skinology: how to care for sensitive skin
Fact: there is no ‘holy grail’ product that suits all skin types. What’s good for oily skin probably ain’t going to cut it on dry skin. Whether you have sensitive or normal type skin it’s never a one-product-fits all kinda thing.
When your dermatologist tells you, “you have sensitive skin”, what does that mean exactly?
Sensitive skin occurs when you have any of the following: pimples, redness, itchiness, flushing, wheals, or just a simple feeling of stinging on the skin.1 Otherwise, you have a resistant skin type (lucky you!) which means you rarely experience side effects from skin care products.
Building a skin care routine for sensitive skin can be a bit tricky. But we’re here to help give you some of the best skin care tips for sensitive skin.
1. Now listen up... Products that are best for acne prone skin should:
- Prevent (comedolytic) and will not cause (non-comedogenic) whitehead and blackhead formation.
- Control oil production by the sebaceous glands
- Target Cutibacterium acnes or Propionibacterium acnes
- Reduce inflammation
2. Use non-greasy skincare products.
Greasy products can clog pores and worsen oiliness, especially when used alone without acne medications. Stick to products that are lightweight and are absorbed by the skin faster. Moisturisers which contain isopropyl myristate, isopropyl palmitate and coconut oil should be avoided since these are comedogenic. 1,2
3. Don't over-cleanse and avoid harsh cleansers!
Over-cleansing and using harsh cleansers on the face may annoy the crap outta the natural skin lipid barrier making it more sensitive and prone to irritation. In the end, your skin might not even tolerate acne medications. Just wash the face twice a day before the application of the prescribed medications.3
4. Do not squeeze your pimples!
We know, this can hard to resist! But trying popping those pimples might lead inflamed pimples which can lead to wounding and eventually serious scarring or pimple marks. Nobody wants that!
Studies show that some food groups should be consumed in moderation when you have acne, especially foods like milk or that have a high glycemic index. Food with high glycemic index are carbohydrates that can be easily broken down by the body, causing sudden blood sugar spikes. Yep, this includes sugary sweet desserts, soft drinks, white bread, white rice and potato.
How can these food cause acne? They increase insulin-growth like factor levels which further enhances oil production by the sebaceous glands, making the face more oily, thus worsening acne breakouts. 4,5
Just like acne, your skincare routine should complement your dermatologist-prescribed rosacea treatment. Here are the must-knows in caring for skin with rosacea. 6,7
1. Avoid irritating skincare products.
Astringents and toners, “true” soaps, exfoliating agents and ingredients such as formaldehyde, propylene glycol, alcohol, witch hazel, palmitic oleic acid, fragrances, menthol, peppermint oil, eucalyptus oil which can worsen flares.
2. Apply sunscreen the right way
Sunscreens with at least an SFP 30 should be applied 15-30 minutes before sun exposure. 8
How much? To get the optimal sun protection from the sunscreen, 2mg/cm2 should be applied on the exposed areas. 9
Is one application enough? No! Sunscreens should be applied every 2 hours and right after excessive sweating and swimming. 8
3. Use gentle cleansers and avoid rubbing the face.
4. Use moisturisers for dry skin.
If you have combination skin, (oily T-zone and the rest is dry) use products for oil control on the T-zone and moisturisers on the sides of the face.
5. Use green cosmetics with matte finish
as it perfectly neutralises red, since it is its complementary colour. Try the earth tones ( tan, peach, or matte green) for an eye shadow.
Remember: Try the make-up first before purchasing them. 6
The following food and beverages can trigger rosacea flare ups: alcohol, spicy foods and hot drinks.6
As much as possible avoid activities that involve the following since they can also cause triggers: sun exposure, hot weather, extreme cold, heavy exercise, hot baths, humidity changes, and wind. 6
People with this sensitive skin type easily develop redness, itchiness and scaling when exposed with specific allergens. Skin care products that contains common allergens such as fragrances, preservatives, lanolin, dye, formaldehyde resin, among others.1 If you have this skin type you have a disrupted natural skin lipid barrier making your skin dry and prone to having allergic contact dermatitis which is a type of eczema. 1
This is you if you experience stinging, burning and itching from some skincare products without any obvious irritation such as redness or scaling (sensory irritation). The burning sensation usually happens 1 hour after application of the culprit product.1
When it comes to skincare, products with anti-inflammatory ingredients can be used, while those that cause “sensory irritation” like a-hydroxy acids (like glycolic acid and lactic acid), witch hazel, sodium lauryl sulfate (a surfactant), formaldehyde, benzoic acid and propylene glycol should be avoided.1
Information overload? You may find all of these difficult to cram in your head, so here are some general tips on face care for sensitive skin.
everyday tips for Sensitive skin
- Talk to your dermatologist! Have your skin properly assessed first. Then ask for advice on “what's a good skin care product for sensitive skin” or “what to avoid for sensitive skin care products”, based on their diagnosis.
- Be gentle on your skin. Rubbing, manipulating or using harsh skincare products can make sensitive skin worse. 6,7
- Moisturise. Use the right moisturiser which is appropriate for your skin type. Use products that would not further disrupt the natural lipid skin barrier of a sensitive skin. 6,7
- Avoid extremes of temperatures, since a sensitive skin is more prone to be inflamed. 6,7
- Relax! Studies have shown the too much stress on your body causes worsening of sensitive skin conditions. Stress management is important since emotional stress can worsen facial redness in rosacea and can also increase acne breakouts and eczema (like allergic contact dermatitis) flares. 6,7
- Lastly, as cliché as it may sound, live a healthy lifestyle: avoid vices, exercise regularly, (But for those with rosacea, avoid high intensity strenuous workouts) and eat right!
Natural skin care products for sensitive skin.
Our previous blogs, A guide to the best skincare for 30+ women and 6 common skin concerns and how to treat them we listed some of the best natural skin care for sensitive skin, but here's another rundown.
Hemp Clay Face Mask
Helpful in drying up inflamed pimples. Use the mask as instructed, followed by your regular acne care routine. Once the acne breakouts are controlled and the face is already dry or flaky and feels tight, you may want to consider....
Hemp Blemish Face Oil
It's lightweight, fast absorbing and will not give your face an oily and sticky feel. It can help improve pimple marks in the form of post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (darkening) and erythema (redness).
Our entire face mask range can help with redness or the active lesions of rosacea, try as they all have known anti-inflammatory properties and can soothe the skin.
Rose Body Oil
Awesome for dry skin on any part of the body. After bathing, don’t completely dry the skin. Just pat with a dry towel, leave the skin moist then apply the rose body oil. This will help occlude or trap the moisture on the skin, leaving it hydrated. You can also use products with humectants like glycerin and hyaluronic acid that absorbs moisture from the environment then apply on after.11
Prickly Pear Hair + Face Oil.
For those dry face feels. Infused with coconut oil which can leave dry skin smoother and softer.
Lavender Body + Face Oil
If you are in need of a mild cleanser, this is a goodie to help calm and soothe the skin.
- Don’t apply the oils on active flares of acne or rosacea and on itchy skin with irritation, allergies or wounds from scratching. Make sure to consult your trusted dermatologist first, then when the skin is healed, resume the use of the oils as suggested.
- Just apply a small amount, just 1 to 2 drops of the plant oils for the whole face.11
Author: Kathleen May Eusebio-Alpapara MD FPDS FPADSFI
1. Baumann L, Cosmetieuticals and Skin care in Dermatology. From Kang, S., MD, MPH, Amagai, M., MD, PhD, Bruckner, A. L., MD, MSCS, Enk, A. H., MD, Margolis, D. J., PhD, McMichael, A. J., MD, & Orringer, J. S., MD. (2019). Fitzpatrick’s Dermatology (9th ed.). McGraw-Hill Education. pp 3803-3817
2. InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Skin care for acne-prone skin. 2013 Jan 16 [Updated 2019 Sep 26]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279208/
3. Goh C, Cheng C, Agak G, Zaenglein AL, Graber EM, Thiboutot, DM and Kim J. Acne Vulgaris. From Kang, S., MD, MPH, Amagai, M., MD, PhD, Bruckner, A. L., MD, MSCS, Enk, A. H., MD, Margolis, D. J., PhD, McMichael, A. J., MD, & Orringer, J. S., MD. (2019). Fitzpatrick’s Dermatology (9th ed.). McGraw-Hill Education.1391-1412
4. Kumari R, Thappa DM. Role of insulin resistance and diet in acne. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol. 2013 May-Jun;79(3):291-9. doi: 10.4103/0378-6323.110753. PMID: 23619434.
5. Cappel M, Mauger D, Thiboutot D. Correlation Between Serum Levels of Insulin-like Growth Factor 1, Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate, and Dihydrotestosterone and Acne Lesion Counts in Adult Women. Arch Dermatol. 2005;141(3):333–338. doi:10.1001/archpedi.161.4.356
6. Steinhoff M, and Buddenkotte M. Rosacea. From Kang, S., MD, MPH, Amagai, M., MD, PhD, Bruckner, A. L., MD, MSCS, Enk, A. H., MD, Margolis, D. J., PhD, McMichael, A. J., MD, & Orringer, J. S., MD. (2019). Fitzpatrick’s Dermatology (9th ed.). McGraw-Hill Education. pp 1419-1447
7. Levin J, Miller R. A Guide to the Ingredients and Potential Benefits of Over-the-Counter Cleansers and Moisturizers for Rosacea Patients. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2011 Aug;4(8):31-49. PMID: 21909456; PMCID: PMC3168246.
8. Diffey BL. When should sunscreen be reapplied? J Am Acad Dermatol. 2001 Dec;45(6):882-5. doi: 10.1067/mjd.2001.117385. PMID: 11712033.
9. Heerfordt, I. M., Torsnes, L. R., Philipsen, P. A., & Wulf, H. C. (2018). Sunscreen use optimized by two consecutive applications. PloS one, 13(3), e0193916. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0193916
10. Yosipovitch G, Tang M, Dawn AG, Chen M, Goh CL, Huak Y, Seng LF. Study of psychological stress, sebum production and acne vulgaris in adolescents. Acta Derm Venereol. 2007;87(2):135-9. doi: 10.2340/00015555-0231. PMID: 17340019.
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