For some, sensitive skin is an everyday occurrence while for others it can flare up under certain circumstances or at specific times of life. It’s more common than you might think, with a recent European study showing that up to 52% of participants experienced some kind of sensitivity, which is why we sought expert advice from aesthetician, brand founder and life-long sensitive skin sufferer Kate Somerville. To find out how to handle sensitivity when it strikes and the go-to products to reach for, read on…
What is Sensitive Skin?
Skin sensitivity occurs when the nerve endings in the top layer of skin become irritated, which happens when the skin’s protective barrier is under threat. “Our skin is like a barometer, constantly reacting to the things it is exposed to,” explains Kate Somerville. Sensitivity can be brought on by several factors, including allergens, too much sun exposure, changes in temperature, stress, hormone fluctuations and dehydration.
Is Sensitive A Skin Type?
When referring to sensitive skin it’s important to note that it’s a condition or concern, and not a type in the same way oily, combination or dry is. As such it can definitely affect any and every skin type. Sensitivity typically affects those with fair skin as they have a lower skin density and therefore are more susceptible to a weaker skin barrier, however Kate explains how, “sensitive skin does not discriminate; all skin types can be affected by sensitivity and it can happen at any time.” If your skin is dry and sensitive, you may experience dry, flaky patches that cause itching and discomfort, as well as blemishes, redness and inflammation. In these instances, you need to replenish skin with inert oils that help to nourish and strengthen the skin’s barrier. If your skin is oily and sensitive, Kate recommends sticking to skincare that is free from oils but suggests keeping the top layer of skin hydrated and protected with hyaluronic acid rich products.
What’s The Difference Between Sensitive and Sensitised Skin?
Sensitive skin is a specific skin type and is a condition that occurs consistently. This is different to sensitised skin, which can happen to anyone, and takes place when you overload skin with a certain ingredient. For example, if you apply too much glycolic acid in too short a space of time, you may experience red, peeling – sensitised skin – for a temporary period of time.
How To Understand Your Skin
Sensitivity can also be more heightened at certain times of the month or during pregnancy when hormones fluctuate. Allergies can crop up at different times in your life and hormonal changes have a huge impact on skin’s sensitivity. “After my first child, I became really allergic to egg whites – something I had never previously had issues with.” Explains Kate. It’s impossible to be aware of all the things we are intolerant of or allergic to, so if you do have sensitive tendencies then it’s advisable to always introduce new skincare products gradually and be ready to cut back accordingly until you’ve re-acclimatised. “There’s been so many times when I’ve had brides-to-be come into my clinic for the first time just days before their big day and I’m reluctant to expose their skin to too much, as I don’t know what they’re allergic to.” Says Kate. She recommends really getting to know your skin and becoming your own advocate. “Mix it up and experiment with new products”, she advises, “this is the best way to understand your skin.” However, if you are experimenting, do it at least three months before an important occasion.
Daily Routines For Sensitive Skin
If you have sensitive skin, Kate recommends avoiding drying agents and detergents, which can be abrasive and disrupt the skin’s barrier, “stick to a sulphate-free cleanser and maybe even a cream cleanser to keep skin balanced and hydrated.”
When it comes to targeted treatments, watch out for natural and organic ingredients, such as essential oils, which often irritate skin as they come in very pure, high concentrated forms. Instead, stick to seed oils which provide hydration but without exacerbating sensitivity. Harsh ingredients, such as salicylic acid and even retinol can be typically tough for sensitive skin. Look for products with ingredients that are a little more benign and low on actives. If you do want to use active ingredients, introduce them gradually in small amounts and dilute with products containing inert ingredients. Physical abrasives, such as nut scrubs, are also a no go as they can create small tears or rips in the surface of the skin, which can cause irritation and lead to dryness.
Look for a fragrance-free, alcohol-free moisturiser that contains emollient ingredients such as jojoba seed oil, olive oil and a mix of antioxidants to help soothe signs of irritation. It’s always wise to apply an SPF of at least 15 daily to both face and body, as exposure to harmful UV rays can irritate skin. Kiehl’s new Ultra Light Daily UV Defense is a lightweight, gel formula that has the capacity to help protect the skin barrier from pollution and UV rays. Combined with the antioxidant power of vitamin E, this daily SPF keeps skin hydrated without congesting or blocking pores.
How To Calm A Skin Reaction
If you’re suffering from an allergic reaction, there are preventative steps you can take to bring down the inflammation and soothe irritation.
Firstly, cleanse skin with a gentle cleanser such as Kora Organics Gentle Cleanser formulated with calming chamomile and calendula extracts to soothe irritation and reduce visible signs of inflammation. Keep the water cool and press a cold wet flannel onto skin to help draw the blood vessels away from the surface and reduce the appearance of redness.
Next, look to strengthen skin’s barrier with a nourishing face mask or moisturiser such as Darphin Intral Soothing Cream, which is specially formulated with rose water and shea butter to help to replenish hydration while soothing and calming irritation.