Our guide to determining triggers for sensitive skin
No skin type throws a temper tantrum quite like sensitive skin. If you have this skin type, you’re well aware of the vast emotional and environmental factors that can affect it – let alone harsh skin care ingredients. But at any given time during our lives, many of us wonder, “why is my skin so sensitive?”
While the causes of sensitive skin can be endless, the solution to stopping most of these reactions is simple: avoid irritants. We’ll review factors that trigger sensitive skin, and the most problematic ingredients you’ll want to avoid if you have this skin type.
If you’re a seasoned sensitive skin veteran, your question may not be “why is my skin so sensitive?” but rather, “what doesn’t cause sensitive skin?” That might be a fair assessment, as there are common culprits that can trigger a reaction.
Sensitive skin reacts when nerve endings in the top layer of skin become irritated. This occurs because your skin’s natural barrier is weakened or broken, due to a trigger or underlying condition.
You may have sensitive skin if:
Your Skin Is Reactive
Your senses may be saying yes to that exfoliating cocoa bean cleanser that takes you to a tropical paradise, but your skin could be saying no. If you have sensitive skin, you probably notice that detergents, dyes, exfoliants, and fragrances cause your skin to react. You may notice that they can cause itchiness, dryness, or redness.
You Notice Redness
Most people with sensitive skin deal with some amount of redness. This can take the form of a red rash, red bumps, blushing and flushing, or red dilated blood vessels. You may also notice redness appearing shortly after applying gentle pressure to the skin.
Your Skin Is Triggered By Environmental Factors
Stepping outside can seem like a minefield when you have sensitive skin. Varying elements such as heat, cold, and wind can aggravate your skin. In addition, cold weather can dry out skin, leaving sensitive skin prone to breakouts and cracking.
You Have an Underlying Condition
Heightened skin sensitivity could be due to conditions such as eczema, contact dermatitis, or psoriasis. If you’re having consistent symptoms or discomfort, you should definitely consult a dermatologist for a proper diagnosis.
You Sunburn Easily
Sensitive skin is more susceptible to the harmful effects of the sun. If your skin is already irritated or peeling, you are at an even higher risk of sunburn and angrier skin.
Sensitive skin can seem like you’re wandering daily through a minefield, having to be cautious of everything around you. But there are some problematic chemical and natural ingredients that are common top offenders.
Not that kind of celebratory alcohol, but denatured alcohol or alcohol denat. It will sap your skin’s moisture levels, leading to irritation and itchy, uncomfortable skin.
There are some friendlier alcohols known as fatty alcohols that are non-irritating and less sensitizing to skin. You’ll still want to exercise caution when using those.
Synthetic fragrances have a long rap sheet of harsh reactions like redness and rashes. In fact, these smelly culprits are a common cause of allergic reactions. Opt for fragrance-free formulas.
#3: Chemical Sunscreen Ingredients
While common sunscreen ingredients like avobenzone, octocrylene, and oxybenzone don’t usually pose a threat to normal skin, these chemicals can make sensitive skin angry. Try a physical or mineral formula.
#4: Walnut Shell/Granules
You know those tiny particles in your favorite scrub or exfoliant? Their irregular shape may make them too harsh for sensitive skin. Save them for your rough heels and opt for a gentle peel for your face.
Sulfates are used in products to give them a rich foam or lather. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and ammonium lauryl sulfate (ALS) are the most common chemical latherers. These foaming foes can irritate the skin, leaving it stripped and inflamed. No thanks!
#6: Peppermint Essential Oil Or Menthol
Due to its strong analgesic properties of menthol, peppermint essential oil is best used as an accompaniment, to enhance the effectiveness of other essential or carrier oils. It’s best for people with sensitive skin types to only use this one in breath mints.
#7: Certain Dyes Or Colorants
Formulas with pretty colors might seem attractive. However, these dyes or colorants are often made of coal tar, petroleum, or heavy metals. They can lead to irritation, blocked pores, inflammation, and sensitive skin. Stick to natural or fruit-derived colorants.
#8: Too Much Salicylic Acid
Salicylic acid is great for clearing acne and clogged pores. But in high concentrations, it’s too drying and irritating for sensitive skin. Use sparingly.
PEGs or polyethylene glycols are compounds that are used in formulas as thickeners and softeners. They can cause irritation, reduce the skin’s moisture levels, and speed up skin aging!
Parabens are a low-cost synthetic preservative used to keep products free from the growth of bacteria and fungus. The problem is, parabens have been linked to allergic reactions among a host of other health issues.
If you have sensitive skin and are unaware of what ingredient or product is causing it, patch test before use. Patch testing is ideal as both prevention and a solution for deciphering skin irritants.
However, many of us have no clue exactly what a patch test is or how to do it. You’re in luck. We’ll tell you everything you need to know about the process.
Choose an accessible patch of skin like the back of your hand or forearm. Ideally, it should be somewhere that you can comfortably leave alone for at least 24 hours.
Wash and clean the patch of skin you’re going to use first. You want to ensure that it’s the new product you applied and not something else causing any reaction.
Apply a dime-sized amount of product to the patch of skin you’ve chosen. Then, wait about 24 to 48 hours.
After the allocated time frame, if you have redness, swelling, itching, or burning, don’t use that product.
Not all ingredients on this list will guarantee a reaction, but they can be more irritating than others. If you find yourself asking, “why is my skin so sensitive?” then be sure to patch test, and pay attention to when your skin is more reactive. Those circumstances may include extreme heat or cold, menstruation, menopause, or pregnancy. Get to know these sensitive-skin no-no’s so you can avoid possible triggers and maintain clear, healthy skin.
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The information in this article is for educational use, and not intended to substitute professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should not be used as such.