Do You Really Have Sensitive Skin?
Most people who believe they have sensitive skin – don’t.
The clinical (medical) definition of is skin that has a noticeable reaction with product application. The product can be ANY product, including prescription and over-the-counter. If the skin turns red, itches, tingles or burns (any one, anycombination or all four), it is classified as clinically sensitive skin.
What causes sensitive skin?
There are two causes: environment and genetics.
Environmental factors are usually product-based. Every product you use on your skin contains numerous ingredients. The more products you use, the more ingredients you’re exposed to, and the more likely you are to create a sensitive skin response. Stripping your skin of its barrier function through multiple product use often results in irritated skin.
Genetic factors are more complex. One-fifth of babies develop eczema (atopic dermatitis) within the first 6 months. Other symptoms may include allergies, asthma and hayfever. By the age of 12, most children outgrow atopic dermatitis. However, their skin may remain somewhat immunologically compromise and their risk of developing skin sensitivities is greater. Adults with a history of childhood eczema are prone to eyelid dermatitis, hand eczema and tiny red bumps on the backs of their arms (known as keratosis pilaris). They may also be intolerant of some topical acne preparations.
About sensitive skin
“Sensitive skin” is a term often incorrectly applied by those who have experienced some sort of irritation from a skin care product. As a result, we find many cosmetic companies have product lines specifically for this type of skin. These do not contain well-known irritating agents. While you may benefit from using these products, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you meet the medical definition for the condition.
The medical definition is more precise. There is a lot of variation in how sensitive skin reactions appear; there may be redness, tightness, dryness and blemishes. There may also be blotchiness, dry patches, itching and stinging. Sensitive skin has been classified into four general categories.
Type 1: Redness associated with diet, alcohol, stress, emotion and temperature changes. The medical term for this is rosacea, and it is believed to be a genetic condition.
Type 2: Redness, scaling and tightness associated with environmental factors, such as cold, wind, air conditioning and excessive heat.
Type 3: Redness, tightness, stinging and small papules associated with cosmetic use, soap and detergents, and hard water.
Type 4: Red patches associated with hormonal changes, such as the menstrual cycle.
How to care for sensitive skin
If you believe your skin is sensitive, read labels and use caution with new products. And remember that your skin covers your entire body – not just your face. Use fragrance-free and hypoallergenic products with the fewest number of ingredients.
If you have been able to identify an ingredient you know causes irritation, it makes sense (of course!) to avoid any product that contains that ingredient. Keep in mind that ingredients are listed in order of the quantity of that ingredient in the product; if the ingredient is at the top of the list, its volume is most likely sufficient to cause irritation. If it’s at the bottom of the list, your skin may be able to tolerate it, but proceed with caution. Always do a patch test first.