How to deal with sensitive skin
If you have sensitive skin, look for products that are fragrance-free and dermatologist-tested. And if you're not sure if your skin is sensitive, ask yourself these questions:
1. Do you flush, blush, itch or sunburn easily?
2. Does your skin react when you wear wool or cashmere or come in contact with latex?
3. Does your skin react immediately to certain foods, skin-care products or stressors?
A yes to question No. 1 and No. 2 and you likely have truly sensitive skin, which needs to be managed on a daily basis. A yes to only No. 3 and you have sensitivity triggers. Avoiding these triggers can keep your sensitive skin from flaring up.
Skin that is sensitive by nature has most likely been that way since birth. Fair skin most commonly blushes, itches, sunburns and gets irritated quickly. While there are many skin-care products designed to calm and protect sensitive skin, there are cautions when it comes to products designed to target other skin problems _ mainly wrinkles, irregular pigment and dull skin.
When it comes to anti-aging products, retinoids, topical vitamin C and glycolic acid can be too harsh for sensitive skin. Instead, opt for products that contain alpha lipoic acid, idebenone, vitamin E, resveratrol (an antioxidant derived from grapes) and peptides.
Even gentle friction from abrasive scrubs can send sensitive skin into a tailspin. When exfoliating, look for enzyme-based masks or gentle peels, and be sure to patch test. Also, don't use a product more often than is directed or leave it on the skin for longer than recommended.
Daily sun protection is essential, but many of the chemicals found in sunscreens can irritate sensitive skin. Non-chemical barriers in the form of mineral-based protection like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are a better alternative.
Hydroquinone is considered the most effective active ingredient for lightening sun spots and melasma, but it can cause dryness, burning and even darkening of sensitive skin. Instead, use lighteners with active ingredients like kojic and azelaic acid.
You may not have been born with sensitive skin, but if your skin suddenly becomes red, itchy, irritated or scaly, the best solution is to uncover the cause.
Hormones can cause sensitivity changes, especially during pregnancy, menopause, or after a change in hormone-based contraception or hormone replacement therapy. Skin reactions due to hormones often appear gradually.
Certain medications including antibiotics and antihistamines can also cause sensitivity, ranging from itching, hives, rashes or a yellowing of the skin that appears suddenly. In these cases, it's advised that you contact your physician immediately.
Foods can trigger sensitivity such as rashes or redness that appears shortly after consumption and that may linger for a period of time. The best solution is to identify the trigger food and avoid it.
Allergies are also a common trigger for sensitivity. The same things that can cause respiratory and sinus problems _ like pollen, dust and chemicals _ can also trigger skin problems like redness, burning and irritation.
In some cases, a change in water supply can exacerbate sensitive skin. No-rinse cleansers, toners and specialized skin-care products may be the most appropriate solution.
And last, stress _ both good and bad _ can affect even the most tolerant skin. Blemishes, dehydration, irritation and pigment changes can all result from a lack of sleep, anxiety, depression or just daily stress.
Paige Herman and Marie Kuechel are editors of New Beauty, a semi-annual magazine about cosmetic enhancement.