When you have sensitive skin it can feel like a never ending battle against irritating skincare products, and it can seem like it would be easier to just avoid it all together. But don’t give up just yet! Continue reading to find out what may be increasing your sensitivity.
Protect from the environment
Irritation usually occurs when the skins’ protective barrier is weakened. You know that you need to wear sun cream to protect from the sun – but you might not know that sun cream is essential for even the cloudiest days in the midst of winter. UV rays can penetrate through clouds and, while they might not cause sunburn, they can increase skin sensitivity, speed up the ageing process and cause permanent sun spots.
However, the sun isn’t the only environmental factor that can be sensitising. In the winter we tend to alternate between the cold, windy weather outside to the drying central heating inside and this can wreak havoc on your skin.
Opting for moisturising ingredients, such as glycerin and hyaluronic acid, will hydrate the skin and reduce environmental damage. Alternatively using products, such as dimethicone and petrolatum, will form a protective barrier over the skin, ensuring that moisture remains in your skin and the damaging effects of the environment stay out.
(NB: If you are acne-prone, be wary of ingredients such as dimethicone and petrolatum as they are comedogenic.)
Check expiry dates
When a product has expired, the preservative ingredients which fight off bacteria lose their strength. Not only does this make the product significantly less effective, it also makes products more susceptible to irritants.
Products usually have a Period After Opening (PAO) symbol, even if they don’t display an expiry date. The PAO (as seen to the right) will specify how long a product will keep after it has been opened. E.g. ‘12M’ displayed inside the symbol would indicate that you have 12 months after opening before the product becomes ineffective.
Don’t be fooled
It’s usually difficult to navigate your way around all the terminology on the back of packaging. However, these terms usually aren’t nearly as they seem. The term ‘hypoallergenic’ doesn’t actually have to conform to any guidelines, so basically anyone can write it. Further still, ‘dermatologically tested’ simply means that the product has been tested on human skin – this tends to refer to a short-term (i.e. 24-48 hour) patch test.
It is also important to realise that, just because a product states that it is ‘natural’ or ‘organic’, doesn’t mean that it is any less irritating than chemical products. Moral of the story? Do not take these terms too literally and be sure to check the ingredient list instead!
Ingredients to avoid
Granted, there are hundreds or even thousands of ingredients that can cause skin sensitivity, and these really depend on the person. However fragrance, alcohol and sulphates are among some of the most common allergens.
- Fragrance (parfum): While fragrance may make products more pleasant to use, it is amongst the most common causes of irritation. Even if your skin doesn’t appear irritated on the surface, it is still likely that it is promoting collagen breakdown and preventing the skin from protecting itself from the environment. This extends to natural fragrances which can be just as harmful.
- Alcohol: ‘Bad’ alcohols (e.g. denatured alcohol, ethanol and ethyl alcohol) can damage your skins’ protective barrier, dissolve skin oils, increase redness and leave skin dry and irritated. Need I say more? However, this does not generalise to all types of alcohol. In fact, fatty alcohols (e.g. cetyl alcohol and stearyl alcohol) are actually great for skin – they are often used in skincare products are thickeners and emollients and are really helpful for dry skin.
- Sulphates: Sulphates, particularly sodium lauryl sulphate and sodium laureth sulphate, act as strong detergents which help lift oils and grease from the skin. This process strips the skin of moisture and can cause dryness, itchiness and irritation. However, because of the ‘clean’ feeling they produce, most cosmetic companies aren’t keen to get rid of them and so they are regularly found in skin and hair care products.