Find out why your complexion is so prone to dryness, tightness, itchiness, and how you can give it the tender care it craves
Having skin that’s sensitised and reactive can make you tiptoe around your complexion as if it’s a permanently annoyed wasp. “Sensitive skin has a tendency to become irritated, which can manifest itself as redness, stinging, burning, itchiness and general discomfort,” says Dr Justine Hextall, a consultant dermatologist for La Roche-Posay.
Anything from your age to your skincare routine could increase your chances of an itchy reaction. While it may seem as if sensitive skin comes out of nowhere, typically there is a trigger waiting to be identified. More often than not, it’s one of the following five …
Your family tree
The science suggests that it’s OK to blame your parents for your skin issues because you can be born with a genetic predisposition to eczema, dryness, redness, itchiness and allergies. Sensitive skin is a telltale sign of these conditions.
“Those with sensitive skin may have inherited a compromised skin barrier,” says Hextall. “Your skin barrier is much like a security guard for your skin and it’s the weakness of this natural shield that is the underlying cause of problems. Essentially, a thin, weak, damaged skin barrier makes your skin more vulnerable – it becomes ‘leaky’, meaning that your skin loses water, and also allows irritants in, and is irritated more easily.”
The top line? “There is no substitute for a healthy skin barrier,” says Hextall. “The choices we make for our skin should all be about repairing, restoring and protecting it.”
To make your skin barrier more robust, use plenty of skincare that is rich in lipids and natural moisturisers, which attract and lock moisture in.
Do you find that your skin can’t deal with the products your friends slather on to their faces? People with sensitive skin are generally more reactive to soap, detergents, alcohols and fragrances in products, and using the wrong ones can result in a change of skin pH, triggering a plethora of problems. Annoyingly, it can become a never-ending loop. “Once you’ve had a reaction to an ingredient or product, your skin’s barrier is compromised, giving potential for even more problems,” says Hextall.
The best approach? Recognising that overcomplicated skincare routines can be asking for trouble, so it’s important to go back to basics. Do this by limiting the number of products in your routine and the ingredients they contain.
It’s a no-brainer to choose products formulated for sensitive skin that don’t contain common irritants and harsh ingredients. So watch out for alcohols, acids, fragrance, soap and foaming agents such as sodium lauryl sulphate.
Allergic skin reactions are common and can happen to anyone – not just those with sensitive skin. Contact dermatitis, a type of skin inflammation, has two forms: irritant contact dermatitis, which is usually caused by prolonged exposure to an irritating substance, such as a detergent or a solvent; and allergic contact dermatitis, which is a true allergic reaction to a substance (think reacting to poison ivy).
Common triggers for dermatitis can include nickel, chemicals in hair dye and fragrances, and preservatives in creams and cosmetics. Symptoms can include itching, soreness, redness and even small blisters and cracks.
You may be surprised to learn that products labelled or marketed as “natural” or “organic” aren’t problem free, as natural essential oils derived from plants, for example, can be irritants.
“With a new product, you might want to consider doing a patch test for a few days,” says Hextall. “You test a small amount on a sensitive and reactive area, such as around the neck or under your arm, to see if it triggers a reaction.”
Our skin is the biggest organ in our bodies, and environmental factors can play a huge role in how it behaves. “Everything from UV rays, hot and cold weather, and pollutants to the hardness of your water can disrupt your skin’s barrier, causing irritation,” says Hextall.
As with most things in life, prevention is better than cure. We all know it: a daily sunscreen is non-negotiable (the La Roche-Posay Anthelios range includes sunscreens that are spot-on for sensitive skin types). Another must-have is the right cleanser to remove dirt, impurities and pollutants that can otherwise disturb the skin’s barrier. “There is no substitute for the right cleanser – if you start with the wrong one, it can strip the skin and change the skin pH, then no moisturiser on earth is going to replace that bad first step,” says Hextall.
How many birthday candles you blow out
Think your skin has become more sensitive over the years? You’re not imagining it. “As we age, our skin loses hyaluronic acid and oils, which means cells can no longer hold as much water. Skin also becomes thinner, which can increase sensitivity over time,” says Hextall. Chances are, with age, you’ve also upped your ante when it comes to skincare (20-step skincare routine, anyone?), which can also cause that oh-no-my-face-is-one-big-rash problem.
“Over-washing with harsh soaps and over-exfoliating with abrasive scrubs and exfoliants, can damage your skin barrier, while potent ingredients such as glycolic acid and retinoid commonly cause irritation,” says Hextall. This extreme approach is the opposite of what you should be doing. “What ageing, sensitive skin first needs is to be repaired, rehydrated and calmed before you do anything else,” adds Hextall.
Skincare suitable for sensitive skin
The La Roche-Posay Toleriane range is not only recommended by dermatologists, but is the first skincare range to have a selection of its products given the seal of approval by Allergy UK. The hydrating formulas are specially formulated for dry, sensitive skin and help soothe feelings of irritation.
Find out more about the Toleriane range and get a free travel size Toleriane 50ml Dermo-Cleanser when you purchase 2 or more Toleriane products, by using code LRPGIFT at laroche-posay.co.uk*
This article is intended as general information only. You should seek advice from a medical professional if you are concerned about your skin or before starting any new regime or course of conduct.
*Only available online until 23:59 on 31 May 2021. One redemption per customer per transaction. Subject to availability, while stocks last. Offer available at laroche-posay.co.uk. Incomplete, illegal, misdirected or late redemptions will not be valid. Promoter is not responsible for redemptions lost, damaged or delayed due to technical or connectivity or other problems. Promoter: LaRoche-Posay, a trading division of L’Oréal (UK) Limited, 255 Hammersmith Road, London W6 8AZ.