"Sensitive skin" is a term we are all familiar with, but what does it mean, what causes it and what are the best sensitive skincare options for your skin? If you've suffered from skin that's prone to irritation, you'll know and understand how hard it is, how much it affects your confidence and how scary it can be to try new products.
In this blog, I share five fascinating facts (you may not know) and tips on caring for your sensitive skin.
What is sensitive skin?
FACT 1: Sensitive skin isn't a clinical term or skin type but simply refers to skin that is more reactive than average. According to research a massive 70% of us report having the characteristics of sensitive skin.
Skin irritation means different things to different people; but usually involves symptoms such as redness, stinging, burning, itchiness, breakouts and general discomfort. Irritation occurs after your skin comes into contact with a particular ingredient, fragrance or environmental trigger like changes in weather or exposure to pollution, UV rays etc.
Ongoing sensitive skin can be a sign of an underlying condition e.g. allergic eczema, dermatitis, urticaria, psoriasis. Trying to resolve persistent problems can be complex, so it's always best to consult a doctor if you are concerned about ongoing skin problems to identify and treat the underlying causes.
What causes sensitive skin?
FACT 2: Your skin barrier is a living ecosystem, it skin forms a protective barrier from the outside world and is an important part of your immune system. Both the skin barrier and your immune system can be easily impacted by
- changes to environment, diet, lifestyle
- microbial changes
- pH changes
- skincare ingredients
Your skin barrier
The skin is the largest organ in your body and comprises three main layers. The upper layer known as the epidermis contains natural oily compounds or lipids (including fatty acids, ceramides and cholesterol). These lipids help to maintain healthy skin by keeping water inside your body and potentially harmful things out (allergens, UV rays, pollution, wind).
FACT 3: Your skin barrier is constantly in motion with 1000's of chemical reactions taking place at any one time. Some skin types are more resilient than others, and if your skin is sensitive, your barrier is typically weaker, thinner, and more easily damaged, making it easier for irritants to penetrate the skin and cause inflammation. On the other hand, having a thin lipid barrier means it’s also easier for moisture to escape, leading to dryness. This is why dry and sensitive skin commonly affects people.
Your immune system
FACT 4: Your skin is part of your immune system. Once an irritant gets through the lipid barrier it can trigger an inflammatory response from your immune system. Redness, pain, swelling, itching, and other similar symptoms are signs of a reaction. This is the case with conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, urticaria and rosacea. If your immune system is repeatedly exposed to a certain irritant it can become permanently sensitised. Always seek medical advice if you are suffering from ongoing flare ups.
Are natural ingredients always best for sensitive skin?
FACT 5: Some natural ingredients can cause irritation and sensitivity just like synthetic ingredients can. In many cases, natural ingredients can help to keep your skin barrier healthy, hydrated and glowing. Some questions to ask yourself.....
Do you suffer from food or pollen allergies? Avoiding soy, nut and wheat protein may be necessary. Those allergic to latex may need to avoid aloe, papaya and dandelion products.
Are there any essential oils which your skin cannot tolerate? Certain oils such as clove and tea tree can be very irritating. Always check product labels for declared allergens.
Skincare ingredients to watch out for
Ingredients which can can disrupt the lipid structure in your skin barrier and lead to excess moisture loss, dryness and itching include:
- Foaming agents/surfactants e.g. SLS, SLES, ALS
- Alpha hydroxy acids e.g. glycolic acid
- Artificial preservatives e.g. Phenoxyethanol, Methylisothiazolinone, EDTA
- Artificial fragrance
So, what are the best skincare options for sensitive skin?
I'm so pleased you asked!
1. For many with sensitive skin, the worst thing we can do is to over-exfoliate and wash with harsh cleansers and hot water which can disrupt that outer protective fatty layer. Instead opt for a gentle cleansing balm such as nutrient-rich Reset, a cruelty-free cleansing balm made with soothing mango butter, organic calendula and vitamin-rich carrot root. Remove with lukewarm warm, and a damp muslin cotton face cloth which also helps to buff dead skin cells away for gentle daily exfoliation. Avoid harsh scrubs and use AHA based products with caution, patch test before use.
- 'emollients' e.g. natural butters and plant oils which replenish the lipid barrier with fatty acids (Omega 3, 6, 7 and 9) and
- 'humectants' such as hyaluronic acid and glycerin which help the skin to retain water.
Replenish your skin barrier with 2-3 drops daily of Restore Multi-purpose Beauty Oil, a fast-absorbing oil that restores balance in your skin and supports a healthy skin barrier, feeding it with nourishing omegas, free-radical fighting vitamins and antioxidants. Rich in Squalane, Sea Buckthorn and Pomegranate extracts.
3. Avoid fragrance
Fragrances, both natural from essential oils and synthetic, can irritate the skin. Pamoja products are free from synthetic fragrance, where essential oils are present they are formulated within strict dermal limIts and fully declared in the ingredient list. Essential oil free options are also available.
TL;DR (too long; didn't read)
Sensitive skin refers to skin that is prone to be more reactive than average. Sensitivity can be caused by disrupting your skin barrier or immune system. If you're prone to sensitivity always patch test any new product and take care to maintain a healthy skin barrier by
- using a gentle cleanser
- keeping your skin hydrated and nourished
- avoiding harsh skincare ingredients
Trying new products can be daunting when you have sensitive skin. Why not try the Pamoja 'Free From Kit' - an essential oil free cleansing balm and beauty oil that work beautifully together, ideal for cleansing, soothing and hydrating extra sensitive and dry skin types.
HOW TO USE: Gently massage Reset Cleansing Balm into dry skin, remove with the organic cotton cloth, then pat 2-3 drops of Restore Multi-purpose Beauty Oil into damp skin for skin that feels calm, hydrated, healthy and glowing.
Save £6 when you buy the kit and get a free organic cotton face cloth and reusable fair trade cotton bag! Shop the Free From Kit.
Thanks for reading my blog!
By Sarah Taylor, trained natural skincare formulator and founder of Pamoja.
Pamoja is high performing skincare designed to nourish your skin and nurture yourself.
Sign up and get 10% off your first order plus 'A Daily Dose of Kindness: 30 easy ways to practice self-care'.