National Beauty School Journal – Magazine

The Facts About Sensitive Skin

by Lia Schorr

Sensitive skin. Everyone has it—at one time or another if not all the time. What I am talking about is skin that reacts—with heightened sensitivity-to the environment, certain foods, consumer products (and that includes skincare preparations), medication, even stress.

Sensitive skin is demanding skin-requiring sensitivity on the part of its owner.Here is the sensitive-skin story. The basic facts and strategies for sensible care.

“Sensitive" is not a "skin type," the way "oily" and "dry" are. Sensitive skin can be dry, oily, or combination. What characterizes sensitive skin is its vulnerability to one or more of a host of potential irritants; chemical and environmental.

Skin sensitivity is tricky; it can come and go with the seasons, changes in lifestyle, diet modifications, etcetera. Those prone to sensitivity are well advised to be ever on the lookout for sensitive reactions; then you get to play detective, trying to isolate the culprit-anything from an ingredient in your foundation to the detergent used on your towels.

"Thin" skin, an inherited trait most often found in redheads and blondes (though certainly not exclusive to the fair-haired), almost always means perpetual sensitivity. The epidermal layer of skin is thinner than average, providing less protection for the underlying skin layers. This thinness also helps make visible any changes in the skin's blood circulation. For instance, "hot" foods-strong curries and Szechuan dishes, can raise body temperature and cause a quickening of the circulation. Skin of average thickness would not reflect this change; thin skin would, becoming flushed and blotchy.

Sensitive skin may look deceptively innocent-radiant and clear-most of the time, then flare up with a vengeance when it comes into contact with an irritant.

The following advice can be shared with our clients: Sensitive skin makes itself known. Blood bounds to the surface at the first hint of excitement. Extreme cold or heat, spicy foods and alcohol bring a splotchy blush to the complexion. To keep this kind of splotchiness in check, avoid anything that increases circulation: extremes in temperature, "hot" foods, sun exposure, yeast masks, cosmetics with extracts of mint or camphor, and alcohol (even one glass of wine can cause a flush).

The most common skin sensitivity is to fragrance—which means not only perfume, but all household products, which contain fragrance.

Though sensitivities are highly personal, with one "sensitive-skinned" person having no reaction to something that might cause extreme stinging in someone else, there are three ingredients that are routinely irritating: lanolin (used in moisturizers), propylene glycol (found in moisturizers and body-care products), and phenylenediamine (a component of hair coloring).

Cleanliness is truly next to Godliness if you have sensitive skin. Dirt-makeup residue, pollution, cigarette smoke-can cause sensitive skin problems.

Be a middle-of-the roader. Avoid extremes. Regular sleep patterns, routine diet patterns, avoidance of weather extremes-these all add up to preventive medicine when it comes to skin that's sensitive. Sensitive reactions, from mild to extreme, include: reddening, itching, burning, small bumps, dilation of surface blood vessels, hives, and/or swelling.

It is important to find your skin-care expert(s) and stick with them. That way, your skin can be "monitored" in an ongoing fashion, through the seasons, and through your lifestyle changes. Whether it is your dermatologist, esthetician, or cosmetics salesperson-don't jump around from person to person. Make your contacts and keep them, building a history. When sensitivities arise, these professionals will have some background to work with.

When a product works, stick with it. If and when the tried-and-true causes a sensitive reaction, shop around for something new. First consult (if possible) the person who recommended the product. Look for simple unscented products with a short list of ingredients.

Skincare Needs—and Sensitivities Change With the Seasons

Aim for a beauty regimen that uses as few products as possible. Simplicity is the cornerstone of sensitive-skin care.

As we get older, our skin "dries out”-but not from lack of oil. In fact, oil glands actually can enlarge with age, causing skin to become oilier. You still need a moisturizer—but not the rich, possibly irritating creams routinely aimed at "mature" women. Choose something light.

Dermabrasion, deep peeling, and cosmetic surgery all render the skin sensitive.

If you are sensitive to one or more of the environmental irritants, that doesn't mean you should avoid the meteorological irritant(s); just protect yourself. For exposure to the sun, use a high-double-digit sunscreen, hat with brim and sunglasses. For wind and low humidity, a high-performance moisturizer will provide some barrier.

Be Gentle With Your Skin Do not overcleanse. Instead of soap, use a mild cleansing cream and/or lotion.