This post focuses on very sensitive,
All skin is sensitive really.
Over-scrubbing, using harsh ingredients and not protecting it from the sun will
make it even more sensitive. All skin is sensitive, but all skin is different.
What works brilliantly for one person may send another reaching for a cold
flannel and the antihistamines. If this includes you, and you end up resigning half of your skincare to friends, a drawer, or the bin, then
your skin is probably ‘intolerant’ or ‘allergic’. I
don’t really like these terms, but they are useful for understanding how the
skin reacts. Allergic skin will react straight away, flaring up as soon as or shortly after it comes into contact with the irritant.Intolerant skin will generally react to a product slower because
it takes a period of exposure to the irritant to have an effect. A product may
be fine for a few days or weeks, then start to feel weirdly tingly, itchy,
stingy and sore. This is what I have and it used to drive me mad. Finally, I
thought, I've found something that will work, only to have it make my skin feel
like it was trying to crawl off my face a few weeks later.My skin felt tight, fragile and my cheeks stung. I found that my intolerant skin started
to behave like allergic skin because of continued use of irritating
The most irritating thing (pardon the
pun) is when skincare is marketed as being as for sensitive skin when in
reality it makes skin which really is sensitive (i.e. intolerant and allergic)
so much worse. Some of these products are essentially well-meaning, using
lovely natural ingredients like aloe vera and shea butter, which is all well
and good. But then these ingredients are suspended in preservatives that are almost guaranteed to cause a
reaction. One irritant can cause a chain reaction and cause other ingredients
to be irritating too.
Here are some potential nasties:
For me, the main culprits are
alcohols. Any kind of alcohol in a product and I will avoid it. I realise this
is a very indiscriminate way of dealing with what is a very common preservative, but I don’t have the time or patience to find out whether I react
to every type of alcohol or only some. I find they dry out my skin and leave it feeling raw and unprotected.
Essential oils: for instance tea tree,
peppermint, witch hazel, and citrus oils, plus their derivatives linalool and
limonene, can be irritating.
Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLES) and Sodium
Lauryl Sulphate (SLS): basically foam makers, they can be found in bath bubbles,
shower gels, hand washes and face washes. They strip the skin of its natural
oils and are often make up a high percentage in in a product (i.e. the first or second
ingredient on the list.)
Fragrance (also listed as ‘parfum’):
because you’re never told what it's made up of.
Acids: citric acid, lactic acid,
glycolic acid: chemical exfoliants which eat away at the top layer of the skin
to give a bright and smooth complexion. But getting rid of skin cells can
expose sensitive skin even more, so avoid these for the time being.
This is a long, but not exhaustive
list. There may be things I’ve missed out. Not everybody will react to
something on this list. What I’m trying to get at is that there are so many
things that can irritate and they are in a lot of ‘gentle’ skincare. If your
skin reacts to something marketed as being gentle, soothing or comforting, it
may well be because of these ingredients.
Eczema and rosacea: I have
thankfully experienced neither, I don't have the knowledge to recommend ways to reduce
them. However, I hope this post might have been helpful to those who do because
I know that both can be worsened by irritants.
Rashes: if you have a skin issue such
as a rash that hasn't cleared up, it is best to see a doctor.
Dermatitis: I have had a very small
amount of contact dermatitis on my hand; hydrocortisone cream, which can be
bought over the counter at pharmacies, cleared it up. Steroid creams shouldn’t
be used for longer than a week, so if yours doesn’t clear up, see a doctor.
Switching to a gentle, emollient-rich hand wash has helped to stop it returning.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to post questions and comments below.