Skin sensitivity is one of the most common skincare concerns globally. Studies have shown that between 51- 44% of women reported that they suffer from sensitive skin. But what if many of these women are actually suffering from sensitized skin and making changes to their skincare regimes, products and lifestyle could bring them calm, hydrated, healthy skin?
Many people who have sensitized their skin over time think they have sensitive skin because they both manifest in similar ways. But what’s the actual difference?
Sensitive Skin Type
Simply put, you’re born with a sensitive skin type. It’s genetic. People with sensitive skin tend to have a thinner epidermis, with blood and nerve endings closer to the surface of the skin. They also have lower amounts of melanin (skin pigment), though darker-skinned people can also have sensitive skin.
In people with sensitive skin, the protective skin barrier (lipid barrier) is weakened and can’t effectively “block” allergens, irritants and bacteria from penetrating the skin. Common symptoms of sensitive skin include itching and burning sensations, rashes, hives, excessive dryness, visibly broken capillaries, extreme redness and blushing. A severely impaired skin barrier can result in chronic skin inflammation, eczema, and rosacea.
People with a true sensitive skin type are also more likely to experience asthma and suffer from allergies. There’s no “cure” for sensitive skin, but it’s manageable with the right skin care products, regime and lifestyle habits.
Sensitized Skin Condition
Sensitized skin is a created condition, it’s not genetic. Over exfoliation, improper product use, diet, lifestyle, climate, pollution and excess sun exposure have caused your skin to react. The symptoms of sensitized skin closely resemble those of sensitive skin— dryness, dehydration, redness, itching, and burning — and it too is caused by a compromised skin barrier.
The vast majority of the time, skin becomes sensitized because of one or more of these factors. (Keep in mind you can exacerbate sensitive skin for these same reasons):
The 3 Main Causes of Sensitized Skin (That Also Aggravate Sensitive Skin)
1. What you put ON your skin
Have you ever cleansed your skin 2-3 times per day? Detoxed with a rahssoul mask? Piled on the latest must-have retinol or vitamin C serum? Exfoliated with spices, seeds or baking soda, added a glycolic acid peel and then benzoyl peroxide for the pimples. Ouch!!
Overzealous exfoliating and cleansing can remove the protective skin barrier, hydrating oils, and beneficial bacteria, create micro-tears, disrupt the pH and dehydrate skin leaving it raw, exposed and extremely susceptible to outside irritants and bacteria.
Applying several topical formulas on top of each other may increase sensitivities as the ingredients can interact or compound the effects of each other. For example, using a moisturizer that contains AHA and then applying a retinol serum. Both products can increase sun sensitivity, dryness, flaking and excessive cell turn over. Used together their effect will be twofold.
Sensitizing ingredients like artificial fragrance, dyes, and harsh preservatives will also amplify inflammation.
2. What you put inside of you
What we eat affects the appearance and health of our skin. Acne, eczema, hormonal balance, inflammation, sensitivity, skin hydration, skin firmness, fine lines, wrinkles, and the protective skin barrier can all be impacted by our diet. A growing body of research indicates that foods high in antioxidants, vitamins, and phytonutrients have a dramatic protective effect on the skin. Alternately, a diet high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, non-organic dairy, saturated fats, high-glycemic foods, alcohol, and caffeine can increase inflammation, sensitivity, acne, dehydration, and contribute to the breakdown of collagen and elastin.
Excessive amounts of alcohol and caffeine can dehydrate the body, leading to tight, dry, dull, flaky skin. Alcohol and caffeine can also disrupt sleep patterns, resulting in puffiness, dark circles and bags under the eyes, and general skin dullness. Alcohol and spicy foods can increase heat and blood flow in the body, leading to warm, flushed skin, and enlarged, or broken capillaries. Heat and increased blood flow can also exacerbate the symptoms of eczema and psoriasis.
3. What’s around you.
Extreme climate conditions - heat & humidity, freezing temperatures & wind, AC & dry heat can wreck havoc by over stimulating skin, reducing hydration and disrupting the skin barrier. Heat opens blood vessels and increases blood flow, which leads to skin redness, broken capillaries and can exacerbate eczema. Cigarette smoke, pollution and ozone increase free radical activity breaking down collagen and elastin, the skins support structure, resulting in sagging dull skin.
Now remember the great news about sensitized skin: Since you made it happen, you can also make it go away. Start by identifying the triggers. Follow these tips.
How To Undo Sensitized Skin (and Soothe Sensitive Skin)
Remove harsh products from your skincare regimen.
There isn’t a statistic out there, but we’ll confidently state that topical skincare products are likely the reason your skin is reacting. If you’re unsure, start with a blank slate—your skin truly needs a break and time to heal and restore itself. “Less is ALWAYS More” when it comes to revitalizing your sensitive or sensitized skin.
- Avoid aggressive cleansers containing Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, or traditional soap including Castile and black African.
- Avoid abrasive scrubs, like those with spices, ground shells, nuts, herbs or grains.
- Halt the use of Vitamin C, glycolic acid, AHA, retinol and vitamin A derivatives until skin is completely calm and recovered.
Choose gentle yet powerful treatments ideal for sensitized/sensitive skin.
- A gentle soap and surfactant free cream cleanser.
- A humectant-rich, hydrating facial mist containing sodium PCA and hyaluronic acid.
- A soothing moisturizer with skin identical ingredients, like ceramides, plant sterols and oils high in Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids.
- A mineral/physical sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher.
Create a skin-loving environment.
If you’ve committed to using truly nourishing and gentle skincare products but still find yourself with burning, itching, redness, or dehydration, move onto tweaking your lifestyle habits. Drink a lot of fresh, filtered water and skin supporting herbal teas. Eat as many antioxidant, vitamin, and phytonutrient rich fruits, veggies, and whole foods as you can. Take an Omega 3 & 6 EFA supplement to support the skin barrier. Cut down on processed foods, alcohol, caffeine and quit smoking.
Stay away from extreme temperatures. Avoid hot water when washing your face and bathing. Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air if your home or office has high heat or AC. It’s difficult to avoid the sun altogether, but try to stay shaded during peak hours (10 AM to 2 PM), wear your most stylish wide-brimmed hat and apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30. Make sure it contains only physical sunscreens, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which are more amenable to sensitive or sensitized skin.
As we mentioned, a true sensitive skin type is genetic and needs to be carefully managed. Even though you may use the most gentle skincare and take every lifestyle precaution your symptoms may persist or escalate. Don’t let sensitive skin control or disrupt your life, if you can’t get your symptoms under control find a qualified skincare practitioner who can help you!