How do you know if you have sensitive skin? Even without a diagnosis from your doctor, you probably have a good idea if yours is the sensitive type. Chances are, you have tight, itchy, flaky or stinging skin that feels worse in the winter months (when it encounters dry, cold air) as well as when it's exposed to potential irritants and allergens such as wool, fragrance and chemical preservatives. Ingredients in certain soaps and other skin-care products can cause flare-ups in some people. And when your skin is sensitive, the last thing you want to do is tempt fate with cleansers that might ignite or further irritate dry, tight skin.
Sensitive skin is very common, and if you're a sufferer, you're not alone. About 40 percent of men and women report sensitive skin symptoms, and about 50 percent of adults report sensitive skin symptoms on their faces [sources: Pauly; Stander]. While it may make you feel like hiding, there are skin-care products that can ease, if not clear up, those symptoms.
According to The American Academy of Dermatology, there's more than one type of sensitive skin, including the following:
While the causes behind some types of sensitive skin remain unknown, what researchers do know is that these sensitivities seem to arise from the body's exaggerated reaction to potential irritants causing inflammation. We see that reaction on our outermost layer of skin.
The outermost layer of our skin is called the stratum corneum, and it's this layer that protects us from harmful microorganisms, radiation, xenobiotics (foreign and potentially toxic synthetic chemicals) and everything else our environment throws at us. But our defense is only as good as our skin barrier's function, or how healthy our stratum corneum is. Not only does it protect us from environmental dangers, but it's also the skin's natural moisture barrier, responsible for preventing water loss and dry skin. There are cleansers for every skin type on the market, and the trick is to find the one that works best for your skin's needs. We'll explore how to choose the right one for your skin on the next page.
Types of Cleansers for Men with Sensitive Skin
To keep skin calm and healthy, the type of cleanser you choose matters. Browsing the skin-care aisle is enough to make anyone dizzy from the options -- you can find everything from exfoliating scrubs to noncomedogenic washes, medicated cleansers to organic soaps. Not all cleansers marketed for sensitive skin are created equal, however. The best options for this skin type are mild, gentle cleansers that are fragrance-free.
While you may love the calming smell of lavender in the evening or a minty blast to wake you up in the morning, fragrance is one of the main irritating offenders in skin-care products, causing skin sensitivities and allergic reactions. Anyone with sensitive skin should avoid it.
Other ingredients to avoid are antiblemish and antiwrinkle ingredients and ingredients that encourage exfoliation, including hydroxy acids (such as AHAs). You should read ingredient labels and avoid the following:
- Azaelic acid
- Benzoic acid
- Glycolic acid
- Lactic acid
- Salicylic acid
- Benzoyl peroxide
- Vitamin A (retinol)
- Vitamin C
These types of cleansers and ingredients can be harsh on sensitive skin because their pH levels are acidic.
The acidity of a substance is rated on the pH scale, from 0 to 14. Water has a neutral pH of 7. Acids have lower pH levels than water: Lemon juice, for example, has a pH of 2. On the other side of the scale are the alkaline (or base) substances. Soapy water, for example, rates a pH of 12 [source: Johnson County Community College]. The pH level is important when considering if a cleanser will or will not irritate skin -- the closer the cleanser's pH level is to neutral or just below (which makes it close to the natural pH level of skin), the less likely it is to irritate. Maintaining a good skin pH level is important in keeping skin healthy against infection and irritation. Products that have neutral or low pH levels are gentler on our skin than those that fall on the opposite end of the scale.
Remember, though, that even cleansers marketed for sensitive skin can cause irritation. When in doubt, ask your dermatologist or family physician for recommendations.
- American Academy of Dermatology. "Allergic Contact Rashes." 2005. (Jan. 7, 2011) http://www.aad.org/public/publications/pamphlets/skin_allergic.html
- American Academy of Dermatology. "Sensitive Skin." 2010. (Jan. 7, 2011) http://www.aad.org/media/press/_doc/sensitiveskinfactsheet.html
- Baranda, Lourdes et al. "Correlation between pH and irritant effect of cleansers marketed for dry skin." International Journal of Dermatology. Sept. 6, 2002. (Jan. 7, 2011)http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1365-4362.2002.01555.x/full
- Consumer Reports. "Facial cleansers: Choices abound." September 2007. (Jan. 7, 2011)http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/home-garden/beauty-personal-care/skincare/facial-cleansers-9-07/overview/0709_cleanser_ov.htm
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- Hawkins, Stacy S. et al. "Cleansing, moisturizing, and sub-protection regimens for normal skin, self-perceived sensitive skin, and dermatologist-assessed sensitive skin." Dermatologic Therapy. Jan. 1, 2004. (Jan. 7, 2011)http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1396-0296.2004.04S1008.x/full
- Johnson County Community College. "The pH Scale." June 20, 2001. (Jan. 12, 2011)http://staff.jccc.net/pdecell/chemistry/phscale.html
- Merinville, E. et al. "Exfoliation for sensitive skin with neutralized salicylic acid?" International Journal of Cosmetic Science. May 11, 2009. (Jan. 7, 2011) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1468-2494.2009.00501_2.x/abstract
- National Rosacea Society. (Jan. 7, 2011)http://www.rosacea.org/index.php
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- Piérard-Franchimont, C. et al. "Environmental hazards and the skin." European Journal of Dermatology. May - June 2006. (Jan. 7, 2011)http://www.john-libbey-eurotext.fr/en/revues/agro_biotech/agr/e-docs/00/04/19/18/article.phtml
- Rippke, F. et al. "The Acidic Mileu of the Horny Layer: New Findings on the Physiology and Pathophysiology of Skin pH." American Journal of Clinical Dermatology. April 1, 2002. (Jan. 7, 2011)http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/adis/derm/2002/00000003/00000004/art00004
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- Stander, Sonja et al. "Putative neuronal mechanisms of sensitive skin." Experimental Dermatology. March 12, 2009. (Jan. 11, 2011)http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1600-0625.2009.00861.x/full
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "Is It a Cosmetic, a Drug, or Both? (Or Is It Soap?)" July 8, 2002. (Jan. 7, 2011)http://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/ucm074201.htm