A Sensitive Subject

Ask a woman what skin type she has and there’s a 70% chance she will say sensitive. But what does this really mean?

Sensitive has become an umbrella term that covers delicate, reactive, confused or just plain unhappy skin. If your skin isn’t really dry or oily, if it reacts easily when you put anything too heavy or rich on it, if you suffer from redness and occasional spots, chances are you put yourself into the sensitive category.

So we have been investigating: What truly constitutes sensitive skin and how can we resolve it?

There are many theories as to why our skins are becoming more sensitive — from the increase in environmental pollution and exposure to chemicals to a build-up of allergies which can develop slowly over several years before producing a reaction. Ironically our quest for younger-looking skin may be to blame as we cleanse too vigorously, exfoliate too often and bombard skin with the latest anti-ageing chemicals. One thing that is certain, though — sensitivity is a genuine condition characterised by reactive, red, blotchy skin; tightness and dryness and even signs of eczema, dermatitis and psoriasis.

People who have truly sensitive skin experience a burning and itching sensation when they use a product with which they react. Skin can become so sensitised that it reacts even to tap water. Medical advice in severe cases is to wash with lukewarm water; reduce the number of products used and keep skincare as simple as possible and free from chemicals, essential oils and alcohol.

But then there are those of us whose sensitivity is not a medical condition, but certainly troublesome and often occurs just as we reach an age when we might expect our skin to be more settled. It is triggered by factors such as stress, lack of sleep, misuse of products and ageing.

The reason people develop sensitive skin is because the epidermis (outer layer) becomes weakened by these factors which then allows irritants to penetrate and disrupt nerve endings and blood vessels causing redness and spots. This damaged layer also causes water loss that can lead to dehydrated skin, which in turn causes further dullness and irritation.

Why Me?

The Chinese often refer to skin as the ‘third eye’, as it can be an outward reflection of what’s going on inside the body. There are a number of internal factors that may be contributing to your weakened epidermis: these include hormonal activity such as menstruation, menopause and pregnancy; stress levels – high stress typically makes skin conditions worsen; diet – certain foods may trigger allergic reactions; and medication. External factors include weather extremes and sun exposure; irritants in your skincare products and even genetics – if your mother had sensitive skin, it is likely you will too.

What to do?

Follow common-sense steps towards a healthy lifestyle – look at your intake of alcohol and caffeine, eat sensibly, drink lots of water and exercise in moderation. Be vigilant about the ingredients in your skincare products and avoid all potential irritants including phthalates, parabens, chemical fragrances, artificial colours, propylene glycol, EDTAs and ureas.

Pare down your routine. Check the ingredients in your Cleanser – Sodium Lauryl Sulphate and Ammonium Laureth Sulphate are harsh detergents commonly used in soaps that break down the natural lipids in skin. Switch to a Cream Cleanser, use a pure Muslin Cloth rinsed in hand-hot water or an all-natural Konjac Sponge.

Let your skin dry naturally and apply an alcohol-free toner. Let this soak in before applying your moisturiser. Choose products from a brand that specialises in sensitive skin and don’t chop and change. Don’t over-exfoliate as this can seriously strip skin and increase the potential for irritation.

If you have small red bumps on your face that itch it means you are allergic to one of your products. Common culprits are alcohol, fragrance and artificial preservatives. Check your ingredient lists and try to eliminate one at a time. A soothing skincare regime should help to keep skin calm and under control: Choose carefully and look for ranges that include good quality ingredients, especially vitamins and soothing botanicals such as Aloe Vera, Lavender, Calendula, Almond and Cucumber.

Don’t confuse your skin by over-complicating your routine or mixing too many brands.

Experts such as REN produce products that are designed to work together – their best-selling Evercalm Sensitive Skin range is formulated with bioactives to ‘train’ sensitive skin to be less reactive. The experts at Herbfarmacy use organically grown herbs from their own herb farm renowned for their anti-inflammatory and replenishing properties.

Santaverde’s Aloe Vera-based formulas are scientifically proven to care for skin without causing redness or irritation.

And Pai are the brand-leaders in sensitive skin, using ingredients such as Chamomile which has superb soothing properties and Rosehip which is a great skin healer.

It might also help to know that you are not alone! Our natural brands are very aware of the needs of sensitive skin and provide the best possible care your sensitive skin can ask for.

Jane x

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