If skin care products cause irritations like itching, swelling and redness, your skin is sensitive. “As such, there is not a definition for sensitive skin”, says Rachel Herschenfeld, MD, FAAD, a dermatologist in Wellesley. All dermatologists can determine if the skin is sensitive. According to Herschenfeld, sensitive skin means that an individual's skin reacts easily to many different products, including those that other people are able to tolerate. The products that cause reactions include cosmetics, moisturizers, anti-aging creams, and sunscreens. The responses of sensitive skin include redness, dryness, flaking, stinging, even bumps, and blisters.
“These reactions may be caused by an overactive immune system, which launches an allergic reaction, or it can simply be an irritation of the skin. Stinging is mostly caused by irritation, while itching is due to an allergic response”, says Herschenfeld.
Here are some tips to get over the sensitive skin issue:
“Prefer gentle soap-free cleansers instead of soap for cleaning”, says Herschenfeld and Robin Ashinoff, MD, director of cosmetic dermatology at Hackensack Medical Center in New Jersey. Soaps can dry out the skin and be harsh on it, while soap-free cleansers are designed to avoid drying out the skin. “They do not have any unnecessary ingredients, like fragrance, which may lead to irritation of the skin”, adds Herschenfeld. One can avoid rinsing with soap-free cleansers and use a tissue instead. If you don’t feel clean without soap, use a gentle moisturizing soap that does not have fragrance and dyes. “It would be better if it is specifically for sensitive skin”, says Ashinoff.
Try to avoid:
- Products that contain acids, including salicylic acids, which is commonly used for acne treatment.
- Deodorant or antibacterial soaps that are not very essential skin care products. These products are not needed unless there is an active infection that needs to be treated.
- Scrubbing the face, as this can irritate the skin. Always gently cleanse the face with fingertips or a soft cloth, and then pat dry.
Moisturizers and Sunscreens
To prevent drying out the skin and irritation, one can use a gentle moisturizer. Herschenfeld says that it is better to opt for products that do not contain many ingredients and fragrances. Look out for products that are gentle on sensitive skin. Sunscreens are essential for avoiding skin damage due to exposure to the sun and to prevent aging effects on the skin.
There are two types of sunscreen:
- Chemical sunscreens – These work by absorbing the sun’s rays. As they contain many chemical components, it may cause a small amount of skin irritation in some people.
- Physical sunscreens – These products work by physically blocking the sun light. They contain zinc oxide or titanium oxide, which does not cause any reactions in people with sensitive skin.
Always opt for chemical-free and sensitive skin products. Herschenfeld suggests that it is better to go for sunscreens that have SPF 30. Active ingredients are present in larger amounts in sunscreens with higher SPFs.
Choose the right cosmetics
Trial and error might be required before deciding on the right type of product.
Some of the tips for choosing the right kind of product include:
- Opt for fragrance free products – choose foundations and cosmetics that are fragrance-free.
- Hypoallergenic cosmetics – Although it hasn't been designated to help sensitive skin, some people may be benefit from the use of hypoallergenic cosmetics..
- Test new products – one can test the new products by applying them two times a day on a small patch, such as near the elbow. If it is not causing any reactions, one can apply it on the skin.
- Add one new cosmetic product at a time – always try out one new cosmetic at a time so that it is easy to point out the problems caused by the new product.
Retinoids are the best treatment for wrinkles, but products containing retinoids may cause an allergic response. If the skin is sensitive to these prescription medications, one can always try gentler over-the-counter retinol products. Products that contain retinaldehydes are also gentle anti-aging products. Some women try to rejuvenate the skin using hydroxyacids, which may work in different ways in different people. In some individuals, it may cause dryness and irritation, while in others, it may be very soothing and moisturizing. One can look at the effects of the products through trial and error. Opt for products with low percentages of hydroxyacids, says Herschenfeld. Even botanical compounds may cause a lot of irritation and response, as they also contain substances that are irritating.