Sensitive skin is a common problem for people -- it's so common, in fact, that drugstores are filled with products that promise to soothe and smooth. But do these products improve skin health for everyone with sensitive skin?
Unfortunately, no two types of skin are alike. Dermatologists recognize four types of sensitive skin: acne, rosacea, skin that stings upon product use and skin affected by allergies [source: American Academy of Dermatology]. Even these four types of skin are radically different. Skin with acne tends to have high levels of oil and bacteria, and products that add oil to the skin can potentially made it worse. Rosacea, a condition characterized by flushing of the skin or broken and inflamed blood vessels underneath the surface, may require more serious dermatological treatments. And allergic reactions, as with all types of sensitive skin conditions, may require a visit to a dermatologist for testing and antibiotic medications.
Age and ethnicity further complicate the process of finding an appropriate skin care product. Skin changes with age, and different ethnicities experience distinct skin conditions [source: Draelos]. So it's not surprising that no single skin care product can solve the needs of every person with sensitive skin.
Finding the right skin care products to meet your individual needs can be tricky and will likely involve a lot of trial and error. It's best to try a variety of products. If you are interested in particular treatment or a customized skin care regimen, ask a dermatologist.
An appropriate skin care regimen will include cleansing to rid the skin of irritants and protection from future damage. This article will help you discover how to best care for sensitive skin. First up, you'll learn about the best ways to cleanse sensitive skin.
Daily Cleansing for Sensitive Skin
The first step in any skin care regimen is cleansing. Of course, using water to cleanse the skin helps to remove dirt and other irritants. Some people, however, choose to use a cleanser to remove excess oil and dirt. But don't just reach for any cleanser if you have sensitive skin.
Soap, while conventional, strips the skin of essential oils and could leave behind a drying residue that may irritate sensitive skin. If you find that the soap you're using irritates your skin, switch to a non-soap cleanser. Non-soap cleansers (such as beauty bars) do not contain harsh ingredients found in typical soaps. Also, be sure to stay away from products that contain acidic ingredients and products with fragrances, as these tend to be more irritating. When in doubt, test a product on a small patch of your skin before using it on your whole face or body.
Do not use soap on the face, as most dermatologists advise against it [source: American Academy of Dermatology]. Instead, try foam cleansers or disposable facial cleansing cloths. If you buy cleansing cloths, look for those that have visible holes in the fabric weave, as they will offer increased softness.
Though you may wash your face twice a day, it's best not to use facial scrubs more than once or twice per week. Scrubs exfoliate the skin, removing dirt and dead skin cells. But for someone with sensitive skin, scrubs can be especially irritating. Try a scrub with soft scrubbing beads that are gentler on your skin. When cleansing your body, wash gently, and discontinue the use of any scrubbing tools, such as sponges or loofahs, that irritate your skin.
With all this daily cleansing and scrubbing, it's no wonder skin dries out. Moisturizing your skin immediately after cleansing is essential to your daily skin care routine. Find out how to moisturize sensitive skin on the next page.
Daily Moisturizing for Sensitive Skin
Moisturizing can be done in two easy steps. First, immediately after cleansing your skin, lightly pat it dry with a towel and leave some moisture on the skin. Next, put moisturizer on your skin within three minutes of cleansing [source: National Eczema Association].
What does moisturizing do for your skin? Most of your body's skin holds about 80 percent water, but the surface of the skin only holds up to 30 percent water [source: Skin Care Guide]. To heal and protect sensitive skin from inflammation and infection, it's necessary to retain moisture in that top layer. Moisturizers return moisture to the skin that was lost during cleansing, and then trap it in for protection against drying. That's why it's beneficial to apply moisturizer soon after cleansing in order to retain as much moisture as possible.
Like cleansers, not all moisturizers work the same. You may need to test several products on a patch of skin to determine which one works best without causing irritation. Moisturizers may come in the form of ointments, creams or lotions. Ointments are usually greasy, while lotions are typically water-based. Use a formula that is lightweight and feels good on the skin. Try an oil-free moisturizer if you have acne or oily skin. Moisturizers with fragrances may smell good, but they can have damaging effects on sensitive skin. Fragrances are likely to cause irritation and allergies [source: Mayo Clinic].
When applying moisturizer, use small amounts on the face, and use thicker amounts on the rest of the body. Your face naturally has more oil glands than the rest of your body, so you can be more sparing on your face.
Moisturizer alone will not protect you from potential damage and irritation. Protection from the sun is also a necessary component of daily sensitive skin care. Learn how you can protect your sensitive skin from the sun's rays on the next page.
Daily Protection for Sensitive Skin
Daily protection for sensitive skin involves both moisturizing and protecting your skin from the sun's rays. Sun damage can lead to skin aging, irritation and even skin cancer, so it's important to keep it in mind as part of your daily sensitive skin regimen.
Two types of ultraviolet, or UV, light from the sun can damage your skin. UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin, while UVB rays cause sunburn. While UVA rays can pass through glass and are largely responsible for skin cancer, both types are damaging. Unfortunately, most sunscreens only protect against UVB rays. To find a sunscreen that protects against both types of rays, check the ingredient list. Ingredients that help protect against UVA rays include zinc oxide, titanium dioxide and Parsol 1789 (avobenzone). You can check sunscreen bottles to see if they have those ingredients [source: Environmental Protection Agency].
The sun protection factor, or SPF, also should be taken into consideration when choosing sunscreen. The SPF will help you figure out if you have enough protection against UVB rays. Generally, anything under SPF 15 is not enough to protect you from potent ultraviolet light. As with cleansers and moisturizers, stay away from sunscreen with fragrances, acidic ingredients and heavy oils. Dermatologists recommend using sunscreen every day, applying one ounce (29.5 mL) every two hours. If you sweat or go in the water, you need to reapply the sunscreen more often [source: University of New Hampshire].
Your best option is to find a moisturizer that contains sunscreen for maximum healing and protection. After you've made your selection, apply it daily. Check with a dermatologist for help or recommendations if you have any questions or concerns.
It's possible to cleanse, manage and protect sensitive skin on a daily basis if you follow the tips described in this article. If you want to find out more about skin care, use the links on the next page for more helpful tips.
Related HowStuffworks Articles
- American Academy of Dermatology. "Cutting Through the Clutter: Making the Most of Your Facial Cleansing Routine." PR Newswire. February 21, 2005. (July 27, 2009) http://www.prnewswire.com/cgi-bin/stories.pl?ACCT=104&STORY=/www/story/02-21-2005/0003065165&EDATE
- American Academy of Dermatology. "Sensitive Skin." 2009. (July 27, 2009) http://www.aad.org/media/press/_doc/SensitiveSkinFactSheet.html
- Bernstein, Eugene Traugott. "Cleansing of Sensitive Skin." Journal of Investigative Dermatology. Vol. 9, 1947. (July 27, 2009) http://www.nature.com/jid/journal/v9/n1/abs/jid19473a.html
- Dermatology Care. "Gentle Skin Cleansing." June 13, 2009. (July 27, 2009) http://www.dermatologycare.ca/1/june-13.php
- Dermatology Care. "Use the Right Face Cleanser." Nov. 27, 2008. (July 27, 2009) http://www.dermatologycare.ca/1/nov-27.php
- Draelos, Zoe Diana and Lauren A. Thaman. Eds. Cosmetic Formulation of Skin Care Products. 2006. (July 27, 2009) http://books.google.com/books?id=MAshluUGiikC&pg=PP1&dq=cosmetic+formulation+of+skin+care+products
- Environmental Protection Agency. "Sunscreen: The Burning Facts." Sept. 2006. (July 27, 2009) http://www.epa.gov/sunwise/doc/sunscreen.pdf
- Mayo Clinic. "Moisturizers: Options for Softer Skin." December 16, 2008. (July 27, 2009) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/moisturizers/sn00042
- National Eczema Association. "Guide to Bathing & Moisturizing for Eczema and Sensitive Skin." 2009. (July 27, 2009) http://www.easeeczema.org/erc/bathing_and_mosturizing.htm
- Skin Care Guide. "An Overview of Skin Moisturizers." 2005. (July 27, 2009) http://www.skincareguide.com/basics/skincare_moisturizers/overview_skin_moisturizers.html
- Skin Care Guide. "Sensitive Skin." 2005. (July 27, 2009) http://www.skincareguide.com/sc/sensitive_skin.html
- Skin Care Guide. "Skin Moisturizers for Different Skin Types." 2005. (July 27, 2009) http://www.skincareguide.com/basics/skincare_moisturizers/moisturizers_different_skin_types.html
- University of New Hampshire Health Services. "What you should know about protecting your skin." 2009. (July 27, 2009) http://www.unh.edu/health-services/self-care_skin.html