We’ve all been there. That moment when your skin decides to have a major hissy fit – whether that’s through redness, bumpiness or stinging – and whatever you put on it only seems to aggravate it, leaving you running for the nearest paper bag. Or bucketloads of foundation. (Worst solution. Only makes it worse, right?).
For me, as a beauty journo, it’s an occupational hazard – we are so often testing out different products (I know, cue violins) that sometimes my skin just packs it in and cries out “ENOUGH”! And then there’s those other environmental situations – like traveling to super polluted cities (Hello Hanoi, I love you but, wow, that smog…) or bracing my way through wild, windy days - that seem to put my skin into meltdown mode the moment I step outside.
At least I’m not alone – nearly half the population describes their skin as sensitive.
The good news is that understanding its causes and learning to manage it with the right products can play a big part in how often it occurs. I got the low down from Jodi Ayre, the International Corporate Trainer for Dermalogica. The brand has just created an app (go to https://skinsensitivityrisk.com/) that measures your risk of sensitivity based on your location and launched two new products Calm Water Gel and Barrier Defense Booster to calm skin right down. Like immediately. (Thank GAWD!)
At the launch I was so excited by these two products (the Water Gel has such an innovative cooling texture and the Booster Oil is so soothing) that I suggested to Dermalogica that we get our most sensitive-skinned Beauticaters to do a Trial Team to test it out in real life. These ladies run the gamut of sensitivity – from itchy dehydration and patchy redness to rosacea – so stay tuned for their verdicts next week. In the meantime, here’s how to know when and why you’re really sensitive. And what to do about it.
Okay, so am I sensitive right now?
There are three primary signs of sensitisation being: redness, dehydration, and a compromised skin barrier. Signs will vary and may include one or a combination of the following characteristics:
• Translucent skin texture/ appearance
• A feeling of tightness, which can indicate dehydration and decrease the skin’s tolerance to active ingredients
• Redness or blotchiness – this signals over-reactive capillaries or a tendency toward rosacea
• Visible redness, flakiness and/or cracking on the cheeks and forehead.
• Blushing and itching, or burning sensations which can also be a sign of over-reactive capillaries
• Small, rash-like bumps or breakouts may occur, not to be confused with acne breakouts.
“Sensitivity varies differently from person to person. From the occasional flare-up, to everyday redness and irritation. It may be an instant onset the minute you walk out the door on a hot humid day, or it may appear over a longer period of time through your routine and regular exposure as a result of a gradual build-up of pollutants on your daily commute to and from work each day,” says Jodi.
How does just going outside make our skin more sensitive?
“Our skin is our largest living organ and its primary function is to protect and defend us from the environment in which we live. It helps us to maintain our health amid an onslaught of environment factors like weather, pollution, harmful chemicals and gases, as well as general dust and debris,” says Jodi.
“This protective capability is called the barrier function and it’s kind of like a strong brick wall. Left exposed to the environment, our skin’s barrier function can quickly become compromised, resulting in gaps and cracks which make it easy for irritants to then make their way into the layers of the skin and create sensitisation. It also makes it difficult for our skin to hold on to much needed skin hydration. The more air pollution there is in the environment, the greater the risk of skin sensitivity - airborne particles that are invisible to the naked eye land on the skin and become lodged within the skin’s deeper structure. These tiny particles oxidize the surrounding lipids and tissue, compromising skin health and trigger inflammatory processes within the skin resulting in pain, swelling, tenderness, persistent redness and general discomfort.”
Now you can check how bad it is before you step outside…
And maybe stay in bed? (I wish.) But Dermalogica’s new widget (an app that you can access without downloading): is particularly useful if your skin is in meltdown mode or is impartial to a regular freak out. Simply type in the address or wait for your location to load and it will tell you the current skin sensitivity risks you’re dealing with, plus giving some tips to manage it.
Um, here’s another SCARY fact – pollution isn’t just outside!
“While many of us are aware about the impact of the ‘outside’ environment, what people don’t realise is that pollution is everywhere, including inside the sanctuary of our own homes,” warns Jodi. “Our indoor and outdoor environments envelop us in harmful gases, chemicals, dust, debris, mites and particles. Our homes are filled with dust and mites from pets or not getting the chance to vacuum as often as we would like, the cleaning chemicals we use to scrub our kitchens and bathrooms, the kitchen smoke and gases from cooking with oils and accidentally burning our food, the artificial fragrances we use to improve aroma, and not to mention the pollution that’s coming inside from the open window…”
Yikes, so what to do when sensitivity strikes?
To speed up skin recovery here are a few of Jodi’s best tips:
• Note the possible effects of common irritants including hot showers or baths, spicy foods, air travel, extreme temperatures, and current skin care products or cosmetics.
• Pay attention to possible skin reactions provoked by diet and stress. Adjusting diet and stress levels can go a long way toward improving skin health.
• Pollution, alcohol, smoking, medical resurfacing procedures and over-exfoliation should be avoided or reduced. They are leading culprits of inflammation and red, irritated skin.
• Sun exposure can also irritate skin, so use SPF protection daily. Physical sunscreens containing Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide as their active ingredients are usually less irritating to highly-sensitive skin than their chemical-based counterparts.
• A strong skin barrier is critical for happy, healthy-looking, comfortable skin, fortifyied by a daily skin care regimen.
• Never attempt an exfoliation routine without a professional’s recommendation.
• Loss of existing sebum commonly caused by excessive bathing, showering, scrubbing, or the use of harsh soaps.
• If skin is so sensitized it cannot tolerate water, try removing makeup with UltraCalming™ Cleanser with damp cotton or a soft wipe.
• Use gentle, upward strokes when applying products – never use rough, quick movement
• Be sure to clean your makeup brushes frequently to remove any nasties that will build up on a dirty brush
• Avoid makeups that contain mineral and comodegenic ingredients that can suffocate and clog the skin
This is also where the new Ultra Calming Duo comes in. There’s a Calm Water Gel, which is a beautiful lightweight water-gel moisturizer that melts into the skin, cooling and drenching it as you apply. Then there’s the Barrier Defense Booster which is an oil with calming, soothing and reparative benefits. I love that you can use it as is or add a couple drops to your moisturiser for some much-needed TLC.
What about the foods we should avoid?
“When experiencing a lot of heat and irritation within the skin it is time to take the heat down a notch – both the temperature and spice levels. Temperature wise hot liquids may cause flushing, while eating spicy goods has been linked to increased concerns of skin sensitivity, possibly due to nerve activity within the skin causing hypersensitivity,” says Jodi.
Histamines don’t just make you sneeze….
“What is less commonly known however is the presence of histamine in certain foods that can trigger an inflammatory response for many people,” says Jodi. “Unfortunately alcohol, chocolates, sweets and nuts such as walnuts and cashews fall into this list, as well as surprisingly for some most citric fruits, tomatoes and dairy.
To determine if your diet is your trigger keeping a food/skin journal will be a really great tool to monitor how your skin is responding to the foods you are eating. The good news is that, of those respondents who said they eliminated certain foods and beverages from their diet, 95 percent reported that this had helped reduce the occurrence of flare-ups.”
Woohoo – go food diaries! What about travel?
The micro-climate associated with travel can wreak havoc with the skin, changes in temperature and humidity will have an impact, not to mention the micro climate – the environment in the car/aeroplane,” adds Jodi. “Air fresheners, aircon/heating, recirculated air, cleaning products, perfumes, UV light coming through the window are all bombarding the skin and lowering its tolerance resulting in flare-up’s.”
“To prevent this damage it is important to use the correct products on your skin throughout your journey. Take travel sized products with on your trip, regularly spritz with Ultra Calming Mist to keep hydration levels up and reduce irritation, not to mention it’s great on mosquito bites and sunburn if you’re travelling to a hot country. Layer with Calm Water Gel to maintain hydration and soothe the skin. If you’re on a long-haul flight you may want to refresh the skin by cleaning with Ultracalming Cleanser which will remove pollutants sticking to the skin,” she suggests.
And if all else fails, see an expert.
When the chips are down and I need my skin to be in tip-top condition, like yesterday, I’ll call in the experts. I love that Dermalogica offer a super speedy high-tech skin analysis (called Face Mapping) on the spot (have you seen those cool head lamps they wear?) and can give you a 10, 30 or 60 minute treatment to get your skin back on track.
To find your nearest Dermalogica Expert, click on their easy to use Store Locator tab.
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Story by Sigourney Cantelo. In Association with Dermalogica.