Skin sensitivity is incredibly common. Not to be confused with sensitive skin, (a skin type, rather than a condition), sensitised skin occurs as the result of misusing, or overusing, badly-formulated skincare and beauty products that interfere with the skin’s acid mantle. Made up of a fine layer of sebum (oil), amino acids and sweat, the acid mantle forms a protective barrier over the skin’s outermost layer. When we use products containing harsh and stripping ingredients, we can damage the acid mantle and its vital function, leading to dull and problematic skin.
While sensitive skin and sensitised skin both share similar characteristics (inflammation, irritation, dryness and redness among them), sensitive skin is genetic, so it’s not necessarily something that can be changed, however, it can be well-managed with a simple skincare routine. Sensitised skin, on the other hand, is a skin condition. This means that while it may manifest in a comparable way to sensitive skin, its causes can be identified and treated.
Along with sensitivity, we may experience reactions to certain products. If you have redness, rashes, burning, stinging, itchiness, dryness or break-outs after using a certain product, it could signify dermatitis. Irritant contact dermatitis is the most common form and occurs when the skin comes into contact with a product it doesn’t agree with, usually appearing within a few minutes or hours. Allergic contact dermatitis, meanwhile, is a true allergic reaction to a product and will result in a much more severe reaction, typically flaring up 12 hours after exposure to the product and peaking at 48 hours after exposure.
Below is an overview of how to reduce your risk of sensitivity and reaction when using a new product.
Avoid harsh ingredients
Avoid any harsh or stripping products, instead reach for soothing and hydrating ingredients made for sensitive complexions. Remove any products from your regime that contain sulphates (including sodium lauryl sulphate and sodium laureth sulphate) and alcohols (benzyl alcohol, SD alcohol, denatured alcoho, and isopropyl alcohol) that can rob the skin of its natural oils. Synthetic fragrances and some essential oils can also be potential irritants for sensitive skin types.
Don’t over exfoliate
Exfoliation is important for skin health but limit this to two to three times a week. Avoid abrasive physical exfoliator scrubs instead opting for chemical exfoliators as they gently encourage cell turnover without irritating the skin.
Follow a routine for sensitive skins
Everyone has a different level of tolerance to products but when we overdo it and our skin becomes sensitised it’s important to listen and pair back your routine to the essentials (oil cleanser, soothing serums, hydrating moisturisers and SPF) benching stronger actives and replacing with restorative ingredients. Look for products that are formulated with anti-inflammatory ingredients such as vitamin K, niacinamide, shea butter and squalane.
Introduce products one-by-one
When you’re adding to your existing routine, incorporate one product at a time (rather than overhauling everything at once). This will allow you to isolate any reaction and clearly understand the source.
Do a patch test
Apply a small amount of product to your neck ahead of applying it to your face. Generally speaking, the neck is slightly more delicate than the face, so this is a sound way to determine how well received the product will be by the face.
Consult a professional
If you’re experiencing severe reactions and lesions, pustules or flakiness occurs you should have your skin examined by a doctor to ensure a more severe condition isn’t at play which would require a tailored treatment plan.