6 Frequently Asked Questions About Sensitive Skin

Introduction

Sensitive skin is a very commonly misunderstood area in skincare. There are lots of misconceptions regarding sensitive skin, including its causes, how to treat it, and the lifestyle habits you should be avoiding or incorporating to keep your skin healthy and happy. Many of us don’t really know what sensitive skin even is to start with, we think it is a skin type the way that oily and dry skin are. That’s the first fundamental misconception we have. Other common misconceptions we have are that we think sensitive skin only encompasses skin that gets red and itchy easily. And of course, we don’t know how to really properly care for and maintain our sensitive skin! Don’t worry, this article is dedicated to asking some of the most commonly asked questions about sensitive skin!

What is sensitive skin, exactly?

Sensitive skin isn’t a disorder or skin type that you can be diagnosed with. It is usually a symptom in itself of an underlying skin condition. It could be due to allergies in response to certain ingredients and formulations.

What is the reason people have sensitive skin?

Sensitive skin is more reactive than normal. The sensitivity of the skin occurs when the nerve endings present in the top layer, or epidermis, of the skin, get irritated. This irritation can occur if the skin barrier is weak or broken down because of an internal or external trigger. Sensitive skin is irritated very easily by environmental elements like the wind, heat, dryness, or cold, and it can also be irritated by skincare products. The effects of sensitive skin are burning or stinging sensations, redness, flakiness, peeling, itching, and general discomfort.

What can trigger sensitive skin?

Pretty much anything can trigger sensitive skin! Environmental elements like the wind, heat, and sun are a big one, as well as air pollution, cigarette smoke, and pollen. Ingredients in skincare products or even household products can cause a reaction in sensitive skin. Facial soaps, serums, masks, and moisturizers can all cause irritation to the skin, as can fragrances, dyes, and detergents in washing products and body wash. You can easily identify if your skin is having a reaction to skincare products if you notice discomfort or redness and irritation after applying certain products.

What skincare routine should I follow?

The rule of thumb is “less is more”. The fewer products you use on your skin, the better. Sensitive skin is easily triggered by irritants that cause a reaction from the body. Since we often don’t know exactly what irritants can trigger a reaction, it can be anything from a single ingredient or even a particular formulation that does not agree with your skin. The fewer products you have, the less you are exposing your skin to the chances of an irritant. The same goes for ingredient lists. The longer the ingredient list, the higher the chances of encountering an ingredient that causes a reaction. Hence, try to use clean skincare products with short ingredient lists so you can better identify what is causing your irritation should it cause you any. As a sensitive-skinned person, all you really need is a very basic and simple routine — a gentle cleanser that does not contain sulfates and hence does not foam, a good moisturizer, and sunscreen with minimal SPF 15 is pretty much all you need for a daily basis. Avoiding cleansers with grains and beads, harsh exfoliants, and strong topical creams with chemicals is the best way to go.

Should I avoid any ingredients?

Yes! Sensitive-skinned people need to be very careful and discerning with the ingredients in their skincare products. Here are some common ingredients that can cause irritation to your skin as they are very strong: 

Salicylic acid: Salicylic acid is popular for acne to dry out the oils and stuff that is clogging up your pores, reducing the swelling and redness from pimples. However, it will over-dry the skin which might result in irritation and dryness for people with sensitive skin. 

Hyaluronic acid: Hyaluronic acid is one of the best hydrating ingredients for the skin due to its ability to retain up to a thousand times its weight in water. However, hyaluronic acid can potentially cause irritation because it increases the penetration ability of other products for your skin to better absorb them. While this would usually be a good thing, remember that sensitive skin is well sensitive, so this added absorption ability might in fact increase irritation.

Retinol: Retinol is one of the best ingredients for your skin to fight anti-aging, acne, and improve collagen production, but retinol often causes breakouts, irritation, and peeling in the first couple of weeks of usage as the skin cells start to renew at a faster rate. This is what makes retinol unsuitable and not recommended for people with sensitive skin as it will only aggravate and cause a lot of inflammation, and irritation. 

Alpha-hydroxy acids: AHA’s one of the best exfoliators but like every other product above, it is just too strong for sensitive skin. The most popular AHAs are glycolic acid, lactic acid, and malic acid and they are excellent for exfoliating the skin and giving a much brighter and smoother skin appearance. Unfortunately, these acids will cause irritation for skin that is sensitive and it also makes the skin more vulnerable to the sun.

How do I know if I am allergic to a new product?

Regular patch tests should be a routine you do whenever you try a new skincare product. Test a little bit of the product on the inner part of your arm first to gauge how your skin will react to the product. If your inner arm is not red and irritated after a week of trying it, you can test it on the side of your neck. Should there be some irritation and redness, stop using the product as it is a sign that you are allergic to it. Patch testing can also help your skin build up tolerance and resilience to stronger products such as retinol and exfoliators. This will save you lots of time and money trying out new stuff then discarding it because it irritates you!

Conclusion

The best way to develop a skincare routine that works for you with little discomfort is to see a dermatologist! If you have sensitive skin, they will be able to identify which products will cause the least irritation to your skin.

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