"The Skin Coach" column is written by Kimmy Williams, owner of Acqua e Sapone, a skin clinic in San Francisco.
Sensitive skin is among one of the most common and misunderstood skin complaints. The term is often mistakenly used to refer to a number of issues including acne-prone skin, but sensitive skin is actually a condition characterized by irritation, itching, redness, burning, stinging, and flaking caused by a weakened skin barrier. This skin barrier, the epidermis, is a protective structure that serves to keep moisture in and irritants and allergens out of the body. When this protective barrier becomes compromised, skin becomes sensitive and easily irritated. So, if you are struggling with skin that shows signs of sensitivity, here are a few tips for repairing the skin barrier and bringing the skin back into balance:
1. Identify the cause of sensitivity.
Some of the most common factors that trigger sensitive skin are:
*Using abrasive mechanical exfoliants like scrubbing beads and exfoliating brushes.
*Excessive exposure to the sun caused by tanning, not using sun protection, and failing to reapply sun protection.
*Strong topical ingredients often found in acne products, chemical exfoliating products, and prescription topical medications.
*Ineffective moisturizers that contain drying and irritating ingredients.
*Harsh treatments including chemical peels, microdermabrasion, and dermabrasion.
2. Once you identify the cause, add or eliminate.
If one of your products is the culprit, replace it with a more gentle product that contains no active ingredients, perfumes, or scrubbing beads. Ditch the chemical peels and microdermabrasion until your skin is normalized and abandon tanning beds for good. Many moisturizers actually contain harsh ingredients like acids and retinols so get one with only hydrating ingredients and no active ingredients, and reapply sun protection every few hours when in direct sunlight.