I can say honestly that the most frequent concern I hear about skin is sensitivity. When I ask about skin conditions, most people describe their skin as very sensitive. But this description is vague because skin can be sensitive in a variety of ways. It is important that you are clear about how your skin is sensitive when picking out products for your routine.
- Skin that is prone to allergies. This is typically my definition for sensitive skin. You have used many products in the past, and they have frequently caused redness, burning, itching, stinging, or flaking. This is usually indicative of an allergy. Try to figure out if the products had something in common. Were they all acne products? Did they have synthetic fragrances or dyes? Finding the root of the allergy is helpful here, as you will learn what to avoid in the future.
- Skin that is prone to redness. Skin that is easily reddened is challenging to treat. There are many factors that can cause redness. Do you get red when you work out? When you touch your skin? If you wax or tweeze your brows? When you apply product? If you get red from heat or touch, treat your skin with anti-inflammatories like vitamin C to calm it. If you get red when you apply product, take a look at your products and check that you aren’t misusing an exfoliant or that you don’t have an allergy. You may also want to check with your doctor for other factors, such as rosacea.
- Skin that is prone to breakouts. Breakouts are frustrating and often persistent, but they do not necessarily indicate an allergy. Unless you are also prone to redness, stinging, or allergies, I generally describe this skin as acne-prone, not sensitive. Try treating your skin with an acne control serum and avoid heavy moisturizers.
- Skin that has been sensitized. This is self-inflicted sensitivity. It is typically sudden and temporary. It is often caused by prescription products or overuse of aggressive exfoliants. If your skin is suddenly flaking or stinging, first take a look at your routine. Are you using a new prescription? Even oral medications can cause skin sensitivity. In the case of a prescription, check with your doctor or pharmacist to find out if it is a common side effect. Have you added a new products to your routine? Check the active ingredients. Are you overusing glycolic, salicylic acid or retinol? Try using that product less and see how your skin does.
Skin sensitivities are complicated and are not often solved by simply purchasing a product targeted to sensitive skin. Unfortunately many of the products that have a label claiming that they are safe for sensitive skin still have lots of common irritants in them. In fact, I have never heard a brand claim that they were not good for sensitive skin! So it is vitally important that you figure out what triggers your skin and pick your products accordingly. Only you can be sure what will and will not cause trouble!