People with sensitive skin may have reactions to skincare or household products that cause stinging, burning, itchiness, redness, or tightness. Sensitivity can also be the symptom of common skin disorders or allergic reactions such as eczema, rosacea, or contact dermatitis. Skin sensitivity can be diagnosed with patch testing for allergies, or by visual observation from a dermatologist. However, not all skin sensitivity has visual symptoms; some with sensitive skin note feelings of discomfort, though there may be no physical signs.
Those with severe skin sensitivity from skin disorders may need to seek medical professional help to address their symptoms. However, there are also more general and simple changes to skincare routines that can soothe and nourish sensitive skin and dry skin, or help you to avoid practices that make your skin feel uncomfortable. Learn more about these sensitive skin tips below.
Choose Products Carefully
Selecting products for sensitive skin can feel like a challenge. There are an incredible amount of products designed for sensitive skin, yet not all products may have the same effect on every individual. In general, those with sensitive skin should consider the following when choosing products:
Hypoallergenic moisturizers: Hypoallergenic moisturizers are products that are made without ingredients that are potential allergens, such as fragrances or alcohol.
Avoid common irritants: Common irritants may include exfoliators, fragrances, alcohol, retinoids, alpha-hydroxy acids, and antibacterial ingredients.
Fragrance-free: Fragrance-free products are made without any additional fragrances or masking scents. It is important to be aware that the term “fragrance-free” differs from “unscented.” Unscented products may contain scent masking ingredients or neutralizing components.
Consistency: There are different versions of lotions, creams, and oils for moisturizers. You may wish to select a specific type of product for use in different areas of your body and areas that tend to be dryer or oilier than others.
Natural ingredients: It can be helpful for those with sensitive skin to use products that are formulated with natural ingredients. Common soothing natural ingredients may include aloe vera, chamomile, and argan oil.
Apply Products Properly
Using the right product is important, but you must also use it correctly. Tips for applying moisturizing products include:
Applying moisturizers while the skin is still wet. After you shower or bathe, pat your skin dry to allow some of the moisture to remain on your skin. Aggressively wiping moisture away with a towel removes extra moisture and can further damage the skin through abrasion. Patting skin dry and applying moisture quickly can help to trap the water in your skin and improve the effects of your moisturizing routine.
Moisturize as needed. People with severely dry skin may require moisturizing multiple times a day. This may also be affected by your local temperature, humidity, season, and climate. Some areas of the body, such as hands, may require moisturizing each time you wash them.
Apply moisturizer after the use of medicated creams. If you use a prescription or medicated cream, apply the medicated cream and wait thirty minutes before applying moisturizer.
Use different weights of moisturizers appropriately. Moisturizers may come in lotions, creams, or oils. Lotions tend to be the lightest consistency, creams are heavier than lotions, and oils tend to be the heaviest. Different areas of the body may have different needs due to the composition of the skin. You may need to experiment to find a solution that works best for your individual skin needs with different areas of your body.
Shower and Cleanse Mindfully
When you shower or cleanse your skin with regular face washing, you should take care to use mild or soap-free cleansers that are designed for sensitive skin. Deodorant style soaps or highly fragrant soaps may contain strong detergents which can cause irritation. Other factors that may influence this process may include water-proof makeup that requires specialized products to remove, which may also cause additional irritation.
Shower when you need it. Showering and cleansing the skin and hair too often or multiple times a day can strip natural oils produced by the body to naturally moisturize the hair and skin.
Take a shorter shower. Longer shower times can leave your skin exposed to more damage by cleaning products. Shorter, quicker, and active showers can reduce the damage from cleansing products.
Use cool water. Hot water opens pores and strips away the natural moisturizing oils your hair and skin produce, which can enhance damage to the skin and hair. Using cool or lukewarm water closes the pores and can enhance circulation.
Shower and wash in the proper order. Washing top-to-bottom allows the soap to work its way down. If you have acne-prone skin, it can be helpful to wash your skin after you have conditioned your hair to remove any excess oils that may clog your pores. Additionally, if you shave when you shower, shave when the hair is damp but not too swollen from heat and steam, which can later lead to ingrown hairs and skin irritation.
Pat yourself dry. Instead of vigorously drying with a towel, gently pat your skin dry before applying moisturizer to lock in excess moisture from your shower.
Apply a moisturizer right away. Applying moisturizer directly after you shower can help to lock in excess moisture on your skin and prevent transepidermal water loss.
Consider Your Water
Studies on the link between hard water and skin sensitivity found that exposing the skin to hard water damages the protective skin barrier and can increase the sensitivity of the skin to irritants. The difference between hard and soft water on your skin is the presence of dissolved minerals — primarily calcium and magnesium — that exists in hard water. These minerals can strip skin of their natural oils and leave behind soap-like residue on the skin that can increase acne, dry skin, and skin aging.
Fragrances in cosmetics do not necessarily need to be labeled as is similarly required by the CFIA or FDA for food items. Fragrance ingredients in cosmetics are only legally required to be listed as “fragrance.” This means that if you have a particular allergy or sensitivity to fragrances and are questioning the ingredients of the product, you may need to speak to the manufacturer to discover the composition of the product. Advocates for safe cosmetics note that some fragrance ingredients may include acetaldehyde and benzophenone which can pose health concerns beyond dry skin, especially for pregnant women and infants.
Staying hydrated is not only important for your health, but studies show that drinking water benefits your skin. Skin is the largest organ of your body, and much like your other organs, it functions best when your cells are hydrated. Dehydration can cause your skin to turn dry, tight and flaky, and may reduce your skin’s resilience and increase the opportunity to develop wrinkles. Drinking water to hydrate your skin may take some time to take full effect, but those that participated in the study noted that staying hydrated improved their skin over time.
Where Appropriate Sun Protection
Sunscreen protects the skin from harmful UV rays, but not all sunscreen formulas are suitable for sensitive skin. Some sunscreens may include chemicals that exacerbate acne, clog pores, and dry out the skin. People with sensitive skin should consider using mineral-based sunscreen products rather than chemical-based sunscreens. Mineral-based sunscreens act as a blocking agent that scatters the harmful rays before they can penetrate your skin. Mineral-based sunscreens often use titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.
You can also avoid damage and drying of the skin from sunburns by avoiding the sun and standing in the shade or wearing protective clothing. If a sunburn does occur, it is important to soothe damaged and dry skin with moisturizers or ointments that can provide relief for your sensitive skin.