Skin Irritation; How You Get It, but More Importantly, Get Rid of It!
There are all sorts of reasons for sensitive skin. Sometimes the cause of skin irritation is a condition that you can’t cure completely. Sometimes the reason is an allergy to an ingredient in your cosmetics. It can also be that you are not allergic at all, but use too much and too many different types of cosmetics. And then there are the people for whom there is no real reason. Their skin is extremely susceptible, or, in other words highly sensitive.
If you have sensitive skin, it is helpful to know the reason for this. And then you can try, step by step, to restore the calmness back into your skin care ritual. A sensitive skin doesn’t mean that you should refrain from using cosmetics. But do your homework first before putting anything on your face. My very first piece of advice is to avoid ingredients whose benefits are unclear. And remember the motto that for all the good things in life: less is more.
The 4 reasons for sensitive skin
Skin irritation: you may have Rosacea
Psoriasis, eczema and Rosacea are skin conditions that limit what you can put on your face. Whereas people with psoriasis and eczema often have a clear grasp of what is wrong with them and have already consulted a Dermatologist, people with Rosacea are still having difficulty in finding the right products for their skin. This also applies to Doctors, they usually know what to do for psoriasis and eczema- there are very good treatment protocols for these- but not for Rosacea. There is still too little known about it. Doctors don’t usually recognise it, or prescribe the wrong medicine. For this reason, I’m going to leave eczema and psoriasis out, and only going into Rosacea, the condition that mainly affects white women (17%) from the age of 30 onwards.
Characteristics of Rosacea
- Your face turns red quickly (especially due to exertion, temperature change, after drinking alcohol and eating spicy foods)
- You have small broken capillaries (thread veins) on the face, in particular on the cheeks (mainly the area either side of the nose)
- You suffer from bumps that look like spots, but cannot be easily squeezed out
- You are sensitive to cosmetic products
- You regularly have a burning or itching or prickling sensation on your facial skin
- Your eyes are sensitive or quickly irritated
Do you suffer from one or more of these symptoms? Then you can assume that you have Rosacea. Does it sound familiar, but are the bumps situated mainly around your nose and mouth? Then you are more likely to be suffering from Perioral Dermatitis (also known as clowns eczema).
You are allergic to cosmetics
This affects 10 percent of the population (American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, 2004). The problem is in your immune system, which reacts to an ingredient that doesn’t cause trouble for others. Such as someone who can wear jewellery containing nickel or rubber gloves without a problem, whilst another gets a rash. In order to find out exactly what you are allergic to, it is best to see a Dermatologist. They can reveal, with a simple test, which ingredient you should avoid thereafter to avoid skin irritation.
Your skin irritation is caused by cosmetics
This is slightly different than cosmetics allergy. There is nothing wrong with your immune system and your skin is naturally healthy. But for a long time you’ve been using too much, and too many different products, which are, above all, not of the correct quality (even though they may be very expensive). All skin, no matter how healthy, will become sick if all sorts of cosmetics, with irritating ingredients, are applied for long enough. The result is redness, and also the very common ‘clown eczema’ – rash around the mouth – which is most probably caused by incorrect cosmetics use. If this applies to you then stop using cosmetics completely for a period of time, so that you can then start afresh – but then properly.
You have highly sensitive skin
Just like extremely sensitive people, you have people with extremely sensitive skin. The nerve endings, that lie just under the skin, react more quickly in them than others, with itching or a burning and stinging sensation. The slightest provocation will make the skin become red and chapped. You need to be extra careful with such skin and therefore minimize cosmetics use, and where possible, irritating ingredients.
The Do’s and Don’ts
- What applies to all skin types, applies especially to sensitive skin: avoid irritating ingredients. I am referring to substances such as perfume, Sodium Lauryl Sulphate and denatured alcohol.
- There are also ingredients which, in themselves, are good for the skin but may still (temporarily) cause irritation, such as Glycolic Acid and Vitamin A Acid. With Rosacea and very sensitive skin, they are best avoided or their use very gradually introduced. With allergy or skin irritation through over use of cosmetics, you can maybe try again at a later stage, if your skin has calmed down.
- Do not use old fashioned soap or bath foam and don’t over wash.
- Scrubs, loofahs, steam baths, hot and cold showers – they only irritate your skin even more. So don’t do it.
- Don’t let yourself be mislead about the much used term “hypo-allergenic” on the label. This has no meaning. “Plant” or “natural” doesn’t mean that it is mild either. Always try a new product on the inside of your elbow first.
- Look at the shelf life of your products. Cosmetics products don’t last as long as you may think…
- Always try to test a new product on the inside of your elbow first.
- Your skin care ritual is very simple: wash your skin with warm water in the mornings and in the evenings with a mild water-soluble cleanser which is free from irritating ingredients. Rinse well with warm water and carefully dab it dry with a clean towel. Afterwards apply a small amount of toner followed by a Moisturizer with as few and mild ingredients as possible.
- Don’t use unnecessary products on your skin (such as extra serums and masks etc.).
- Check the humidity level in your house, dry skin increases the chances of skin irritation.
The above is (slightly modified) from the chapter “you must just have it: sensitive skin” in my book. If you want to know more about treating sensitive skin and are curious about the rest of the chapter then you can order the book via the Uncover website and http://huidboek.nl/. The book was temporarily sold out but the second batch is being printed off today; so fresh off the press!
(Dr. Jetske Ultee-Research Physician Cosmetic Dermatology)