Do you have sensitive skin? How would you know?
Most of us figure that if our skin reacts to certain products, develops inflammation or acne easily, or gets dry and irritated at the drop of a hat, we have sensitive skin.
But that’s not always the case. If you think you have sensitive skin, you could actually have “sensitized” skin instead. And that could make a difference in how you treat your skin.
What is Sensitive Skin?
You’ve probably heard of sensitive skin. This is a skin type that is extra susceptible to irritation, inflammation, and other issues. It’s prone to reactions like redness and acne and may suffer from eczema, rosacea, or psoriasis.
This type of skin can be frustrating as it seems to react to the slightest of insults, or even just to the touch of your fingers or the brush of a certain fabric. You may remember this sort of trouble even when you were a child.
Sensitive skin can affect anyone, but it’s more likely in people with fair skin—skin that easily burns and flushes—and in those with asthma and allergies. Adults with sensitive skin often suffered from eczema when they were kids, and had to use unscented soaps and avoid fragrances from an early age. They are also likely to have others in the family with sensitive skin.
Common symptoms that accompany sensitive skin include:
- Itching and burning
- Excessive dryness
- Visibly broken capillaries
- Extreme redness
If you truly have sensitive skin, you were born with it. It’s in your genes, and unfortunately, you can’t change that! You can change how you treat your skin, though, so that it looks and feels its best most of the time.
What is Sensitized Skin?
The biggest difference between sensitive and sensitized skin is that while you’re born with sensitive skin, you develop sensitized skin later on. It develops over time due to lifestyle choices or the environment.
In general, there are three main causes of sensitized skin:
- What you put on your skin. Your skin can become sensitized to pretty much anything you put on it, but typically it’s because you’ve been a little too harsh with it, have used some products (like acids or retinol) too much, or have exposed it to products with a lot of harsh ingredients like sulfates, alcohols, fragrances, and preservatives.
- What you put in your body. What you eat affects your skin, and can play a role in the development of sensitized skin that’s red, inflamed, broken out, or extra dry. A diet high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, and saturated fats can exacerbate sensitized skin.
- Your environment. Exposure to harsh climates, pollution, cigarette smoke, and even air-conditioned and heated dry air can create sensitized skin.
Sensitized is usually:
- Visibly irritated
- Reacting with too much or too little oil
The good news is that if you have sensitized skin, it’s a condition you can do something about.
How do you know which one you have? Ask yourself how long your skin has acted the way it does. If it’s been ever since you were young, you probably have sensitive skin. But if this is something that developed after you reached adulthood, it may be more likely to be sensitized skin.
How to Help Sensitive and Sensitized Skin Look Its Best
You can take care of both sensitive and sensitized skin with similar steps, with one big difference: with sensitized skin, your goal should be to rebuild the outer layer and help your skin return to a healthier state, so that it’s no longer sensitized. You can think of it as having a skin condition—one that you can cure.
With sensitive skin, you may take similar steps when it comes to skincare, with the understanding that this condition isn’t going to go away, and that you need to adopt lifelong habits that will help your skin look its best.
Here’s something else to consider—many people who believe they have sensitive skin have sensitized skin. This is good news, as it means you may be able to heal your skin.
1. Start Over
You need to find out if some of your products are causing issues, so the best way to do that is to start fresh. Go as basic as you can with your skin-care routine—cleanse, tone, and moisturize. Skip all the extra treatments for now, and give your skin about a week to normalize. Then watch to see how it’s reacting to the three basics. Is your cleanser too harsh? How about your toner? Are there harsh ingredients in your moisturizer?
If you’re still noticing issues after a week, try changing one product at a time. Get a creamy, gentle cleanser with only natural ingredients. Use that for a while and see what happens. Avoid the toner completely. Then add back in each product one by one, giving your skin a couple of days each time to see how it reacts.
In this way, you should be able to track down the products and ingredients that bother your skin. Keep a skin-care diary, writing down what you use when to help in your detective work.
2. Read Labels!
This is important for everyone, but particularly for those with these skin issues. Certain ingredients can be irritating, so avoid products:
- with any natural or synthetic fragrances,
- that use parabens as preservatives,
- that contain harsh chemicals like sulfates, ureas, parabens, propylene glycol, and others on our list of Ingredients to Avoid.
Stay away from aggressive cleansers with sulfates and abrasive scrubs as well.
3. Test for Issues
Even some natural ingredients can cause sensitization in the skin. These include cinnamon, geranium, grapefruit, lemon, or peppermint. Anytime you add a new product into your skincare regimen, apply a small amount to the inside of your forearm to check for a reaction first.
4. Avoid Harsh Treatments for Now
While you’re healing or discovering more about your skin, avoid treatments like peels, exfoliating, laser treatments, microdermabrasion, retinols, vitamin C serums, and all other similar products and procedures. Just let the skin rest.
After your skin has recovered, it may be best to use only lactic and mandelic acids as they are much less irritating than other types, and to avoid glycolic and other alpha hydroxy acids.
5. Focus on a Quality Moisturizer
Most cases of both sensitive and sensitized skin are dehydrated, so as you work to discover your triggers, make sure you’re using a quality moisturizer. It should have natural ingredients and no harsh chemical ingredients. We recommend our Calming Moisture as it’s made for sensitive skin.
6. Eat a Healthy Diet
This includes lots of vegetables and fruit, lean proteins, whole grains, and dairy (if you’re not sensitive to it), while limiting sugar, refined carbs, and fatty items like fried foods. It also helps to make sure you’re drinking enough water and to take a fatty acid supplement like fish oil. Limit alcohol and caffeine, and if you smoke, try to quit.
7. Use a Humidifier
Wherever the air is dry—including your bedroom or office—use a humidifier to help prevent excess dryness and dehydration.
8. Use a Physical Sunscreen
Sunscreen is a must for both types of skin, but make sure you choose zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which are considered physical sunscreens while avoiding chemical sunscreens that are made with chemicals that can react with the skin.
9. Limit Exposure to Toxins
If you live in a polluted area, try to avoid going out during peak times of the day when pollution is at its highest. Exercise away from traffic.
10. Use Gentle Detergents
If your skin reacts to the fabrics in your clothes, consider trying a different laundry detergent with fewer chemicals.
Do you know if you have sensitive or sensitized skin?