Having sensitive skin means that you know all about the redness, stinging, burning, itchiness, and general discomfort. Your skin is easily irritated or very reactive, which means that it needs a little bit more TLC. Let’s dive in to discover the why’s, how’s and what’s of caring for sensitive skin.
Why do you have Sensitive Skin?
We all have a protective fatty outer layer on our skin called the lipid (fat) barrier. It has two key functions: keeping water in, and keeping potentially damaging things out (for example UV rays, wind, heat, pollution, and chemicals). In people with sensitive skin, this barrier is typically weaker, thinner, and more easily damaged, making it easier for irritants to penetrate the skin and cause those symptoms of inflammation, burning, itching and redness. (1)
How to soothe your sensitive skin
Often, in dealing with sensitive skin, prevention should be your first line of defence. Prevention of water loss is crucial, and in order to achieve this, your skin needs a moisturizer that acts as a physical barrier. (2) This type of moisturizer is called an occlusive. These include:
- petrolatum (as found in petroleum jelly)
- dimethicone (a derivative of silicone)
Barrier repair is best performed with the delivery of moisture through moisturizers known as humectants. (3) These include:
- Hyaluronic Acid
In addition, natural moisturizing agents like ceramides help to strengthen the skin’s barrier function. Ceramides are fats or lipids that are found in skin cells. They make up 30% to 40% of your outer skin layer (epidermis). If your skin’s ceramide content decreases, it can become dehydrated which in turn may exacerbate dryness and irritation. (4) Look out for moisturizers and serums that contain ceramides to help strengthen the skin barrier.
What to avoid
If you have sensitive skin, avoid products that could potentially irritate your skin, containing (5):
- Antibacterial ingredients like triclosan, triclocarban benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride, and chloroxylenol. (6)
- Retinoids or alpha-hydroxy acids
You should also avoid chemical sunscreens because they are absorbed into the skin, and some sensitive skin is reactive to these chemicals. The active ingredients in chemical sunscreens include avobenzone, octinoxate, and oxybenzone. (7)
Caring for your sensitive skin may take some trial and error, but ongoing sensitivity may mean that you’re dealing with an underlying condition like eczema, rosacea or psoriasis. In this case, it is better to consult with a dermatologist, a doctor who specializes in skin disorders.