Factors that exacerbate your sensitive skin and prompt breakouts can also constantly change. So, staying on your toes is essential with this delicate skin type.
Almost 50% of women and 40% of men will experience sensitive skin at some point in their lives! But, how much do we really know about this skin type?
What is Sensitive Skin?
Healthy skin has two balancing functions. It acts as a barrier against unwanted irritants and it helps to retain natural moisture levels.
Within this barrier there are fats called lipids. These are like the bricks of your skin, so to speak, and they work to keep out unwanted aggravators. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of these lipids is dependent on enzyme activity.
This enzyme activity is usually weaker in sensitive skin, which compromises the skin’s barrier. As a result, the skin loses more water and allows irritants to penetrate the skin.
These irritants cause the recognisable sensitive reactions that appear on the surface of the skin, including itching, redness, stinging, swelling, and flaking of the skin.
In short: enzyme activity is weaker in people with sensitive skin, so skin loses water and irritants penetrate the barrier.
Source: Darrel Birkett
What Causes Sensitive Skin?
Sensitive skin can be caused by a multitude of factors, from dry skin to lifestyle choices, air pollution and hormones.
As a result, it can be very difficult to suss out the underlying cause of your sensitivity. However, we can try to narrow it down by pinpointing some of the main causes.
The Environment:Seasonal Changes
Your skin can react very differently over the seasons. Cold, wintery weather can be particularly irritating — switching between cool outdoor air and the warmth of central heating can severely dehydrate your skin, increasing its sensitivity.
This is also why our lips tend to become chapped and sore in the winter months.
The UV rays emitted by the sun can be particularly damaging to the skin. Those with sensitive skin have thinner natural skin barriers, which makes it easier for UV rays to pass through and damage the collagen tissue (the main structural protein in the skin).
Such aggravation can lead to increased burning and irritation.
Dirt and Pollution
If you live in a city or large town you’ll be more susceptible to exhaust fumes, smoke, and dust. These can irritate your skin, especially if the natural skin barrier is weaker.
During the day, this air pollution gradually sticks to and is absorbed by our skin. The intake of these fumes can result in sensitive reactions, leading to rashes or inflamed red areas.
Source: David Holt
Hard water contains high levels of dissolved minerals such as iron, magnesium, and calcium. The buildup of minerals makes it difficult for substances such as soaps, shampoos, and cleansers to dissolve in hard water.
As a result they can leave behind a residue on the surface of the skin, leading to irritation, itchiness, flakes, and clogged pores.
Hard water also makes it more difficult for products to lather up, prompting you to use more of them and exacerbate the problem.
Cleansing your face with the wrong products or over cleansing can break down your natural skin barrier and aggravate your skin.
This is especially true with exfoliators. Whilst there are many benefits to using exfoliators, they work more aggressively than usual cleansers to remove excess oil and dry skin from the face. For people with normal skin types, this is perfect as it allows for a deep cleanse.
However, such a deep clean can aggravate sensitive skin, wearing down your natural skin barrier. Therefore, we recommend you only gently exfoliate the skin 2-3 times per week.
As some of you may already be aware, hormones, particularly among women, fluctuate all the time. This increases your skin’s sensitivity.
However, there are some top tips to look out for. Hormones are especially active just prior to and during your period, as well as during pregnancy and throughout the teenage years. So try to stay attentive during these times, and alter your skincare routine accordingly.
For example, using an exfoliator a few days before your monthly cycle could prevent any hormonal breakouts.
Stress can be difficult to avoid. Problems at work or home, illness, and lack of sleep can all cause stress.
Unfortunately, stress can have a physical effect on your skin, with the barrier not repairing itself as quickly as it should, leading to sensitivity.
Researchers at Iwate Medical University in Japan discovered that the skin’s protective barrier becomes more vulnerable to dehydration and infection during stressful periods.
They believe this is caused by increased levels of cytokines, which are released when you are stressed.
On a similar note, a rise in stress levels can increase your susceptibility to blemishes. When you feel stressed, your body produces more cortisol, which in turn prompts your sebaceous glands to produce oil. The oilier the skin, the more prone to acne it becomes.
Diet and Hydration
Your diet can have a significant impact on the sensitivity of your skin, since irritants can be ingested through food.
Foods that are particularly prone to causing skin reactions include:
• Glutinous foods
• Dairy products
• Egg whites
A healthy, balanced diet and plenty of water will reduce the negative effects your diet has on your skin.
Sensitive skin may seem like a minefield, but knowledge is power — knowing what triggers your skin’s sensitivity can help you to combat it. Be sure to check out our guide on how to treat sensitive skin for more advice!