If you live with sensitive skin, regular activities can be a challenge. Going for a swim, spending time outdoors, or trying out new makeup may cause adverse reactions. You might not be able to wear perfume, wash clothes with certain detergents, or eat some foods without consequences.
While you can benefit from consulting a dermatologist, you can also take steps to protect and heal your sensitive skin at home. First, let’s discuss some of the reasons why your skin might be out of balance.
What causes sensitive skin?
Healthy skin protects a body against harmful influences in the environment. It has a layer of protective fats and cells that retains moisture and keeps skin elastic. This shield is also a little acidic to ward off bacteria, too.
If that protective layer is too thin or compromised by damage, your skin might lose too much water. And it may allow in irritants like microbes, chemicals, or UV radiation. Then you’ll notice symptoms like redness, itching, blistering, and peeling.
Who’s at risk for sensitive skin?
Anyone can be affected by sensitive skin, but some groups are more likely to suffer from it. For example, babies have thinner skin, and so do older adults.
The hormonal changes of pregnancy, teen years, and peri-menopause also affect the skin. And too many late nights and a lot of stress can weaken your skin, as can smoking.
Finally, persons with allergies and certain genetic conditions may find that their skin is more sensitive to influences around them.
Environmental causes of skin irritation
Once the protective layer, or stratum corneum, is compromised, a person with sensitive skin may react to any number of irritants.
To illustrate, someone who has acne might experience redness, dryness, or more pimples if they use alcohol-based toner on their face. And the surfactants and dyes in cleansers that remove makeup and excess oil can create the same results.
An older person may develop wrinkles and sun spots in response to tanning. In fact, UV rays and pollution create free radicals that weaken the skin’s natural barrier.
Even cold weather adversely affects the skin. It slows down the production of healthy fats or lipids, and skin becomes overly dry.
Symptoms of sensitive skin
How do you know if you have sensitive skin? You might have these reactions, signs, or symptoms.
Red spots or blotches are a common complaint. Your skin might sting when it’s exposed to irritants, and it turns red. You might also see signs of rosacea, like visible blood vessels, small bumps, and thick skin on your nose or cheeks.
Rosacea is a skin condition that affects millions of people, and it’s not the same as the temporary redness that perfume might cause. If you have rosacea, you naturally tend to have very sensitive skin. Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is another skin disorder that might manifest in red patches. And people with eczema may be especially sensitive to cosmetics or soap.
Very dry skin
If your skin feels itchy and tight, it’s dehydrated. It might even be peeling or flaking. Perhaps you have naturally dry skin, or maybe you’re experiencing a temporary problem. Either way, it’s unpleasant and uncomfortable.
Pimples appear for a number of reasons, whether it’s been a stressful week, you ate the wrong food, or you used a new moisturizer that clogged your pores. They are signs of sensitive skin on your face, although they may also appear on your body.
The most common sign of contact dermatitis is a rash. For example, it’s like when you get poison ivy. It’s caused by something known to injure skin, like bleach or acid. Or it might be from a specific allergy you have, like to a fragrance or soap. You might have raised bumps, itchiness, tenderness, burning, or cracked and oozing skin.
The best treatments for sensitive skin
There are lots of people who have learned to manage their sensitive skin successfully. Part of their achievement comes from a few lifestyle changes. Here are a few tips to help you protect yourself and avoid irritation:
- Skip hot and cold water in favor of warm temperatures when you shower
- Wash your body and clothes with fragrance-free products
- Apply moisturizer right after you bathe
- Also, choose moisturizers and makeup that are free of perfumes
- Exfoliate less frequently, or not at all, and don’t do chemical peels
- Try organic or natural cleaners around the house
- Modify your diet to include more water and less processed food
- Test new makeup, sunscreen, etc. on a small spot of skin and wait a day to see how you react
When to visit a doctor about sensitive skin
If your skin sensitivities are causing you distress, it’s smart to talk to a medical professional about them. And if you are experiencing an anaphylactic reaction with difficulty in swallowing and breathing, get emergency help immediately.
Otherwise, there are many simple treatments for sensitive skin that you can try at home.
Oatmeal is a proven treatment for rashes and skin irritation. You may get the relief you see by making a paste of oatmeal and water and letting it sit on your skin for twenty minutes.
Next, apple cider vinegar is an effective toner that kills acne bacteria and restores the natural pH levels of the skin. Although it smells rather strong, it’s more gentle than many commercial toners. Witch hazel is another toner worth trying if you need to reduce oiliness.
If you wish to exfoliate dead, dry skin safely, try coconut oil with sugar. This mix makes a moisturizing scrub that you can gently rub in circles, then wipe off with a damp cloth.
If you have trouble finding a lotion that cures your dry skin, try pure castor oil. You might also enjoy coconut oil.
If you’re experiencing an itchy rash, you can try an over-the-counter antihistamine, an anti-itch gel, or a steroid cream like hydrocortisone.
Finally, some folks swear by aloe vera as a cure for itchiness, rashes, and sunburn. It lessens the sting and moisturizes.
Prevention of skin problems
The smart scientists of the American Academy of Dermatology recommend a few steps to prevent adverse skin reactions. First, avoid waterproof makeup as it may require a harsh cleanser to remove. Second, black mascara and liner are oddly less allergenic than other colors. Third, face power may cause fewer problems than a liquid foundation since it contains little or no preservatives. And fourth, toss out old makeup even if you haven’t used it all because it may be contaminated or spoiled.
Next, if you want to be very sure your new face cream isn’t going to cause a breakout, use this trick. Put a dab behind your ear at bedtime. How does your skin look in the morning? Feel free to repeat this step more than one day to be sure.
Then put a little bit on your face near an eye. Is your skin looking normal the next day? If so, you’re good to go.
And keep in mind that there are sites online that have product databases which reveal what might be damaging to your skin. Try the EWG (Environmental Working Group), the NIH (National Institutes of Health), and the NLM (National Library of Medicine).
Products that treat sensitive skin
Decades of research into skin sensitivity reveals several components have the power to restore the skin’s natural barrier. Before we dive into the best products for sensitive skin, let’s review a few of the ingredients you’ll want inside the bottle.
Glycerin is a humectant that absorbs water and helps your skin retain moisture.
Coenzyme Q10 isn’t a human-made invention. It’s an antioxidant that’s already in your skin, working to neutralize free radicals and strengthen the barrier against irritants. But the amount of Coenzyme Q10 decreases with age, and that’s why many skin care products contain it.
Biotin is Vitamin B7. It makes your hair, nails, and skin stronger by speeding up lipid production.
Ceramides exist in your skin, but you can support them with Ceramide-3. This synthesized ingredient works to prevent dryness by slowing down moisture evaporation.
And now, let’s see what sensitive skin products you might enjoy.
Moisturizers and lotions
Choose a non-comedogenic moisturizer, and your skin will thank you. There are many brands without fragrances, parabens, and dyes.
Shampoo, conditioner, and body wash
As much as you may love the scent, put down that soap with perfume and opt for fragrance-free. At the very least, aim for natural products that avoid artificial preservatives, alcohols, and sulfates.
If you break out after shaving, try a gel or cream formulated for sensitive skin. Or else ditch the chemicals altogether and shave with coconut oil.
Yes, there is even toilet paper and wipes made for sensitive skin. They both tend to be unbleached and free from alcohol and fragrances.
It’s a tough spot when you need to wear sunblock to protect your sensitive skin, but it causes acne or a rash. In that case, try a sunscreen based on minerals like zinc oxide instead of chemicals like Avobenzone.
Whether you have naturally sensitive skin, or if your skin has become sensitized, take heart in the fact that you have the power to make it better. You might have eczema or rosacea. Or you could be suffering from cold weather, dry air, or too much sun. No matter what the cause, there are solutions.
Take the time to understand what has caused your skin to be sensitive. Then educate yourself about the best products for sensitive skin. Finally, invest in your health and treat your skin well. You deserve it.