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If your skin is easily irritated and you often experience redness, tingling, and tightness, it's highly likely you have sensitive skin. This happens when the skin's natural barrier function is compromised, which means it doesn't do its job at keeping the water in and various irritants out very well.
The symptoms vary from person to person but are often aggravated by different factors, from the sun to certain ingredients in your skincare products.
Therefore, the first and most crucial step in taking care of sensitive skin is understanding what irritates it the most and trying to avoid it as much as possible.
In today's article, we'll explain the factors that may cause sensitive skin and share a step-by-step guide to skincare routine for sensitive skin.
Factors That Cause Sensitive Skin
As mentioned above, the main cause of sensitive skin is its damaged natural moisture barrier. When this barrier is damaged, there are tiny tears inside the outermost layer of the skin, resulting in water loss and dehydration as well as permeating pollutants and irritants.
Here are some of the most common external and internal factors that may lead to this:
- Extreme temperatures: Dry and cold air during winters and heat waves during summers can all make the skin more dry and prone to irritation;
- Various skin disorders: Skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, acne, and rosacea are often associated with sensitive skin;
- Sun exposure: Spending too much time in the sun without proper sun protection can damage even the deepest layers of the skin. UVA sun rays cause permanent DNA damage, leading to premature skin aging, various skin conditions, and in the worst case, skin cancer;
- Over-exfoliation: Exfoliating your skin too often will remove protective layers from the surface of your skin, leaving it vulnerable. Also, exfoliating it too aggressively with mechanical face scrubs can create small cracks in the protective barrier, almost immediately causing redness and swelling;
- Unhealthy diet: An unbalanced diet that lacks vitamins B, vitamin A, omega-3 fatty acids, and zinc can damage the integrity of your skin. As a result, your skin will have a hard time holding onto water and will become drier and easily sensitized. Similarly, too much alcohol, coffee, and cigarettes can also contribute to sensitive skin;
- Aging: With age, our skin becomes thinner. In addition, the sebaceous glands become less active, producing less natural oils and, again, leading to skin that's drier and more sensitive.
Step-by-Step Guide to Skin Care for Sensitive Skin
You can already do a lot by recognizing and avoiding all the triggers that can worsen your skin's condition. However, the key to having your sensitive skin under control is adequate skin care – it should be simple to minimize the chance of irritation.
To make this journey easier for you, we created an easy-to-follow guide to skincare routine for sensitive skin, as well as some suggestions on the skincare ingredients to go for:
Step #1: Cleansing (am and pm)
There are myths circulating the Internet that sensitive skin, which is dry at the same time, doesn't need cleansing because it removes the little sebum that your skin secretes. However, this will only happen if you use harsh face cleansers that contain aggressive surfactants, like sodium lauryl sulfates or sodium laureth sulfate or SLES.
These aggressive surfactants will completely strip your skin of natural oils. If, after cleansing, your skin feels tight and squeaky clean, it means that the cleanser you're using is probably too harsh for your skin.
Instead, target face cleansers designed for dry and sensitive skin as these are more likely to contain milder surfactants, like sodium cocoyl isethionate and cocoamidopropyl betaine or CAPB for short.
As far as how often you should cleanse your face, it will depend on whether your skin is predominantly oily or dry, in addition to being sensitive. In any case, cleansing in the evening before sleep is always a must. This is because dirt, bacteria, and other pollutants and irritants collect on your face during the day, and cleansing your face in the pm with a gentle cleanser will remove them and give your skin a chance to recover overnight.
It's also important to note that you should avoid washing your face with hot water as it can also damage your skin's barrier. Instead, use lukewarm or cool water.
Step #2: Hydrating and Treating (am and/or pm)
Treating your sensitive skin with hydrating serums and essences can help tremendously. Serums are highly-concentrated products with actives that penetrate deeper into the skin, treating any dryness, irritation, inflammation, and redness you might feel.
However, when choosing the product, make sure to avoid ingredients that may irritate your skin, such as strong retinoids as well as sulfates, fragrances, alcohols, and essential oils.
Instead, look for simple formulas that are meant for protecting, strengthening, and hydrating the skin. Some of the best ingredients you can go for are niacinamide, peptides, hyaluronic acid, chamomile, and arnica.
Step #3: Moisturizing (am and pm)
This skincare step is essential regardless of your skin type and concern. After applying your hydrating serum or essence, always follow by a nourishing face moisturizer. It would be best to find a face cream that contains both hydrating and moisturizing ingredients your sensitive skin craves – this may help you keep things simple, and you can skip the previous step if your moisturizer contains all the ingredients your serum would. For maximum benefits, apply your moisturizer to the cleansed face while it's still damp, to seal in all that moisture.
Choose creams containing panthenol, ceramides, glycerin, squalene, and herbal extracts that can calm redness and hypersensitivity, such as aloe vera, and calendula.
Another ingredient to keep an eye on is vitamin E. It's a powerful antioxidant with strengthening, soothing and anti-aging properties. It will protect your skin from harmful environmental influences while, at the same time, keeping it hydrated and nourished.
Step #4: Sunscreen (am)
Since sun exposure is one of the major causes of sensitive skin, it's only logical to have your sun protection routine spot-on. Apply sunscreen daily, especially during peak hours spent outside, and reapply it every two hours. Make sure to apply it to all the areas exposed to the sun, including your face, neck, ears, and the back of your hands, and choose products with an SPF of 30 or higher.
Other Tips for Sensitive Skin
Once you establish the routine and find the products that suit your skin needs, we're certain your skin will look and feel much better. However, your skin still might react and feel uncomfortable from time to time. In that case, you might find that small lifestyle changes can make a huge difference:
- Stay hydrated: Make sure to drink enough water throughout the day and keep your body well-hydrated;
- Avoid sunbeds: Keep in mind that sun damage doesn't come only from sun rays but also sunbeds. So avoid solariums or tanning beds at all costs – if you want a tan, use a self-tanner, a much safer alternative;
- Wear less makeup: To avoid making the situation even worse for your sensitive skin, try to wear less makeup or at least don't wear it every day. And always remove your makeup before going to bed;
- Avoid irritating skincare ingredients: Choose alcohol-free products that don't contain any essential oils, as these can be pretty irritating. Besides, avoid using face scrubs because they can also aggravate your skin;
- Eat healthily: Balanced diet is the key to our overall health, and therefore, it's also crucial for the health of our skin. Ensure your meals have a good balance of essential nutrients, including proteins, healthy fats, fiber, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants.
In sum, the best skin care for sensitive skin is the one that's simple – the fewer products and the shorter ingredient lists, the lesser the chance of irritation. So, it might take some experimenting until you find the right routine and ingredients. And once you do, be patient and stick to it, as your skin will need some time to recover.
What should I avoid if I have sensitive skin?
If you have sensitive skin, try not to exfoliate it too often, as it can damage your already compromised skin moisture barrier. Also, avoid skincare products with irritating ingredients, such as simple alcohols (like ethanol), fragrances, and essential oils.
Dos and don'ts for sensitive skin?
Do find what irritates your skin and avoid it, use sunscreen every day, and eat a healthy and balanced diet. Don't overdo it with skin exfoliation, go to solariums, and use skincare that may dry out your skin.
Does skincare make your skin more sensitive?
Not at all. If you choose skincare products carefully and try to avoid irritating ingredients, skincare can only help your sensitive skin. To stay on the safe side, choose products with short ingredient lists because the fewer the ingredients, the lesser the chance for irritation.
Which serum is best for sensitive skin?
The best serums for sensitive skin would be those that contain soothing, hydrating, and anti-inflammatory ingredients, such as peptides, niacinamide, vitamin E, chamomile, and aloe vera.