We give a lot of vilification to the natural oils on our skin, don’t we? We hate the grease, the acne, and the clogged pores it causes. But on the other end of the skin type spectrum, where you remove the barrier that oil and sebum act as, comes sensitive skin.
Itching, scaling, redness - all of these things terrorize the dreams of people with sensitive skin before they even think of using a new product. The smallest things, like the friction caused by the fabric of their clothes, can set off sensitive skin. Oh, and let’s not even begin with how terrible it is to stand under the sun for even 10 minutes, with the heat causing burning sensations all over. Not only is sensitive skin troublesome, but it is also extremely painful.
If we are being honest here, there is certainly nothing simple about dealing with sensitive skin. We get it, it’s hard. But that doesn’t mean we cannot take baby steps. By making changes in your lifestyle, gradually, you can win the battle against all external agents ready to hurt your sensitive skin. Let us discuss the nature and how-what of sensitive skin first, and then get into some life-changing tips for you that could help you cope with it.
What is Sensitive Skin?
Many might be unaware of this, but your skin type is not always permanent. Depending on the weather, your hormones, your age, and your reactions to certain ingredients, your skin can change types. Sensitive skin is a condition of the skin characterized by increased inflammation: this means that it can be itchy, cause redness, may swell, and is painful. You could understand it better as a symptom, through which your skin warns you about either underlying disease or an allergy.
How does this happen? What biological mechanism stands behind this sensitive reaction? The answer is easy to understand. You see, our skin has a natural barrier on top of it, which prevents external agents from penetrating too deep into it. This natural barrier is usually made up of natural oils called sebum. However, sometimes, some ingredients penetrate this barrier and enter into areas they are not supposed to be. This causes a reaction from your body, and blood starts to rush to the area the infiltrator is present in. The result is redness, heat, itching, swelling, and everything you think of when you think of sensitive skin. This happens because the barrier on your skin is very weak (as is the case with very dry skin) or if you are allergic to a certain substance you came in contact with.
Many diseases like eczema, rosacea, contact dermatitis, and photo dermatoses, may also be behind sensitive skin and need medical attention. However, many times the causes behind sensitive skin are not very serious and can be dealt with if one engages in proper skincare.
Here are some simple tricks that could come in handy for you if your skin is sensitive: -
Where is the Sensitivity Coming From?
You might already know this, or you might be new to the area of sensitivity and have not figured this out yet. If sensitivity has become a recurring problem for you, the first step you need to take is to figure out what caused it. The related causal factor could be anything from a new product you used, to an allergic reaction, or just really bad weather conditions.
Once you figure out the cause behind this sensitive reaction from your skin, you can be more informed on how to avoid it or how to deal with it if it happens again. For example, if your skin has become very red and itchy after increased exposure to the sun, make it a point to wear sunscreen and cover your skin when you go out in harsh sunlight.
Water is Your Best Friend
Water is a magical nectar hat that doesn’t just protect your skin from dryness but preserves its radiance and youth. The water content in your skin is responsible for its elasticity. Why does elasticity matter? Elasticity is what makes it certain that your skin is not that irritated by friction or rough fabrics, and other times simply touching certain ingredients.
But that’s not all! Water is also effective in reducing inflammation in your body. When you put a hydrating gel on your sensitive skin to reduce irritation, what it essentially does is bring more water content to your irritated skin. This creates a soothing reaction and provides relief. Choose serums and products that are hydrating because they tend to have humectants that increase the water content in your skin. Additionally, make sure to drink enough water to avoid dehydration from within.
Always Do a Patch Test
If you have been dealing with sensitive issues for a long time, you know the drill by now. Any new ingredients or products that have never been put on your skin before are a possible threat. In fact, coming up with a skincare routine can also be a big task since sensitive skin takes time to adjust to new products. The key here is to be patient and gentle with your skin.
Before using a new product, make it a point to use a very small amount of it on a relatively harmless area of your skin. And do not rush it! Let the product sit for at least 24 hours before concluding that it is safe. In case it leads to a reaction, wash it off with cold water immediately and use your trusted gel to soothe the area.
Do Not Compromise on Sunscreen
We get it, everyone is in a hurry in our fast-paced world. BUT stepping out when it is sunny outside without sunscreen is a big no-no. Sensitive skin has a weak natural barrier and is prone to be harmed by UV rays and radiation, severely, if it is not protected. Sunburns, severe redness, itching for days, peeling - all of it can be a result of overexposure to the sun.
Even if you are not someone who typically has very harsh reactions to the skin, sunrays are bad for you in the long run. Constant exposure to the radiation can lead to premature aging of your skin, which may lead to irreversible damages. Look for strong sunscreens with an SPF over 50 and titanium or zinc oxide. Further, stay out of heated conditions as a general rule. Too much heat can easily trigger inflammatory reactions.
Keep Exfoliation to a Minimum
Exfoliation is a necessary part of skin life and hygiene. But sensitive skin, to be blunt, does not require exfoliation that frequently. Never scrub your skin with thick face scrubs and loofahs. It is also advisable to use the mildest possible cleansers and soaps for your face and body. You must keep your skin clean, but there is no constant need to scrub its dead layer off. If sensitive skin is an ongoing condition for you, once a month active exfoliation is enough.
Chemical exfoliation using AHAs should not be too risky, but make sure to do a patch test run first. Always use cold water after exfoliating, no matter what kind of exfoliation you engage your skin in.
Skip the Hot Water Baths
Hot water baths are so comforting on a cold winter morning…. But nope. Not for sensitive skin. To be honest, hot water on skin is not good for any type of skin. It is drying, can strip the skin of its natural oils, and if it is too hot - it will burn and scar your skin. But we aren’t trying to scare you. These are extreme effects that happen if you use hot water too often.
For sensitive skin, it is much easier for hot water baths to go wrong: very, very wrong. They strip off the natural oil on your skin which is already very low in quantity, to begin with. The high temperature of hot water also poses no redemption as it encourages inflammation. If you are a hot water baths person, gradually switch to lukewarm showers. Over a few days, reduce the temperatures of your showers until you are comfortable with colder or room temperature water.
Satin Can Help
A saddening complaint amidst the devastating COVID-19 pandemic came from those with sensitive skin. Now that everyone is required to wear masks before stepping out for safety reasons, masks have ended up hurting the safety of their sensitive facial skin. Most fabrics, whether they are synthetic or natural, can cause friction to the skin which irritates. Redness and itching on the face are one of the worst skincare problems one can have, so it is natural for you to hate masks if you have sensitive skin.
Now here comes the good news: satin can help! Satin is a beautiful, smooth fabric made of silk with a luxurious seamless feel. It has the quality of somehow being colder than room temperature even in the scorching heat of summers in May. Consider switching to satin scarves, masks, and pillow covers to avoid irritation caused by contact with friction-causing fabrics.
Watch the Spice in Your Diet!
We Indians adore spices, don’t we? Despite our diverse cuisines from our rich cultures, one thing remains the same - the spice. Whether it’s green chilies, red chilies, or peppers, we go all out in our foods. And while our appetites and taste love it, our skins don’t necessarily appreciate it. Sensitive skin is prone to inflammation which is caused by heat. Spicy food triggers a heated reaction in our systems, which might make already existing sensitive areas much worse.
Too much salt should also be avoided if you have sensitive skin, as salt increases blood pressure and uses up a lot of hydrations intended for your skin. Fruits, green vegetables, celery, and oatmeal are a few foods that are good for your diet and prevent problems from getting worse.
Never Sleep with Your Makeup On
We get that makeup is fun to experiment with and is something that gives you a certain confidence. Makeup, especially foundation and complexion products tend to be very powdery and by nature need to dry up on your skin to well, stay on your skin.
Layers of thick foundation and powders are discouraged for sensitive skin as their drying texture might irritate your skin. Always, always make sure you are wearing a good hydrating primer before putting on makeup. Additionally, try not to keep the makeup on for too long - 4-5 hours later it should be time for you to remove your makeup and nourish your skin with hydrating gels. Oh, and no matter how tired you get DO NOT sleep with makeup on, or you will be in for an itchy surprise in the morning.
Watch Out for Detergents, Astringents, and Alcohol
As a general rule, natural humectants like aloe vera and anti-inflammatories like oatmeal are great ingredients to add to a sensitive skincare regime. The opposites of these are harsh ingredients, like detergents (present in soaps and shampoos), astringents (present in some antibacterial products), and alcohol (present in fragrance added products), which can cause harm to sensitive skin.
Astringents and detergents have this quality of making your skin feel clean, but it only feels lighter because they get rid of the lipid barrier on your skin, which is made of moisturizing oils. Alcohol too is a dry-cleaning agent, which is why it is so popular as a sanitizer. Therefore, for your skincare regime, choose a moisturizer that promises “barrier-control” and is cream-based. Anything marked to be fragrance and alcohol-free is usually less risky. Always keep aloe vera gel and oatmeal at arm’s length in case of allergic reactions.