Sensitive skin is uncomfortable and often difficult to live with. It overreacts to the most ordinary stresses: it feels tight, tingly, or turns red. This skin condition is increasingly common among women and daily care is required to limit reactions.
Skin sensitivity occurs when two phenomena are combined:
• First of all, the skin’s barrier function is weakened: the epidermis fulfils its role as protective barrier against environmental stresses imperfectly. Potential irritants can then penetrate more deeply and trigger inflammatory reactions. At the same time, moisture loss in the epidermis increases and the skin dehydrates more easily.
• Furthermore, the skin’s tolerance threshold is lowered. When faced with any type of stress, even the harmless type, an abnormally high amount of inflammation signalling molecules (cytokines) is produced. This skin sensitivity can be due to genetic factors, but also psychological ones: the skin reflects our emotions and an upset can lead to hyperreactivity. The skin can also become sensitive due to external factors: excessive use of harsh cosmetics, immoderate sun exposure, dermabrasion or laser sessions.
Recognising sensitive skin
Sensitive skin overreacts to certain factors that are usually well tolerated: heat, cold, hard water, spicy food, cosmetics, or strong emotions. The skin then becomes uncomfortable: it feels tight, tingles, or becomes unpleasantly hot. Visible signs can also appear, such as redness or slight flaking. When it is not irritated, the skin appears normal with no particular characteristics.
Although fine and fair skin is the most commonly affected, all skin types can be sensitive: normal, oily, dry, or combination. Skin sensitivity manifests mainly on the face and sometimes the neck, and it rarely spreads to the other parts of the body.
Some individuals have skin that is sensitive by nature and it remains so throughout their life. However, this type of skin tends to react less with age, particularly after menopause for women. In other individuals, the skin has only periods of sensitivity, in winter for example: the cold plus dry air from indoor heating can cause reactions that naturally fade as the warmer weather returns.
Understanding sensitive skin
Because it is fragile and irritable, sensitive skin requires special daily care. A combination of appropriate skin care and good habits can limit skin reactions:
– Learn to identify the factors that trigger your skin reactions and avoid them whenever possible.
– Never wash with soap, as it is too harsh. Avoid exfoliants and scrubs, as these are too rough for delicate skin.
– Only use skin care products and make-up specifically formulated for sensitive skin, i.e. products that are hypoallergenic and contain no fragrances or preservatives.
– In the daytime, moisturise your skin with a cream for sensitive skin containing UV protection. At night, nourish it with a richer formula.
– Before using a new cosmetic product, test it on an area that is not very visible: behind the ear or on the neck, for example.
– Use as few cosmetic products as possible. When you find one that suits your skin, stick with it.
- Whenever possible, avoid washing your face with tap water, which is often very hard. Use a spring water spray instead, then dry your skin carefully by patting it with a paper tissue.
If your skin still reacts despite these precautions, see a skin specialist.