeping potentially damaging things out such as UV rays, wind, heat and harsh chemicals.
When this protective barrier is compromised making it weaker, thinner and easy for irritants to penetrate the skin – this is when your skin becomes sensitive and inflamed.
Skin barrier akin to a brick wall
Think of your skin barrier like a brick wall put together with mortar between the skin cells. This intercellular mortar is made up of your own natural moisturisers called ceramides. Now when that mortar is weak or missing, this makes the protective barrier more permeable and easy for irritants to penetrate the vulnerable skin underneath. So people who have a thin skin barrier absorb products more deeply which is why they are more reactive to skincare ingredients.
Trans-epidermal Water Loss
Another problem with having a thin lipid barrier means that your own natural moisturisers produced within the skin tend to escape which is known as TEWL or trans-epidermal water loss. This is why dryness and sensitivity usually occur together.
What happens when an irritant gets through skin
When an irritant gets through your protective barrier, your immune system is activated. Seeing the irritant as a threat, the immune system causes redness, pain, itching and you can see this in skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis and rosacea.
An allergic reaction can develop if your skin is repeatedly exposed to certain irritants. Mentioned already are hairstylists working with certain hair colourings or maybe like me you have an allergy to nickel. This was a very common allergy with those of us who wear pierced earrings.
Skin sensitivity increases with age
As we get older, the lipid barrier replaces itself less frequently. So products you used to use with no problem can suddenly mess with your skin. Also your skin can’t hold onto moisture as well and your skin naturally becomes dry.
How to handle sensitive skin
The worst thing you can do for sensitive skin is to wash it more frequently and over-exfoliate. Soap and hot water will damage your lipid barrier. Think about butter on your hand. If you put the butter under cold water, the butter won’t go anywhere. But if you put the butter under hot water, the butter will melt away. So if you wash your skin in hot water or you use harsh soaps, then you are simply washing your protective lipid layer away! Instead use cool or lukewarm water when cleansing.
What products can you use?
My advice for anyone with sensitive skin would be firstly to have a simple skincare routine. What I mean is do not overload with a number of products. Stick to gentle cleansers that contain antioxidants such as rose hip seed oil and I wouldn’t use a skin scrub until sensitivity has been calmed down. Go for fragrance free and be careful of certain botanical oils like lavender.
Do not believe ‘dry & sensitive skin’ labelling
I wouldn’t automatically trust a ‘sensitive skin’ label either. Try a small patch test on the inside of your forearm and ensure you have no reaction before using it.
Say no to scrubs or facial brushes
Stay clear of abrasive scrubs and mechanical exfoliators like microbeads and walnut shell powder. These can tear into your skin’s barrier. I wouldn’t use brushes on devices like the Clarisonic either.
What ingredients to look for
Humectants which attract moisture into your skin are glycerin and hyaluronic acid. Ceramides and fatty acids like linoleic and alpha-linolenic acids. You have to be trapping water into the skin and creating a stronger protective lipid layer.