Don’t Be So Sensitive!

Office Space, sensitive skin tip
If you haven’t seen “Office Space,” go watch it now.

Skin sensitivity is a bitch. It can make your skin feel dry, itchy and like someone has lit a fire on your face. Some combination of redness, dry patches, rashes, hives and breakouts usually crops up when skin is truly sensitive. It’s typically caused by allergic reactions or irritation to a product ingredient or ingredients, but can also be brought about by environmental allergens (plants, pollen, trees, etc.) and food or medicine allergies.

If you suspect your skin sensitivity is related to product ingredients, the best thing to do is the skincare version of the elimination diet. Forgo your face makeup for a week and use nothing but a gentle cleanser like Dermalogica Gentle Cleanser and a fragrance-free moisturizer like Cetaphil Fragrance Free Daily Moisturizer. After a week, add in one of the products (i.e. a primer, foundation, face mask) you normally use. Wait a day and see if you experience redness, itching, hives, rashes, dryness, breakouts or any other type of flare up. Continue to do this until you have incorporated all of your regular products back into your routine. If the offender makes itself known, you have your answer (kind of). It could be any of the ingredients in that product, so I suggest finding out what they are, noting them, and comparing that list to the ingredients list on any products that irritate your skin in the future. You’ll eventually be able to pin down the ingredient(s)you are allergic to. You can also go to a dermatologist who specializes in testing for skin allergens.

Sometimes people think they have sensitive skin when they really have rosacea, eczema, or even certain types of skin cancer that show up as dry, scaly patches. There is also something called dermatographism, which is when the skin is extremely sensitive to physical touch. In those people, their skin cells release histamine at the slightest touch, causing redness to appear. If you have sensitive skin and are unsure of what’s causing your sensitivity, definitely see a dermatologist for proper diagnosis and treatment.

If you have truly sensitive skin, there are some things you can do to avoid further aggravating your skin. Like:

  1. Don’t rub, scrub or otherwise manhandle your skin. Doing so will aggravate it and cause redness, splotches or dryness. Avoid using at home mechanical cleansing brushes, laser devices or acne treatments.
  2. Use fragrance-free products. Fragrances are a very common irritant for sensitive skin. Luckily, the beauty industry is aware of this and many lines carry fragrance-free products. Beauty Without Cruelty, Dr. Hauschka, Burt’s Bees, Almay, Clinique and CoverGirl all carry some fragrance-free products.
  3. Patch test everything. Before committing to any skincare or makeup product, first apply a small amount to your neck and wait 48 hours to see if you have a reaction. If you do, return that product and try again.
  4. Avoid physical exfoliants. Any kind of exfoliant with granules or beads will only further irritate your skin. Chemical exfoliants like Dermalogica Gentle Cream Exfoliant are best, but always patch test first and only use once a week. Some skin may be too sensitive to tolerate any exfoliants, so you may need to skip this step altogether.
  5. Don’t assume natural is best. If you have environmental allergies and your skin is sensitive, you may have better luck with products that contain only synthetic ingredients. Most people assume that products with natural ingredients will be more gentle, but that’s not always the case. Think about it: If you went out into a field of flowers and couldn’t stop coughing and sneezing, why would the pollen from those flowers not affect you if it was an ingredient in your moisturizer?
  6. Use gentle cleansers. Anything too strong will strip your skin and likely cause irritation (so skip the foaming cleansers). As mentioned, Dermalogica Gentle Cleanser is good, as is Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser. These cleansers will not thoroughly remove makeup though. If you wear makeup, you’ll need to remove it with an oil makeup remover, like Dermalogica PreCleanse, or micellar water, like Bioderma Sensibio H20, before cleansing. If your skin can tolerate some light rubbing, an oil cleanser like NUDE Skincare Perfect Cleanse Cleansing Oil will both remove makeup and cleanse your skin.
  7. Read my post on the acid mantle.

If you take care of your sensitive skin, you can minimize or erase any physical signs of irritation. So do right by your dermis, okay?

Have a beautiful day 🙂

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You’re On Acid, Man

Sensitive skin, breakouts, acid mantle

When I first heard the term “acid mantle,” I thought, Is that a metal band I have no right listening to? Or a shelf above a fireplace stacked with LSD? Turns out it’s neither. It’s a very fine, slightly acidic film on the top of the skin. It acts as a protective barrier against bacteria, viruses and contaminants that might have otherwise penetrated the skin. It’s made up of the water, sebum and perspiration that our bodies naturally produce.

You’re probably thinking “Why are you telling me this, Allison? I read this blog for product reviews, makeup how-to’s and your brilliant writing, not biology lessons.” I’m telling you because knowing what the acid mantle is and how an unbalanced one might be causing your breakouts, dry skin or skin sensitivity could be helpful to you. Even if you have normal skin, it’s important that you know about the acid mantle, as you are stripping it off every time you wash your face (which I know you now do regularly, as I’ve repeatedly suggested), and that can make you sensitive to products that otherwise wouldn’t irritate your skin.

You know how your skin can feel a little dry and tight after cleansing? That’s the feeling of the acid mantle being stripped away. Your more likely to get that dry, tight feeling–some people call it the “squeaky clean” feeling–when you use cleansers that contact astringent ingredients. A healthy skin has a pH balance of around 5.5, which makes it acidic. When the skin gets too alkaline from being stripped (or from systemic issues), that can cause the acid mantle to thin out. A depleted acid mantle makes it easier for bacteria, pollutants and allergens to penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream. That means an increased chance for breakouts, allergic reactions and overall skin sensitivity. If you have sensitive skin, there is a good chance your acid mantle is on the fritz. And since a messed up acid mantle can cause breakouts, it’s something to think about if your blemishes seem to be coming from nowhere.

In normal function, the acid mantle rebuilds itself after it has been stripped away, but it takes a little time. That’s why I suggest waiting 15-20 minutes after cleansing before applying most products. Some moisturizers or hydrating masks are fine, but with something more potent like retinol or Vitamin C, you should wait before applying. If you’ve ever experienced stinging or irritation after applying a product, and you’ve applied that product immediately after washing your face, it may not be the product that’s the problem. If you’ve had a major reaction, don’t use that product again, but if it was just minor temporary discomfort and redness, it may be worth trying it again but doing so 15-20 minutes after you wash. (I recommend applying to only a small area so you see if your skin reacts.)

If you wash your face with bar body soap,stop that right now. That stuff is super alkaline and will really strip your acid mantle and dry out your skin. Please switch to a facial cleanser, which will be way more gentle on your skin.

Repeatedly using harsh products and stripping the acid mantle, especially if you then immediately apply a product, will likely set you up for skin sensitivity, dryness and/or breakouts. It’s so easy to not use bar soap and to wait 15-20 minutes to apply products after cleansing. These are pro tips I’ve giving you, folks. I like for people to be able to put their best face forward, and it all starts with skincare. So be nice to your acid mantle! It’s only trying to protect you.

Have a beautiful day 🙂