Our skin is exposed to a huge number of different chemicals every day; for some people, this is not an issue, but for others, they can experience an adverse reaction that leaves skin feeling red, sore, and inflamed. People who experience this reaction are often referred to as having “sensitive skin”.
While rarely regarded as a medical condition in and of itself, sensitive skin can be very difficult – not to mention painful – to live with.
Is sensitive skin a medical condition?
Sensitive skin is not a medical condition per se, but reactions that are attributed to skin sensitivity can often be a sign of another medical condition. If, for example, your skin becomes red or sore after using products that contain certain ingredients, you may be allergic or particularly sensitive to those ingredients – which is known as contact dermatitis in the medical community. Skin conditions such as rosacea, eczema, and psoriasis can also cause the skin to become more sensitive.
It is therefore always worth speaking with a doctor to discuss any skin sensitivity issues you are experiencing, as a formal diagnosis of an underlying condition – and potentially receiving medical treatment – may be advantageous. Your doctor may also advise you to make lifestyle changes rather than actively, medically treating the condition – which we will discuss in more depth soon.
What causes sensitive skin?
As well as underlying medical conditions, sensitive skin has been linked to environmental conditions – for example, excessive exposure to UV rays.
Genetic factors can also result in sensitive skin, and age, hormone fluctuations, and allergies (including food allergies) can also cause skin sensitivity..
Can sensitive skin be cured?
If there is an underlying medical condition, then treatment may resolve the issue; for example, if skin issues develop as a result of an allergic reaction, then using antihistamines or topical creams can be helpful. However, these treatments do not necessarily result in a “cure”; many skin conditions are chronic and may reappear in the future.
For most people, sensitive skin is something they adjust to living with rather than seeking to absolutely cure.
How can sensitive skin be managed?
It is important to note that the management of sensitive skin will always be dependent on the person. Everyone has different triggers or reasons their skin may flare, so there is no wholesale advice that will work for everyone. However, there are a few common tactics that people use when seeking to reduce issues they experience with sensitive skin, including – but not limited to – the following:
- Switch to more “natural” cleaning products. Many household cleaning products contain harsh ingredients that are problematic for those with sensitive skin, so switching to simpler, more natural-focused products often work well. You can buy “natural” products in stores, but making your own is usually the less expensive option.
- Change laundry products. Laundry products are a common cause of skin reactions and sensitivity, so if you are experiencing issues, switching to a different brand could well be worth trying. Products that are described as “natural” or “unfragranced” are particularly worth trying, but be cautious of the term “hypoallergenic” – this isn’t a regulated term, so a product with this description is not necessarily “safer” for sensitive skin.
- Make your own cosmetics and toiletries. Many cosmetics and toiletries contain so many different ingredients that it can be almost impossible to isolate (and thus avoid the further use of) any that may be causing a reaction. Choosing to buy and use your own soap making supplies and experimenting with natural shampoo options, such as kaolin clay, gives you more control over the products you use.
- Avoid using waterproof makeup. Waterproof makeup products can usually only be removed with specially-designed makeup remover, which often contains very harsh chemicals that will irritate your skin. Standard makeup that can be removed using water and a microfiber cloth may be preferable.
- Wear sun protection 365 days a year. This is generally sound health advice anyway, but it’s particularly beneficial for those with sensitive skin; use sunscreen throughout the year (even on cloudy or cold days) on any area of skin that is not covered by clothing or accessories.
- Patch test before using anything new. If you’re using a new type of laundry detergent, shampoo, makeup, or any other type of product, do a patch test hours before to see if your skin reacts. Apply a small amount to your neck, wrist, or behind your ear, then remove the product and wait 48 hours to see if there is any reaction.
The tips above can be very beneficial when it comes to managing sensitive skin, but it’s always worth seeking medical advice to discuss if any further treatments may be required.