Up to 90% of the population perceives their skin as sensitive.
But do you really have sensitive skin? This inquiry is not posed to make you question your skin’s redness, irritation and discomfort. It is actually posed to point out that there is sensitive skin, and then there is sensitised skin, which is the growing phenomenon of skin experiencing sensitivity because of environmental assaults, cosmetics, poor diet and the natural ageing process.
Sensitive Skin Versus Sensitised Skin
A true sensitive skin condition is caused by a genetic predisposition. This genetic predisposition is found in those who have very fair skin and are usually of Northern European ancestry. This could be caused by the lower amount of pigment and a thinner epidermal skin layer (the epidermal layer is the top layer of skin we can see). Someone with truly sensitive skin is highly prone to blushing and may experience bad hay fever, allergies or asthma.
Sensitised skin can affect any person of any racial background or skin colour. (Case in point: Many people in Asia are experiencing skin sensitisation due to a large amount of pollution in some parts of this region.) Symptoms for sensitive and sensitised skin do have a lot in common (itching, burning, redness, flushing and stinging), but in many cases, sensitised skin can’t be seen by the naked eye, as it resides much deeper. And, our microclimate, or the climate we are exposed to in our home, cars, offices and during air travel, changes daily, meaning our level of sensitisation can vary.
What causes sensitised skin?
A number of factors contribute to the process of skin sensitisation. These causes are among the most common, and fortunately, the most treatable and preventable when lifestyle changes are adapted and when under the care of a skin care professional.
The fastest rising factor contributing to the sensitised skin is environmental assault, as the epidermis is constantly exposed to assault from the sun, extreme weather and pollution.
1. The Sun
Exposure to the sun causes water to evaporate from the skin, making it more prone to sensitivity.
There is still not enough understanding that cumulative exposure to the sun can also cause extensive damage. Fifteen minute walks outside and occasional lunches outdoors can contribute to skin sensitisation, and of course, skin cancer. And even if you don’t see pink or red skin after being in the sun, that doesn’t mean that the damage hasn’t been done. Summer activities, such as swimming, can also cause skin irritation as chlorine in pools and salt in ocean water is abrasive and drying.
On average, our skin is exposed to an estimated 6 million chemicals, and roughly 2,800 of these have sensitising properties. Extensive exposure to Nitrogen oxides (from road traffic, industrial heating units, etc.) and volatile organic compounds (from hydrocarbons and waste) contributes to the steady rise in sensitised skin cases.
3. Cold Weather and Low Humidity
Cold winds and low temperatures can dry out skin, depriving it of balanced levels of sebum (oil) that keeps skin lubricated. Without these oils, skin becomes dry and is more prone to sensitivity because of the lack of protective oils. This goes for forced air heating as well. Warm, dry air acts like a giant sponge, soaking up moisture from everything it touches.
Scientists agree that there is a sharp decline in the Stratum corneum lipids as we age (lipids are fats that are essential for the structure and function of living cells). Meaning by the time we reach age 40, our skin will almost certainly be dry and/or dehydrated. Without these protective lipids, skin is left exposed and defenceless against external aggressors, and the chances for reactions to the environment increase.
Certain ingredients in cosmetics can cause irritation and exacerbate skin sensitivity. More importantly, these ingredients can be found in skin care products that claim to help treat sensitised skin! Some ingredients that can sensitise skin include fragrances, D and C colours, preservatives, and Lanolin.
Éminence has the most unique and effective natural skin care products on the market. The range contains no parabens, sulphates, petrochemicals, fillers, GMO ingredients, animal by-products, artificial colours or fragrances, hydrogenated oils, mineral oils and is not tested on animals!
Nutritionists say that those surviving on a litany of diet sodas and fat-free food items are missing out on the vial, skin-friendly essential fatty acids (EFA) and fat-soluble vitamins. (And don’t forget that fat-free foods often substitute sugar with artificial sweeteners that can cause skin sensitivity.)
An EFA deficiency can result in skin problems such as chronic itching, dryness, scaling and thinning and can lead to an imbalance in prostaglandins (prostaglandins are chemical messengers that do many things, such as control inflammation). The lack of “good” fats in our diets could also be contributing to the increase in the percentage of the population that suffers from psoriasis, eczema and dandruff.
Smoking can also have a drying effect on skin, as smoking inhibits the body’s ability to provide oxygen and nutrients to the skin. Smoking drains the skin of vitamins A and C and restricts blood vessels (which equates to less blood flow) – meaning smoking is somewhat like suffocating your skin from the inside. And, an excessive intake of alcoholic beverages and certain medications (such as nasal decongestants) can also contribute to dry skin.
The loss of existing sebum (oil) is commonly caused by excessive bathing or showering, scrubbing, or the use of harsh soaps that dissolve the protective layer of sebum. In addition, shaving without a protective medium or using dull razors can also weaken the skin’s barrier function, leaving it exposed to environmental assaults.
When skin is healthy, a sensitised skin condition is minimised. Professional skin treatments coupled with the right lifestyle choices are great ways to begin treating sensitised skin. An effective sensitised skin treatment will include gentle cleansing, soothing and anti-inflammatory-based products, and hydration. The “less is more” rule should be followed during any professional sensitised skin treatment and at-home regimen. Exfoliation can be performed on the sensitised skin but should be done only under the recommendation of a professional. To see how Slow Beauty Eco Salon can help you with your sensitised skin, please check out our Skin Care Menu.