Sensitive skin can refer to anything from occasional redness to skin issues such as eczema or rosacea. At its most basic level, sensitive skin is a general, non-medical term for skin that easily breaks out into rashes or experiences blotchy, itchy or stinging reactions from the weather or skin care products.
Some common signs of sensitive skin are skin reactions such as bumps, pustules and skin erosion, extremely dry skin that is cracked and doesn’t fully protect nerve endings and a tendency towards blushing and flushing. Serious skin issues such as eczema and rosacea are often also defined as sensitive skin; however, these concerns should be addressed by a doctor.
Do a patch test
Testing out products before you use them is key for sensitive skin types. Dab a small amount of the product on your neck (the skin here is thinner and more reactive) and give it 24 hours to see if you experience a negative reaction. If nothing happens, then you know the product is most likely safe to use all over your face and/or body.
Avoid harsh ingredients on sensitive skin
Sensitive skin is especially affected by harsh skin care ingredients that can be drying and damaging. Avoid products that contain synthetic dyes and fragrances and stay away from foaming gels and cleansers as they usually containingredients like sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, or ammonium laureth sulfate which strip the skin of its natural oils and leave it more tight and irritated.
Renée Rouleau, an esthetician and skin care expert, recommends avoiding this list of offending ingredients as well:
SD Alcohol 40-the “bad” solvent alcohol commonly found in toners. It is extremely drying and irritating to the skin. (Note: Cetyl Alcohol is completely different and is not a drying ingredient.)
Denatured Alcohol-similar to SD Alcohol but usually found in European skin care formulas.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate– a harsh detergent found in cleansing gels and is extremely drying and irritating to the skin
Sodium Trideceth Sulfate– same as above
Sodium Laureth Sulfate-same as above
Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate– a harsh detergent found in cleansing gels and is extremely drying and irritating to the skin
Ammonium Laureth Sulfate-same as above
Fragrance– the #1 cause of allergic reactions to products. Avoid products containing the word “fragrance” or “parfum” on the ingredient listing
Dyes and colorants-An unnecessary chemical used to give a product its color and can be a skin irritant. Commonly listed as the very last ingredient with the words FD&C
Apricot kernels, or seed/shell powders-naturally made particles found in facials scrubs that can scratch and irritate the skin causing bacteria to spread
Alpha Lipoic Acid, L-Ascorbic Acid and Ascorbic Acid– Used in Vitamin C antioxidant formulas, the acidity may burn and irritate sensitive skin.
Not too hot, not too cold
Weather can be one of the most aggravating factors for people with sensitive skin. Extremely cold or hot environments can take a toll on any skin type, but especially those with already sensitive skin. This also applies to the temperatures you use in your daily skin treatments. Water that is too hot or too cold shocks the skin and can result in reactions or drying. Sensitive skin types should use lukewarm water when washing their face and never take excessively hot showers.
Don’t overdo it
In many cases, our skin care products cause sensitive skin reactions. Many people are guilty of using too many products on their skin at once or may not be aware that certain products are causing reactions. To figure out if your products may be causing a reaction, experiment with not using certain products for an extended period of time and introduce new products slowly, only one new product to your skin every five days at minimum, that way you can recognize exactly how certain products are influencing your skin.
Soap is only for your hands
Never use bar soap as a cleanser. Soap is an alkaline substance, which interrupts your skin’s naturally acidic top layer. It strips your skin of its natural oils and causes dryness and irritation. Opt for milder cleansers free of sulfates instead.
Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize
If you have sensitive skin, moisture is your friend. As dryness is a common symptom of dry skin, keeping your skin hydrated is a good way to minimize reactions and keep your skin calm. Look for moisturizers that contain lipid-rich oils such as cranberry oil, evening primrose oil, squalane and jojoba oil for extra nourishment.