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Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Sensitive Skin, Explained by a Dermatologist

 

Expert treatment recommendations for even the most sensitive skin.

Sensitive skin” is a term that is widely used on the packaging of skincare products, by doctors, and even in casual conversation among friends and family. But how can you tell whether you have sensitive skin in the first place? And if you do, what are your plans?

“Over 60% of my patients perceive their skin as sensitive in some way,” says MMSkincare founder and dermatologist Ellen Marmur, M.D. Sensitive skin, it turns out, is a complex disease with no “one-size-fits-all” classification, encompassing everything from redness to dryness, rashes, and more. Allergies, unpleasant skincare products, and even the sun can be culprits.

But don’t worry (stress might exacerbate sensitivity!): Expert doctors have provided answers to your most common sensitive skin questions.

What exactly does “sensitive skin” imply?

According to Dr. Marmur, sensitive skin refers to a variety of disorders ranging from inherited ailments like rosacea and eczema to severe allergies. While many people may experience a skin reaction as a result of exposure to a product or substance at some point in their lives, those with chronic concerns are classed as having sensitive skin.

What are the signs and symptoms of a sensitive skin condition?

Sun sensitivity is a key one, according to Dr. Marmur. You may have sensitive skin if it stings, tingles, flushes, becomes pink, is bumpy, or breaks out readily when you use new products, she says. Redness, itching, dry spots, and frequent rashes are other common symptoms.

What does it mean to have “sensitive skin” type?

Sensitive skin encompasses a wide range of disorders, including rosacea and eczema, as well as severe allergies, according to Dr. Marmur explains. While many people can have a skin reaction at some point or another from exposure to a product or ingredient, those with persistent issues are classified as having sensitive skin.

What are the symptoms of sensitive skin?

Sensitivity to the sun is a big one, Dr. Marmur says. You also may have sensitive skin if your skin reacts easily to new products, stings, tingles, flushes, turns pink, is bumpy, or breaks out easily, she explains. Redness, itching, dry areas, and rashes are some of the other prevalent symptoms.

What causes skin sensitivity?

According to Dr. Marmur, inflammation is the fundamental cause of sensitive skin. It’s now known as inflammaging because it hastens the degradation of collagen and the extracellular matrix, resulting in redness, flakiness, and irritated skin. This ailment can last a short time, although it is frequently chronic. When rosacea, eczema, or other skin problems like lupus or hormone issues are linked, sensitive skin can be inherited.

Around my eyes, I have red, itching lumps. Why?

According to Mona Gohara, M.D., a dermatologist at Yale School of Medicine, the eyes are the most common site for women to develop skin allergies, which aren’t usually caused by eye cream. Consider everything you come into contact with throughout the day: Dr. Graber explains, “People get allergies on their fingers — nail polish and gold and nickel in jewellery are major causes — and then rub their eyes.” “A reaction may not occur on the thick skin of your hands, but it may occur in the sensitive eye area.” The solution is simple: don’t touch your face.

Everything causes a reaction in my skin! What can I do about it?

The better your skin is, the less reactive it will be,” explains Emmy Graber, M.D., a dermatologist at Boston University School of Medicine. “Allergens may penetrate into dry and cracked skin more easily.” Swap out soap, which can strip skin of its natural oils, for a non-soap cleanser like Dove Sensitive Skin Beauty Bar to keep skin in tip-top shape. After that, apply a ceramide-rich moisturiser to help strengthen your skin’s top layer (a good bet is CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion PM). If everything else fails, reducing the amount of products you use may be able to help you keep your symptoms under control.

For my sensitive skin, what components should I search for – and avoid?

To begin, stay away from fragrances, which are a common source of allergies, as well as anything branded “antibacterial” (which may contain drying ingredients such as alcohol and triclosan). Look for sensitive skin products that are high in moisturisers to keep your skin balanced; dimethicone, glycerin, and petrolatum are all great options that are often well tolerated.

While there are no industry guidelines for goods labelled “hypoallergenic” or “for sensitive skin,” if your skin is extremely reactive, utilising these cosmetics is a smart place to start. (We prefer VMV Hypoallergenics, a skincare and makeup brand that has been allergy-tested.) Also keep in mind that the less substances you apply to your skin, the less likely you are to experience an allergic reaction.

Is it true that natural and organic skin care products are better for sensitive skin?

Certainly not. Many natural components are irritants and allergies, according to Dr. Graber. “Tea tree oil and lavender are two prominent ones,” he says. While these products are less likely to contain irritating parabens, many of them still contain fragrance, which can cause allergic reactions. As a result, pay attention to the ingredient labels.

How can I know whether a product is going to upset my sensitive skin?

Symptoms such as redness, irritation, pimples, and peeling can develop right after you try a new beauty product or take days to appear. The discrepancy in time can make it difficult to figure out who is to blame. So, if you’re prone to allergic responses, conduct a “use test,” as dermatologists term it. Apply a small amount of the product to your inner arm, wrap it in a bandage, and let it dry for 72 hours. You have the green light to apply the product as prescribed if your skin is still smooth and intact.

Why is it that I may use a cream for years and have no problems with it, but then it irritates me?

“You can develop an allergy at any time because, like your other organs, your skin changes as you age, and this could abruptly sensitise your immune system to something.” it used to be able to handle,” Dr. Gohara adds. “I notice it a lot in middle-aged ladies, especially those who use a lot of products,” says the author. Dr. Marmur has gone through a similar ordeal. “One of my patients had a favourite lipstick she’d worn since she was 18, but she acquired an allergy to one of the ingredients after many years,” she explains. “She was disappointed to have to switch, but happy to have a simple treatment.”

Another possibility is that, despite the fact that a lotion’s name and packaging remain the same, a change in the formula or the addition of a new ingredient is to blame. Whether you have an issue, check with the manufacturer to see if the formulation has changed. The simplest course of action is to quit utilising that item.

What are the most effective methods for treating itchy skin?

It’s probably just dryness if the itching is accompanied by flaking and tightness and your skin isn’t pink or red. Use a petroleum-based moisturiser or ointment on a daily basis, such as Aveeno Cracked Skin Relief Cica Ointment. Another option is to use an anti-itch lotion like Sarna Anti-Itch Lotion, which contains menthol to fool nerves into thinking they are experiencing a cold sensation, which relieves itching. If you have pimples or hives, take an antihistamine; if you have a rash, use an over-the-counter cortisone cream.But, according to Dr. Gohara, if you’re itching all over, you should contact a doctor because it could be a sign of something more serious, such as thyroid illness.

So, as I get older, will my skin get more sensitive?

It’s possible. “Aging and hormonal changes cause your skin to become drier and thinner, making it more prone to reactions,” Dr. Graber explains. While some illnesses, such as eczema, can start as early as childhood, others, such as rosacea, usually occur in adults in their 40s. Check the anti-aging products you’re taking if you’re experiencing increased sensitivity; certain common chemicals, including as retinol, are known irritants. Stick to peptide-based solutions for a milder option (try Good Housekeeping Seal star Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream Fragrance-Free).

What is the best way to get rid of sensitive skin?

We understand how difficult it is to live with sensitive skin. The disease can be perplexing, and if there is a single reason — such as an ingredient — it is easy to eliminate. While there isn’t a simple test for sensitive skin, your dermatologist can help you manage it. According to Dr. Marmur, you can get a skincare history analysis and possibly a patch test there. They can assist you in identifying potential triggers, prescribing medications to soothe skin and reduce inflammation, and recommending effective in-office and at-home therapies.

Dr. Marmur advises IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) and BBL (Broadband Light) photofacials for professional treatments. IPL is comparable to laser therapy in that it is used to help minimise the effects of ageing, brighten dark areas, and improve the look of scars and veins in addition to treating sensitive skin. A BBL photofacial is a phototherapy treatment that targets ageing, UV damage, and other skin issues, including sensitive skin.It can aid in the improvement of skin clarity, smoothness, and radiance. She recommends doing three to five sessions over the course of three to five months.