A lot of my clients tell me their skin is “sensitive.” And the first question I respond with is: what do you mean by sensitive? Do you experience stinging or burning after you use certain products? Or, do you just break out a lot? Many of us think our skin is sensitive because it breaks out, but that’s not always the case: let’s clarify the difference between sensitivity and breakouts.
Breakouts are a condition typically caused by incorrect product use, hormonal fluctuations, comedogenic ingredients, or dirt, oil and trapped debris. Sensitive skin, on the other hand, you inherit. The tendency toward allergic rashes or redness is potentially linked to rosacea and inflammation.
Overworked skin translates to over-sensitized skin
Here’s where I find the confusion often lies: sensitized skin, including breakouts, are caused by lifestyle choices or too many aggressive treatments. The key words being aggressive treatments. There is an increase in skin inflammation or sensitive skin issues due to using too many products and more highly active products.
Case in point, my mother and grandmother never had upwards of ten skincare products in their beauty routines! The overuse of active products can impair the skin’s barrier function, which helps keep bacteria out and moisture in, and therefore leaves the skin overexposed. An impaired barrier function is what manifests as flakiness and redness. Overuse of active and drying acne products is often the reason why you break out and define your skin as sensitive.
Take these steps to calm your sensitive skin
The more you know, the more you can avoid: here are a few tips to defend your skin against increased sensitivity.
If your skin stings and burns, avoid AHAs (glycolic acid), BHAs (salicylic acid), retinol and for some, vitamin C (ascorbic acid). Exfoliation is still important so try lactic acid and fruit enzymes as they are gentler forms.
See your dermatologist if you have chronic redness or flushing as you may have rosacea. You will also want to use caution with chemical exfoliants (AHAs, BHAs and retinols) and physical exfoliants (scrubs and facial brushes).
Skip the perfumes
Avoid perfume. Products containing fragrance including essential oils as they can cause an allergic reaction.
Use SPF with physical blockers like zinc oxide
Wear SPF. Avobenzone often causes the most stinging so look for physical blocks with zinc oxide.
Step away from the hair dryer
Avoid heat. Heat and excessive humidity can exacerbate sensitive skin. Keep the blow-dryer away from your face, don’t run hot water over your face in the shower, and make sure to not let the heater or A/C in your car blow directly on your skin.
Sulfates? You don’t need ’em
Avoid Sulfates. Sulfates (SLS) are harsh detergents in some facial cleansers that strip the skin of its natural protective barrier, increasing the potential for breakouts and flushing.
Get those anti-inflammatory foods
Eat more green leafy vegetables, walnuts, chia seeds, bone broth, blueberries and cut back on alcohol and processed sugar. We now have studies showing sugar causes inflammation within the body, which can show up in the skin through redness and puffiness. Inflammation is also a precursor to accelerated skin aging. Avoid spicy foods, hot liquids and caffeine as they can exacerbate redness.
Yoga and meditation help me stay calm but for others, spending time in nature or hanging with their pet lowers stress just as effectively.
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