These days, men are expected to be more sensitive than ever. But while sensitivity of the heart and mind are desirable, sensitive skin is just a pain in the … well, skin.
Sensitive skin, in the context of this article, refers to skin that's prone to irritation. This can manifest as redness, burning, itching or dryness in reaction to changes in temperature and weather conditions, new skin-care or household products, stress or diet. Sometimes, these reactions can be a sign of a treatable dermatological condition and should be checked by a doctor. Eczema, psoriasis, rosacea and contact dermatitis are some of these conditions.
Sensitive skin can affect all parts of the body, but facial skin gets the most exposure to the elements, skin products and razor blades. Of all the skin on the body, facial skin also gets the most action as we push and pull it into expressions of amusement, curiosity, disappointment, surprise and sadness -- sometimes within the space of a few minutes. On the other hand, the skin on the rest of the body has to endure constant friction from clothing (unless you live in a particularly warm climate or are of the nudist persuasion), especially at the wrist, neck and waist, where clothing is the tightest, or where it rubs most, like at the elbows and knees.
Men's skin problems aren't very different from women's -- dry skin, acne and hives can happen to anybody -- but their skin is different in some ways. Men's skin is thicker (perhaps explaining their unwarranted reputation for being insensitive), tends to have larger pores and produces more oil [source: Goldman; Goins]. Ironically, producing more oil doesn't protect men from dry skin, which is more common in men than women [source: Goldman].
Despite these differences, pampering sensitive skin is the same for both sexes. Read on to find out what you can do to soothe and protect your sensitive skin.
Things That Aggravate Sensitive Skin
People don't usually cause themselves aggravation intentionally. Still, we can't always control everything in our lives. Many of us may have developed skin care habits, including using questionable skin-care products, that we forget to question, so it's important to learn how to recognize and minimize potential skin irritants.
Skin-care products are often to blame for sensitive skin conditions -- even ones marketed to sensitive skin can cause problems. If your skin is sensitive, you'd do best to avoid anything that contains perfume, alcohol, soap, antibacterial or deodorant ingredients, retinoids or alpha-hydroxy acids [source: WebMD]. Even some fabrics or fibers can irritate sensitive skin, especially wool. Choose cotton, silk, rayon and linen instead [source: WebMD].
Another sensitive-skin trigger is stress, which causes your body to release stress hormones and chemicals that worsen inflammation and make your already sensitive skin even more sensitive [source: American Academy of Dermatology]. Stress can also disrupt the skin's natural water barrier and impair its ability to repair itself [source: American Academy of Dermatology].
Too much sun exposure can damage the surface of the skin and aggravate sensitivities. Use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or more when you're going to be out in the sun for longer than 15 minutes. In addition to sun, hot, dry air is a particular problem in the winter when many of us have the heater going all day long. Don't overheat your home, and use a humidifier during the winter, even in moister climates.
Heat from the sun and dry air are common culprits, but even hot water in the shower or bath can inflame the skin. Bathing too often can strip the skin of its natural protective oils, letting irritants in.
Smoking doesn't do anybody any favors, least of all those of us with sensitive skin. It bothers skin by drying out its top layer and introducing all kinds of toxins. If you need help quitting, here's a helpful Web site.
Now that you know what NOT to do, here are a few tips to help your sensitive skin heal. First, be sure you follow a good skin-care regimen that includes cleansing, moisturizing and applying sunscreen. Moisturize skin within three minutes of cleansing it.
Another key to lessening sensitivity is to shave in the shower, or just afterward, when your skin is well hydrated, hair is softened and pores are open. This makes shaving easier, as does letting shaving cream stay on your face for at least a minute. Using a sharp blade to shave helps minimize the number of potentially irritating strokes you need for proper hair removal [source: Gillette].
How do you figure out which products to use? Read on to learn how to choose skin-care products that will soothe rather than irritate.
Choosing Skin Care Products for Men with Sensitive Skin
Men's skin care products are a $227 million dollar industry in North America, and the market for these products is growing worldwide [source: Balfour]. It turns out that men enjoy pampering their skin with healing serums, lotions and creams.
For men with sensitive skin, remember that the goals of this burgeoning industry aren't necessarily compatible with your goal of minimizing skin problems. Pay no attention to the sophisticated ads for expensive product lines, and instead, learn how to choose products that will soothe and heal your skin. Good skin care doesn't have to be expensive or time consuming.
So how do you choose? Begin by looking for product lines that have been specially formulated for sensitive skin. And the fewer ingredients, the better. Also, try using only soap-free cleansers because soap can be irritating and drying to sensitive skin.
Another tip: Use only fragrance-free products. When fragrances mix with oxygen, they can become more volatile and cause skin reactions -- this also applies to scented household products [source: University of Gothenburg]. Natural products aren't necessarily better, either, since some natural fragrances and ingredients can be irritating. Natural ingredients that are considered safe and even soothing for sensitive skin include rose, lavender, chamomile, aloe and witch hazel [source: Scirrotto]. But even if a product contains ALL of these ingredients, always test it (see sidebar) before using it on your face or body.
When it comes to keeping your sensitive skin safe from the sun, keep in mind that many sunscreens use chemicals that can cause skin reactions. Look for one that contains only physical sunscreens like zinc oxide or titanium oxide [source: WebMD].
Once you've found the products that work for your skin, stick with them. If you find a particular cleanser that works for you, try other products in the same skin-care line. If you're tempted to try a new product, always test it thoroughly before adding it to your regimen.
On the next page, learn about some other things you can do to support your skin's health.
Diet and Lifestyle Tips for Men with Sensitive Skin
Skin-care products are just one aspect of healthy skin. Diet and exercise also play important roles in building healthy skin that can handle everyday stresses.
Inflammation is a key condition underlying sensitive skin. While drugs and topical ointments can temporarily treat the inflammation, changing your diet can minimize inflammation from the inside. An anti-inflammatory diet is rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, high quality protein from fish, chicken, eggs and nuts, as well as healthy fats from cold-water fish, olive oil, nuts and avocados. A variety of these foods will provide the right balance of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, protein, omega-3s and monounsaturated fats to keep your skin in balance by helping the whole body function more smoothly. This inflammation-reducing diet will also supply plentiful amounts of B vitamins, which help reduce inflammation and increase skin turnover [source: Goldman; WebMD].
A pro-inflammatory diet -- a diet that promotes inflammation throughout your body and therefore in your skin -- contains a lot of processed foods. This diet will throw your sensitive skin into a temper tantrum, like a toddler who ate too much candy and will later crash and burn. Processed foods tend to have a lot more sugar, fat and salt in them than fresh foods. They're also highly refined, meaning that they've been significantly transformed from the original food. Strangely, these foods tend to be white. They also tend to be soft and have few nutrients and very little fiber. White rice, white pasta, white bread, pastries and sweets, and white sugar are examples. If you're going to eat white foods, stick with white fruits and vegetables like cauliflower, parsnips, apples, jicama, potatoes (with their skins), onions and garlic.
Exercise is important to pump up blood flow to the skin, relieve stress and detoxify the body. Since the blood carries nutrients throughout your body, the better your blood flow, the more nutrients your skin gets. Better blood flow also brings more nourishing oxygen to the skin and increases collagen production, which helps plump up the skin. Using exercise to shake off the unproductive meeting you had at work or to think through the argument you had with your significant other will help control the damaging hormones that are released when you're under stress. Getting a good sweat going also helps your skin get rid of toxins that would otherwise accumulate and cause flare-ups. Just remember to stay hydrated to replace the water that you lose in your sweat [source: Bouchez].
For more information about the why and how of keeping sensitive skin calm, check out the links on the next page.
- American Academy of Dermatology. "Feeling Stressed? How Your Skin, Hair and Nails Can Show It." ScienceDaily. Nov. 12, 2007. (Jan. 28, 2011)http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/11/071109194053.htm
- American Academy of Dermatology. "Stress and Skin." November 2008. (Jan. 25, 2011)http://www.aad.org/media/background/factsheets/fact_stressandskin.html
- Balfour, Frederik. "Skin Care Products Strike it Big in China -- for Men." Bloomberg Businessweek. Dec. 29, 2010. (Jan. 23, 2011)http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/11_02/b4210022517035.htm
- Bouchez, Colette. "Exercise Your Body -- and Your Skin." May 6, 2005. (Jan. 24, 2011)http://www.webmd.com/skin-beauty/guide/exercise-your-body-your-skin
- Gillette. "How to Shave." (Jan. 23, 2011)http://www.gillette.com/en/us/mens-style/how-to-shave.aspx
- Goins, Leisa. "You Asked! Expert A's to Your Skin Care Q's: Men's Shaving Products." WebMD. July 8, 2010. (Jan. 26, 2011)http://men.webmd.com/features/mens-shaving-products
- Goldman, Erik L. "Skin Care for Men: Simplify for Success." Skin & Allergy News. February 2005 (Jan. 23, 2011)http://skin.gcnpublishing.com/fileadmin/content_pdf/archive_pdf/vol36iss2/70552_main.pdf
- Scirrotto, Julia. "Soothing Solutions for Sensitive Skin." (Jan. 26, 2011)http://www.marieclaire.com/hair-beauty/trends/articles/sensitive-skin-dermatology
- University of Gothenburg. "Fragrance Exposure: New Discovery on the Causes of Contact Allergy."ScienceDaily. Oct. 11, 2010 (Jan. 23, 2011) http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101010183658.htm
- WebMD. "20 Common Questions About Sensitive Skin." Sept. 13, 2010 (Jan. 23, 2011)http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/sensitive-skin-20-questions?
- Weil Lifestyle. "Six Tips for Healthy Hair and Skin." (Jan. 24, 2011)http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART02032/healthy-hair-and-skin.html
- Wright, Suzanne. "Beyond First Blush: An Up-Close Look at Natural Skin Care Products." WebMD. March 17, 2009 (Jan. 23, 2011)http://www.webmd.com/skin-beauty/features/beyond-first-blush-an-upclose-look-at-natural-skin-care-products