Does your skin get irritated when you use even the most gentle products? Do you feel like you're constantly breaking out even though you follow all of the skincare advice that you find? Does it seem like you can't get your skin under control no matter how hard you try?
Well, you may have sensitive skin.
We all want to do our best to take care of our skin, but it's not always easy to know what it needs.
There is so much conflicting information on Tiktok, Instagram, and Youtube, and it's difficult to know exactly where to start when optimizing your skincare routine.
If you have sensitive skin, this task is even more challenging.
And if you're unsure whether or not your skin is sensitive, creating the perfect skincare routine may seem impossible.
Sensitive skin requires specialized products and extra attention, so it can glow the way it's meant to. But how do you know if you have sensitive skin? The first step is understanding the different skin types.
What Are the Different Skin Types?
Depending on who you ask, there are anywhere from three to seven skin types. But the four basic skin types commonly recognized by dermatologists are:
1. Dry Skin
Dry skin can affect you at any age, and it can range from mild to severe. If you have dry skin, you may notice tightness after cleansing. Severe dry skin may present in itchy, flaky patches, peeling skin, or even fine lines or "cracks".
For some, dry skin is seasonal and may only appear in colder months when the skin is exposed to abrasive winds. For others, dry skin is a year-round issue that needs special care.
2. Oily Skin
Oily skin is usually easier to recognize than the other skin types because it's the most visible. If you have oily skin, your skin will appear shiny even if you regularly wash it.
Everyone's skin needs some level of oil. Still, if your face produces too much of it, it can become a nuisance to deal with. Oily skin tends to look greasy under cream and liquid makeup, and it can often lead to breakouts and painful, clogged pores.
3. Combination Skin
Combination skin is considered to be the most common skin type. But it's also the most difficult to identify.
Unlike oily or dry skin, it isn't always clear if the skin is tight or oily. Instead, combination skin is, well, a combination of the two types. Typically, someone with combination skin will have an oily forehead, nose, and chin, while the rest of their face is dry.
4. Normal Skin
Normal skin is the rarest skin type. It means that your skin has achieved the perfect balance between dry and oily. Normal skin rarely breakouts, has nearly invisible pores and is characterized by a clear, smooth complexion.
While some people do hit the genetic lottery and have normal skin year-round, most people find that normal skin comes and goes. Age, weather, and lifestyle habits can make our skin flip-flop from oily to dry, so chasing normal skin is usually futile.
What is Sensitive Skin?
Sensitive skin is occasionally included in the list of skin types, but it's a category of its own. Your skin can be both sensitive and oily or both sensitive and dry, and this can change the way you approach treating it.
So, how do you know if you have sensitive skin? Sensitive skin can be uncomfortable, itchy, and downright painful.
It's prone to inflammation, redness, swelling, and peeling. Though sensitive skin can sometimes crack like dry skin, the two are different from one another.
Dry skin is mainly an issue with the moisture barrier and outer layer of skin. But sensitive skin goes deeper than this.
An overactive immune system registers everyday stimuli as allergens and essentially ignites an allergic response leaving you with hives, rashes, and swelling.
The level of sensitivity is different for each person. You may notice that your skin is always red or always feels like it's burning.
Or, you may only see these signs when you start using a new skincare product or laundry detergent. This is what makes it so difficult to recognize whether or not you have sensitive skin.
How Do You Know if You Have Sensitive Skin?
If you believe you have sensitive skin, but you don't for sure, check for these 5 signs:
One thing to look for when attempting to identify sensitive skin is how it responds to new elements. Does your face immediately break out if you try a new skincare product?
While it's typical for changes in skincare routines to cause mild acne or slight irritation, rashes, inflammation, and cystic acne are definitely signs of something more.
Sensitive skin goes into attack mode when it makes contact with foreign products. You may be surprised to know that even new perfumes can cause sensitive skin to freak out.
If you feel like you lose control of your skin whenever the products you use change, then you likely have sensitive skin.
Since sensitive skin responds to foreign stimuli by developing rashes or becoming rough and bumpy, it often looks and feels dry.
If you've been trying to treat your dry skin and haven't noticed any progress, it may be because the underlying cause is sensitivity, not dryness. The symptoms will persist until you address what's triggering your sensitive skin.
Our mind usually goes straight to oily skin when we think of breakouts. But, sensitive skin's reactivity makes it especially acne-prone.
If you have sensitive skin, the outer layer of your skin may be damaged. Cracks and itchy skin are signs that your moisture barrier is damaged, which means that acne-causing bacteria has a free pass into your pores.
Since sensitive skin struggles to adapt to new products, it's difficult to address these breakouts without causing more. If you feel like you've tried everything to stop your skin from breaking out but haven't been successful, you likely have sensitive skin.
Your skin shouldn't feel uncomfortable throughout the day. Although the occasional cut, or painful pimple, is entirely normal, constant discomfort is definitely a sign that your skin is sensitive.
Itchiness, swelling, and hot rashes are all symptoms of sensitive skin that can make doing day-to-day activities difficult.
You may still have sensitive skin even if your discomfort isn't severe. You probably have sensitive skin if you notice frequent bouts of inflammation or flaky skin that's painful to touch.
Broken skin is extra susceptible to damage from the sun's harmful UV radiation. Since sensitive skin is accompanied by cracks and peeling, it's incredibly vulnerable to sunburns and even skin cancer.
Fair skin tones are more likely to burn. Still, if you've noticed an uptick in sunburns, you may be developing skin sensitivity.
However, if you don't burn easily, it doesn't mean you don't have sensitive skin. If you've noticed the other signs on this list, it's still very likely that your skin could benefit from a skincare routine tailored to sensitive skin.
What Is the Cause of Sensitive Skin?
Sensitive skin is probably genetic, according to new research. Although your skin can become sensitized at different times in your life, the predisposition for sensitivity was likely bestowed upon you at birth.
Even if you've had sensitive skin your whole life, you may not recognize it until it becomes irritated by some kind of allergen or external factor.
In fact, many people are able to maintain normal skin until it's triggered. There are four primary triggers for sensitization:
1. Contact Dermatitis
Contact dermatitis is the scientific name for what happens when your skin becomes irritated by something that touches it.
Skincare products, over-exfoliation, excessively hot or long showers, and chemical-laden laundry detergents can set the stage for inflammation or rashes. People with super sensitive skin may even have a reaction when they touch their face after washing their hands with a new soap.
Some of the most common irritating products are:
- Exfoliants like AHA and lactic acid
- Essential Oils
2. Allergen Exposure
When you have sensitive skin, it can seem like you're allergic to everything. Things that don't bother most people can turn your skin into a red, itchy mess.
Latex, food-related allergens like fish or dairy, and medications are some of the major culprits for causing allergic reactions.
When the allergen is removed, and your skin has a chance to relax, the sensitivity may dissipate until you encounter another allergen.
3. Skin Conditions
Excema and psoriasis are two of the most common skin conditions associated with sensitive skin.
Eczema presents as itchy bumps that are raised, red, and incredibly irritating. Meanwhile, psoriasis looks like a scaly rash that can flake, peel, and burn.
If your sensitive skin is caused by an underlying skin condition, it's important to talk to a dermatologist, so that you can address the root cause.
How to Treat Sensitive Skin
If you have signs of sensitive skin, it's important that you start taking steps to care for it right away.
Dealing with constant itchiness and skin breakage can cause scarring and pave the way for infection.
Plus, you deserve to have skin that looks and feels healthy. And more importantly, you shouldn't have to deal with the pain that overly sensitive skin brings.
Unless you have an underlying skin condition, you can start treating your sensitive skin right from your own home.
Here are 6 changes you can make today to help neutralize your sensitive skin and get you on the track to clear, painless skin.
1. Moisturize Gently
Gentle face creams will rebuild your skin's moisture barrier while soothing inflammation and redness. Their added protection against dryness is great for sensitive skin since this skin type is so prone to dry patches and flakes.
2. Clean out Your Skincare Routine
While trying to "fix" your skin, you may have added a few too many steps to your skincare routine.
Cutting down your routine to a delicate cleanser, effective moisturizer, and sunscreen can decrease your skin's irritation.
Ingredients like soy and oatmeal have been used to soothe sensitive for years, and they're generally gentle enough for even the most reactive skin types.
When you do add products, be sure to add them one by one, so you can watch for allergic reactions or abnormal irritation.
3. Check Labels
Anything that comes in contact with your skin should be sensitive-skin safe. Your clothes, your soaps, and even your haircare products should be free of any irritants like sulfates or alcohol.
Creating an optimal environment for your sensitive skin can feel like a full-time job at first. Still, it'll all be worth it when the redness fades, and the inflammation disappears.
4. Watch for Allergens
Allergens come in all shapes and sizes. Keep an eye out for changes in your skin after you start a new medication or switch up your diet.
Foods that may have been okay in the past can start causing reactions, so it's important to always check in with how your skin feels. This way, if you do notice irritation or rashes, you can identify the allergen right away and remove it.
5. Take Short Showers
Long, hot showers are incredibly soothing. They can feel hydrating and relaxing. But the heat and the lengthy exposure to moisture wreak havoc on your sensitive skin.
The heat from the water dissolves the fatty layer on the outside of your skin. Without it, your skin is vulnerable to damage. To prevent peeling, cut your showers short and avoid hot baths. When you do shower, make sure to follow it up by moisturizing your whole body.
A Word From Beauty Ninja
Sensitive skin looks different for everyone who has it. Yours can look like redness or swelling or random bouts of hives. If you think your skin is sensitive, it's time to make some changes to your routine.
Understanding what is the cause of sensitive skin will give you the knowledge you need to calm your skin and balance your complexion.
For more tips on how to achieve your best skin, check out our other articles on sensitive skincare.