Sensitive Skin: What Are Your Options?
Sensitive skin is a bit of a complicated subject. When doing services, it’s common for almost every client to claim sensitive skin.
In reality, about 62% of women have truly sensitive skin. That’s a pretty big number, but it’s still not everyone. The rest seems to be a combination of people using the wrong product for their skin type, using products improperly, fragrance sensitivity or an outright allergy.
So how do you know if you actually have sensitive skin?
TRULY sensitive skin does not just react to cosmetics. It reacts to life.
Burning, redness, itching and swelling are the characteristics of sensitive skin. There are 5 common reasons why you could see these symptoms.
1)Sensitive/Reactive: Sudden appearance of local redness and swelling. Anything from a spot on the cheek to a full blown rash. These can show up randomly during the day. It could be a reaction to anything: laundry detergent, metal, cleanser, touching something, or even tap water. It’s often combined with extremely dry skin. These people very rarely come in for facials as they are actually frightened. They have a lifetime of random hives, rashes and reactions. It’s unfortunate as it’s unlikely they be able to use products designed to brighten skin or provide anti-aging benefits as they are too active. This is not a hard and fast truth though. Sometimes it’s possible to find the exact right formulation that will work with their skin. It’s a joyous occasion when that happens, and they are usually the most grateful clients. Real change and results are possible and wonderful to see. Unfortunately it can involve a lot of trial and error.
2)Sensitized: Not the natural state of the skin, lifestyle choices have made the skin more likely to react. Usually allowing healing or switching products immediately ends this.
- Harsh treatments will cause the skin to be sensitive while it heals: laser peels, microdermabrasion, surgery, medications.
- Using the wrong products for the skin type. People with normal skin and the occasional breakout using products for acne prone skin, using anti-aging products during the teen years or early 20′s, etc. Of course there’s redness and irritation. It’s much too aggressive. Once upon a time I worked for Proactiv. We use to get people coming back furious that their skin was so dry and irritated. A few questions would reveal that they didn’t actually have breakouts before, they were using it “to keep their skin clear”. The product never should have been sold to them in the first place. Do your best to objectively understand your skin type and honor it. Using products designed to treat other skin types will not give you the results you want.
- Using products improperly. Always read the instructions. Products designed to be used 2-3 times a week will not work better if you use them everyday. They will irritate your skin though. If you’re buying them at a spa, an esthetician should be more than happy to help you. They want you to have success. It is not fun to have a disappointed customer come back wanting to return a product.
- Not being used to active ingredients. There are some products out there that are meant to tingle. Some discomfort is common. AHA’s and enzymatic exfoliants will tingle and maybe itch a little. It’s a delicate balance between that and a burning reaction. It should never be unbearable though.
3)Rosacea:This can go undiagnosed for years, there’s no understanding yet for what causes it and the triggers can be many and varied. There are lines out there designed to help calm and soothe it, but there is nothing to cure it. Whereas sensitive skin reactions can be avoided once the allergen is pinpointed, the inflammation and redness of rosacea will always be present.
4)Fragrance: The symptoms can be the same as a skin sensitivity, but can also result in asthma like attacks, nausea and dizziness. They can also show up immediately or 7-10 days later. When a product is labelled “Fragrance Free” it means that no perfumes have been added. The ingredients used to make the product work may have a scent to them though. So remember that “fragrance free” and “scent free” are not the same thing. It’s nearly impossible from something to have no smell at all. Unfortunately most spas are not great places for people with fragrance sensitivities.
5)Allergy: Even though sensitive skin could be classified as an allergy, you can be allergic to something specific and not be sensitive to anything else. Professional lines are usually great with allergies and it’s often the only way you are allowed to return a product. They want a detailed account of the reaction so as to eliminate common allergens. If they get enough issues with a specific product and are provided enough details, they can reformulate to reduce the amount of reactions. If you want to return a product due to an allergy, it’s extremely helpful to fill out the form as well as you can.
Some things that can cause reactions for people with sensitive skin:
- When using mineral makeups, try and avoid the ingredient Bismuth Oxychloride. If you’ve experienced a reaction with a mineral foundation, this could be the culprit.
- Natural bristle brushes. Goat, boar, squirrel, pony. To test this, lightly use the clean brush on a clean face and see if there’s any reaction. If so, you may want to switch to synthetic brushes.
- Aggressive exfoliants. No crushed pits, or nuts or shells. These wreak havoc on normal skin and can create micro cuts in the skin.
- Retinol and Glycolics. These are fantastic products that can give great results, but are often too much for delicate skin. If you really want to try and AHA, start with Lactic.
- Look for gentle, soap free cleansers. Milks and lotions will be gentler as lathering agents (some sulphates) can cause irritation
- Keep your routine simple. Start with just the basic products (cleanser/toner, moisturizer and maybe an exfoliant) and see how your skin reacts. If skin is non-irritated, consider adding extras that can help with specifics (serums, masks, eye cream).
- Go for the products designed for sensitive skin: they’ll usually say so on the packaging and are commonly fragrance-free
Sensitive skin is so complex. Share your stories, what are the products that have worked for you? What other ingredients or products have produce reactions?
The product lines that we’ve had a lot of positive feedback for are B Kamins and Phytomer’s Accept/Douceur Marin line. Jane Iredale remains the best mineral makeup line that I’ve come across for sensitive skin.
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