Caring for sensitive skin can be challenging. If your skin is highly reactive, you might not be able to use many facial products. Some people find their skin only reacts to certain things while others might feel as though their skin reacts to literally every skincare product . Trying new skincare products can be a gamble because you just never know what your skin type might respond negatively to.
If that’s not enough, sometimes when sensitive skin does play well with the products you’re using, it can suddenly react and you can’t use that product anymore. The why is a mystery, but the outcome is the same. Frustration and possibly throwing a few shoes at the wall. No? Just us? Carry on then.
What is Sensitive Skin?
The first thing you should know is that sensitive skin type isn’t actually a diagnosed medical condition. It’s not a disease, but a symptom of some underlying health issue that you may or may not be aware of. Sensitive skin occurs when the skin’s natural barrier gets weakened or broken, exposing the top layer of your skin’s nerve endings to things that agitate it and cause an inflammatory reaction.
Some people don’t even realize that they have sensitive skin type, until they suddenly have irritated skin or a flare up in reaction to something their skin did not like. The only way to discover you have sensitive skin is to really pay attention to the way your skin responds to things it comes in contact with. If the reaction is frequently negative—not just occasionally—then you probably have sensitive skin.
What Causes Sensitive Skin?
Remember that sensitive skin is a reaction, not a condition. That means that just about anything could trigger a reaction. Many people with sensitive skin have a reaction to environmental stressors, such as sunburn, wind burn, and even air pollution. Sensitive skin can react to temperature extremes, chemicals like household cleaners and fabric softeners, as well as to soaps, fragrances, and dyes found in certain beauty products.
Some people find their skin reacts to sleep changes, especially a lack of sleep, or to hormone fluctuations, especially during that time of the month. Others find they have skin sensitivity because of an underlying health issue like allergic contact dermatitis, eczema, or rosacea. In cases like this, genetics are thought to play a role. You can also have sensitive skin regardless of your skin type.
So if you normally have oily skin, it can be sensitive and oily. If you normally have dry or combination skin, or acne prone skin, it can be any of the above and still be sensitive. You can even have perfectly normal skin, but still experiencing skin sensitivity and having to be careful of the products you use and the things you expose yourself too.
How Do You Know You Have Sensitive Skin?
Remember that determining whether you have sensitive skin requires you to pay attention to how your skin reacts to suspected triggers. The occasional reaction is common for everyone but if you have persistent reactions, you likely have sensitive skin.
Some of the things that might indicate your skin is sensitive are:
You Flush Often
You might flush because of a reaction to something, or because of an underlying health issue, like rosacea. Either way, the result is the same. Your face experiences redness more often than not, much to your chagrin, and it’s a sign that your skin is sensitive.
You Have Tight, Itchy Skin
This can happen frequently after washing your face, especially if you use hot water. Hot water tends to strip away the natural oils in your face and can cause an adverse reaction. It’s always wise to wash with lukewarm water instead, to avoid causing undue stress to your skin. This is true even if you don’t have sensitive skin, but it is mandatory if you do.
You Have Dry, Patchy Skin
Often a result of an underlying health issue like eczema, dry skin can range from mild to bad enough to require treatment from your dermatologist. Finding the right products or the proper skin routine for dry skin to keep your skin’s moisture balanced can help, but the tricky part is finding products that won’t trigger a reaction. You may have to squeeze a few lemons before you find your lemonade.
You Get Breakouts Often
Many people with sensitive skin find themselves more prone to pimples and acne. When your skin gets dry, it can produce more sebum which can lead to clogged pores and cause further breakouts. You’ll want to look into an acne regimen to go along with your daily skincare.
You Notice Broken Capillaries
Sensitive skin is thin. It has less layers of protection than normal skin, which means it’s vulnerable to broken capillaries. Broken capillaries occur when tiny blood vessels rupture. They can be seen near the skin’s surface, usually on the cheeks and/or the nose.
You are Bump and Rash Prone
This doesn’t necessarily have to happen on your face. You could be bump or rash prone just about anywhere. However, if you notice you tend to develop a rash after using something new, you can probably chalk it up to sensitive skin.
Your Skin Doesn’t Like the Sun
Unfortunately, this means that you can’t step outside without an effective sunscreen! Otherwise you’ll find your skin turning flushed and red in no time, which not only looks uncomfortable, but feels uncomfortable too. We recommend skipping chemical sun protection and opting for mineral ones, like zinc oxide, with an SPF of 30 at the minimum to help protect yourself from photosensitivity.
Your Skin Doesn’t Like Poor Weather
Just the way a sunburn can trigger a reaction in sensitive skin, so can days that are cold and windy. Cold and wind is incredibly drying as well. People with rosacea tend to react poorly to weather changes, but reactions can still be uncomfortable even if your skin is just mildly sensitive.
You Notice Burning with Beauty Products
It’s possible to have a reaction to virtually any kind of product, regardless of what kind. Since your skin is thinner than someone with less sensitive skin, you are more susceptible to burning or stinging when applying certain products.
Your Skin Doesn’t Like Fragrances
Even natural fragrances can cause a reaction in people with very sensitive skin. If that’s you, you'll want to stick with products that are labeled as fragrance-free. It might not smell quite as yummy, but at least your face won’t react!
What is the Best Skin Care Routine for Sensitive Skin?
When building a sensitive skin skin care routine, you should probably stick to the old less is more school of thought. Obviously your skincare routine will need to factor in your skin type as well, but for normal sensitive skin, stick with a basic protocol that you implement both in the morning and at night.
In the morning, try using a cleansing lotion to clean your face. You can also apply a face mist and a moisturizer, and look for a mineral-based sunscreen.
So your morning routine might include this order of face products for healthy skin:
- Clean your face with a gentle cleansing lotion
- Mist your face with an unscented facial mist
- Moisturize your face with a lightweight, unscented moisturizer
- Apply a zinc oxide sunscreen if you plan on being outdoors
For your nighttime routine, you can add in a couple more steps if you like. Micellar water is great for sensitive skin and is considered multi-use, working well not just for cleansing but toning, hydrating, and refreshing.
After, you can use a gentle cleanser or gel if you prefer. Gels aren’t quite as mild as cleansing creams, but are less drying than cleansing foams. And since you are also using micellar water as an initial step, it shouldn’t cause any issues.
If you want to apply a serum, consider a mild one like mandelic acid. Mandelic acid is not only gentle but may offer some anti-bacterial benefit as it is similar in structure to antibiotics. An eye cream or gel at night is also a great idea, and you can add your moisturizer on top of everything as a final step.
So your nighttime routine might look like this for healthy skin:
- Apply micellar water (use a pad, press and hold, before wiping gently)
- Clean your face with a cleansing gel
- Apply a face serum like mandelic acid
- Apply a light layer of eye gel
- Add moisturizer as your final layer
Finding the perfect skin care routine for sensitive skin may take some trial and error because not every product you try will be a good one. It’s hard to predict what your skin will react to. Just commit to being consistent with a regular skin care regimen, keep track of what ingredients seem to cause flare ups and irritated skin, and look for products without them to help keep your sensitive skin type pampered and looking its best.