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Image of a feather on a hand representing sensitive skin.

Treatment guide to sensitive skin

Written by
Debbie McQuoid

Having sensitive skin is a real pain, in more ways than the obvious. Extreme reactions such as flushing, and breakouts can mean certain skincare or treatments are no-no’s – and the fun and innovation of the beauty and cosmetic industry can feel out of reach.

Any skin type can experience sensitivity, from oily and acne-prone, to dry and mature. And many do, with between 60 to 70 per cent of women and 50 to 60 per cent of men experiencing it at some stage. And as sensitive skin is not a skin type, but a condition, it means it’s also actually quite treatable.

Find a clinic or practitioner near you and enjoy a risk-free booking process thanks to free in-clinic consultations and the option to pay in-clinic. Also, you can now split the cost of your treatment into four equal, interest-free instalments using Tabby.

What is sensitive skin?

Dermatologists define sensitive skin as skin that is easily irritated. This can present itself as skin that cracks, flakes, peels, or feels rough or red. It can then be broken down into four categories.

Naturally sensitive skin

You may have a genetic predisposition for issues like acne, eczema, rosacea, or psoriasis. These may signify the presence of inflammation in the body and requires advice from a medical professional.

Environmentally sensitive skin

Everyday environmental factors such as dry, cold, or windy weather, sun exposure or air pollution can trigger skin itchiness, dryness, and redness. Household products and even lack of sleep can irritate.

Reactive skin

Red and inflamed skin, typically caused by overuse of inappropriate use of cosmetic products with irritating ingredients such as alcohol and fragrance, or strong actives, such as alpha hydroxy acids.

Thin skin

Mature skin loses elasticity and firmness. Thin skin is more prone to flushing due to barrier damage and vascular reactivity.

There are other factors that may make you more predisposed to skin sensitivity. Ethnicity plays a part, with paler skin tones most affected. Women, more than men, are also at risk, due to skin thickness and hormones, although gender is becoming less of a contributing factor because of the increasing popularity of cosmetic use by men.

The reality is, there is not just one reason why you have sensitive skin. While someone may fall under the ‘environmentally sensitive skin’ category, they may also be within the ‘reactive skin’ bracket. Therefore, there isn’t one solution. Instead, a combination approach is advised that, conveniently, can simultaneously treat other concerns such as fine lines and wrinkles while soothing sensitivity.

Lifestyle changes

Hydration

Most of us need to drink more water. Studies have shown that people with increased transepidermal water loss (TEWL) are predisposed to intolerance to products in contact with the skin. Drinking between 2.5 to 3.5 litres a day, every day, is recommended. Set a timer, buy a ridiculously expensive bottle, whatever it takes, it should be the cornerstone to your beauty routine.

Elimination diets

Diets high in sugar are thought to exacerbate sensitive skin as are hot drinks such as coffee. Just remember to eliminate one food at a time, for a few weeks at a time, so you can be sure it’s a genuine trigger.

Household products

Consider changing your washing detergents to hypo-allergenic and natural products. At the very least, be aware of how you wash your face masks, bed clothes and towels that rub or touch your face. At night, lower levels of the anti-inflammatory hormone cortisol combined with a surge of pro-itch mediator histamine can accentuate skin’s sensitivity, so bed clothes are particularly important.

Extreme temperatures

Skin struggles to adapt to quickly changing temperatures and humidity levels. When it’s impossible to avoid extreme temperatures completely, try and protect yourself from the direct source, i.e., some shade at the beach or distance from the air-con unit at work.

Skincare

The main goal with sensitive skin is to repair and strengthen the skin barrier – the top layer of the epidermis that protects the skin. Also known as the stratum corneum, when the barrier is compromised, more substances can penetrate and inflame the dermis below. It can also lead to water loss.

Less is more

With a fragile skin barrier and reactive nerve endings, sensitive skin requires a less is more approach. Start by resetting your routine. Go back to basic products such as a gentle cleanser, moisturiser, and SPF. Once you have used only these for a few weeks, start adding in one product at a time, slowly, over a period of a couple of weeks.

Serums with high levels of antioxidants, humectants such as hyaluronic acid, calming ingredients such as colloidal oatmeal and aloe vera are all beneficial.

However, having sensitive skin doesn’t mean you should stay away from stronger actives such as vitamin c or retinoids. Just remember to add them in slowly to make sure you’re using the correct strength.

Treatments

There are a range of treatments out there that are not only safe for sensitive skin but can also help soothe it and strengthen the skin barrier.

LED

Without a doubt, phototherapy is a saviour for sensitive skins. By using specific wavelengths of LED light, it helps to repair your skin barrier at a cellular level. Red is the best coloured light for damaged tissue – not only does it stimulate collagen production, but it boosts circulation, and reduces inflammation.

LED really needs to be done regularly (twice a week is a good start) and long term to reap the benefits. There are some excellent home masks on the market, but ideally you would also continue with at least one professional clinic treatment a week while using them.

Profhilo

As hydration is key to aiding sensitive skin recovery, it makes sense to invest in Profhilo, which has one of the highest concentrations of hyaluronic acid on the market. Inserted just beneath the barrier, it helps skin retain more moisture, improving its elasticity and volume. It usually takes two sessions to see the full impact, but your results should last for around six months to a year.

Mesotherapy

Another treatment that helps strengthen the skin barrier and is therefore hugely beneficial for sensitive skin. Multiple small injections of vitamins and minerals provide the skin with some much-needed hydration, as well as improving circulation and collagen production.

Laser

The benefits of laser are far reaching. By stimulating collagen production and renewing skin cell turnover, all sorts of concerns can be treated, from fine lines to acne scars or pigmentation. An after effect of sensitive skin can be broken capillaries where skin has continually flushed, which can be easily treated with laser. However, those with sensitive skin need to be wary and not exacerbate the problem with harsh treatments.

Therefore, laser is usually recommended after a period of time building up the skin barrier. And then, gentle, non-ablative lasers – such as Nd: YAG lasers – would be used.

Gently, gently…

With at least half the population across the globe now living with sensitive skin, the beauty and treatment market has adopted a more sympathetic and holistic approach to care, which means you no longer have to miss out. And with a few lifestyle tweaks, skincare routine and strengthening treatments, your sensitive skin may even become a thing of the past.

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