Approximately 40% to 55% of all Americans have sensitive skin. Some are born with sensitive skin, but many develop the condition as the years progress. Regardless of how one ends up with the condition, coping with sensitive skin can be challenging. People with sensitive skin react to products, environmental factors and seasonal changes more readily that most people. This usually results in some kind of irritation or dryness that can lead to a more serious condition, like inflammation and infection.
When sensitive skin is irritated by one factor or another, the skin can appear red and swollen, sometimes dry and cracked, or flushed and stinging, depending on the source of the irritation. These irritations can lead to rashes, peeling and even acne. Over time, repeated bouts of irritation can cause a chronic, more persistent condition.
Things That Cause Sensitive Skin
Skin Allergies – This condition is usually prominent in people with dry skin who lack balanced levels of sebum (oils in the skin). Low levels of sebum in the lipid barrier means that the skin is less protected and the dry damaged skin is easily penetrated and less able to block allergens. A poorly functioning lipid barrier can result in chronic moisture loss which leads to dry, scaly or cracked skin. It can also result in damage to skin cells in the lower layers of the epidermis. Eventually, the immune system of the skin becomes weakened. When that happens, you are at risk of infection and other skin diseases or conditions caused by the ‘dry’ gaps in the lipid barrier. Skin conditions like bacteria-related acne, atopic dermatitis, eczema, rosacea and other problems like psoriasis can begin to develop.
Cosmetic Sensitivity – This condition is usually caused by fragrances or preservatives in cosmetic products. You instantly know the feeling – your skin begins to tingle or sting and it ends up red, irritated or swollen. People with sensitive skin should avoid products with fragrances and should be aware of certain preservatives like chemical petroleum by-products, parabens, mineral oil, sodium lauryl sulfate, phthalates, artificial dyes and alcohol. Switching to a natural or organic product is best if you have sensitive skin. Remember to always test any new product on a small area of skin before using. Then gradually use the new product on a larger section until you can tolerate it without any sign of irritation. Sudden introduction of a new product to sensitive skin can easily provoke a reaction – even if it is fragrance and alcohol free. Learn more about Keeping Sensitive Skin Healthy here.
Food Allergies – Food allergies are common, but a lack of B complex vitamins in the body can create this kind of skin sensitivity. Many food allergies will present as hives on the skin. Hives are welts on the skin that often itch. These welts can appear on any part of the skin and can vary in size from as small dots to as large as a dinner plate. Knowing what food allergies affect you requires some detective work. If the food allergy is unknown, you need to go through the time consuming process of eliminating food groups from your diet and then slowly introducing them back, one at a time, until you identify your food allergy. Obviously the best way to avoid hives and other allergic symptoms from food allergies is to avoid the food group responsible.
Seasonable and Environmental Changes – As our largest organ, the skin is the first to react to seasonal and environmental changes. Seasonal changes can have serious effects of the skin. Dry winter weather robs our skin of much needed moisture, resulting in dry, itchy and possibly even cracked skin. Hot, humid weather causes the body to sweat more and retain heat. This can lead to red, blotchy and irritated skin that is most uncomfortable. You can address these issues with humidifiers (in the winter) and dehumidifiers and air conditioning (in the summer). Then there is the issue of sun exposure. Sensitive skin is most susceptible to UV rays and should be protected at all times – even in the winter. For more information on environmental factors that affect sensitive skin, read our article on Sensitive Skin.
Protecting Sensitive Skin
When the skin becomes irritated, we are most often prescribed or given pharmaceutical products like hydrocortisone to manage flare ups of itching, redness and skin irritation. While these are effective, there are some natural remedies that work well to – here are some suggestions:
Pumpkin Seed Oil – an antioxidant rich in zinc, magnesium, vitamin A and alpha-linolenic acid to aide in the skin’s natural healing process.
Chamomile – a well-known soothing anti-inflammatory used for wound healing.
Licorice Root Extract – an effective anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Visit us on Facebook to learn more about licorice root extract.
Shea Butter – packed with fatty acids and triglycerides rich in vitamin E to soften and moisturize the skin.
Tamanu Oil – This oil possesses a host of beneficial fatty acids. One of the most unique is Calophyllic Acid – one of the components believed to be primarily responsible for regeneration of new skin tissue. Calophyllic acid also is a natural anti histamine to help reduce inflammation.
Willow Herb – a natural alternative to hydrocortisone to reduce inflammation and irritation.
Totarol – a natural alternative to benzoyl peroxide, totarol is a potent anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory.