‘Sensitive skin’ is one of the phrases that you hear all the time in the skincare world – right along with ‘oily’, ‘combination’, ‘dry’, ‘ageing’ and more… and you might even think you have it, but what exactly is sensitive skin? Is it something you're born with, or can it happen to anyone? Are there different types? And what should someone with sensitive skin try to avoid when choosing skincare products?
Here’s a round-up of some of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to sensitive skin, and our best answers:
What is sensitive skin, and how can you tell if you have it?
The term ‘sensitive’ when referred to your skin is simply a way of saying that your skin is more reactive than what is normal. This could mean a wide number of things: your skin could be reactive to one or more common ingredients in skincare products or your skin could react to the elements such as sun, wind, heat or cold. Things like stress and even air pollution can trigger reactions on your skin. So the term ‘sensitive’ can be applied to many situations and covers a broad range of different challenges.
Overall though, the biggest tell when deciding whether you have sensitive skin is how your skin behaves during and after your skincare routine. Those with sensitive skin are more reactive to things like soaps, detergents, colours, and fragrances and using the wrong products can lead to itchy, dry and angry looking skin.
If your reluctant to try new products due to the fear your skin will react badly i.e. redness, itchiness, bumps and flaky skin – you probably have sensitive skin.
Skin sensitivity could also be linked to an underlying skin condition like eczema, rosacea or an allergy.
Are there different types of sensitivity?
Just like there are varying degrees of severity for oiliness, dryness, and acne, there are also different levels of sensitive skin. You may find that you can isolate just one or two ingredients or factors that cause a reaction, it might be sweat or synthetic fragrance. Alternatively, some people’s skin can be bothered by most skincare products and environmental factors.
Generally, skin sensitivity can be divided up into four main types: naturally sensitive, environmentally sensitive, reactive, and thin skin.
Naturally sensitive skin: This one is genetic and can be linked to inflammatory skin conditions like eczema, rosacea, and psoriasis.
Environmentally sensitive skin: This type of sensitivity is triggered by your environment. Sun exposure, heat, air pollution — anything your skin comes into contact with might cause some kind of reaction.
Reactive skin: This type of skin becomes red and inflamed by certain ingredients found in skincare products. You might suffer from very red, warm and irritated skin after applying some skincare products.
Thin skin: As we age, our skin naturally becomes thinner, and thinner skin is easier to irritate.
Which skincare ingredients should you avoid?
Since there are varying degrees and causes of sensitive skin, everyone is different. However, those with sensitive skin would be wise to avoid using products that contain synthetic fragrances and colours. The same rules apply for the skin on your body — even using laundry detergent or soap that is heavily scented or contains synthetic ingredients and colours can cause a reaction.
Regarding skincare specifically, if you suffer from sensitive skin it’s a good idea to steer clear of sulfates, exfoliants like glycolic, salicylic acid, and retinoids, and any creams with a long list of synthetic ingredients.
Another potential trigger is the way you go about your skin-care routine — washing your skin too often, or with water that is too hot, will irritate sensitive skin and cause excessive dryness. Stick with mild, gentle cleansers and exfoliants and luke-warm water.