Many people have sensitive skin, and it’s wise for them to keep that in mind when choosing products and formulations. But many people have normal skin that feels sensitive, and these blurry lines can lead to a lot of misguided purchases and very unhappy skin.
Understanding the difference between sensitive skin and normal skin that happens to be going through something can be the difference between fixing the problem and indefinitely chasing the wrong solutions.
What is sensitive skin?
An intolerant skin type, sensitive skin often reacts severely to skin care products and ingredients. Sensitive skin may be red, sore, itchy and uncomfortable, so it is generally trickier to care for. The potent chemicals and fragrances in many of today’s most effective products can feel like an assault on sensitive skin.
How to help your sensitive skin
Choose soothing and calming products formulated specifically for sensitive skin, which contain gentle ingredients to treat and repair the damaged skin barrier. Stick with simple and fragrance-free, and choose lightweight sunscreens. Pay attention to ingredients, and you’ll quickly get to know which ones react badly with your skin.
Why your ‘sensitive skin’ products aren’t helping
This is that blurry line we were talking about. Soreness and irritation might have convinced you that you have sensitive skin, but sensitive skin might not be your problem. Let’s talk about some common factors that might be affecting your normal skin.
Dryness. If your skin is feeling sore and extremely dried out, chances are you’re using the wrong products for your skin type. Did you accidentally choose the normal/oily cleanser instead of dry/normal one? Try switching to the dry skin formulation. Are you adequately moisturising every day, and applying a night cream every evening? Are you sticking with gentle exfoliators, rather than harsh ones that might feel satisfying at first but are simply too intense for your face? Ease up on those and see if things improve.
Oily skin. If you consider yourself an oily-skin person, getting hit with dry, sore skin can be particularly surprising. The truth is, it’s hard to get oily skin regimes right. You may be correct in determining that you have oily skin, but all those products developed to counter oil may have taken your efforts too far. Consider whether you should alternate between stronger products and gentler products; for example, try offsetting your oily skin cleanser with a moisturiser designed for combination or normal skin.
Changes in weather. No matter what your skin type, changes in weather also lead to skin feeling suddenly sore and irritated. Cold weather and windy days are particularly aggressive in causing dry and chapped skin. The sun is also a wintertime culprit; because it’s not hot outside, some people skimp on sunscreen, leaving skin vulnerable to sunburn and damage from UV rays.
Changes in hormones. Whether it’s happening in line with your monthly cycle or more gradually through the passing years, fluctuating hormone levels can take skin from dry to oily in a matter of days. It becomes harder than ever to know which product to use. While there’s no quick fix, simply noticing these changes is an important first step. Resist the mindless repetition of the same routine day in and day out, and take note of when you need to tweak your product choice.
Specialised skin needs
If you’re shaking your head at all of the above and muttering ‘but I’ve tried all that,’ then you might have a skin condition that needs more specific treatment.
Rosacea, for example, varies from flushing cheeks to broken blood vessels becoming visible beneath the skin. It can be brought on by anything from sun damage and diet to menopause and genetics.
Similarly, eczema can also be mistaken for typical sensitive skin, when really it’s an inflammatory dry skin condition that can be triggered by allergens. The skin cracks, becomes irritated and is then vulnerable to damage.
There are skin care products designed for nearly any condition, helping to protect, cool, soothe and repair the skin. But when simple efforts don’t work, you don’t want to make things worse. If you feel your irritated skin is more than just dryness that’s gone too long unchecked, consider seeing a doctor or dermatologist — it’s always wise to know what you’re dealing with before you start tackling the problem on your own.