What is sensitive skin?
Sensitive skin is unbalanced and unhappy – and it’s determined to make you notice. Redness, sore patches, itches and tightness can appear just as easily on your face as anywhere else on the body, and they might make you self-conscious, uncomfortable and downright miserable.
In reality everyone’s skin is sensitive to a certain extent, because it is able to perceive sensory stimuli. It’s part of its job to protect the body against external influences like dirt, strong sunlight and infectious micro-organisms. But the skin has to 'decide' which substances are harmful, and a sensitive skin is on overdrive, with a mechanism that’s been disturbed so that the skin has a lower resistance to irritants. That makes the upper layer of the skin too porous, so that external stimuli can penetrate easily. To protect you, the skin then becomes harder, showing an irritated and often rough surface as a result. Step one is to show kindness to your skin, because it’s only doing its job. How you treat it as a result should help it return to balance, not batter it into submission.
Research into the causes of sensitive skin show that heredity often plays a role, but nowadays more people experience a sensitive skin due to environmental factors or lifestyle. The seasons also have an impact, with skin generally less sensitive in summer than during the winter. That could be because daily temperature fluctuations are smaller and we are outside more often, with sunlight known to benefit some skin conditions. The indoor air quality is also better because the central heating is usually switched off.
Other possible causes may include:
- Polluted air
- Hormonal changes during puberty, pregnancy and menopause
- Use of drugs
- Use of detergents
- Certain substances in cosmetics and makeup
Sensitive skin shows various symptoms, often more strongly when your body is weakened by fatigue, ill-health or stress. A sensitive skin can be tight, dry, chapped, red, itchy or blemished – but we don’t need to tell you that. If you’ve got it, you already know.
Caring for Sensitive Skin
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways that you can help bring your skin back into balance. Often it will be enough to adopt good habits and a healthy lifestyle – enough sleep, fresh air, a healthy diet rich in vegetables and fruit, less alcohol and no smoking. All of these affect your body and mind for the better, which translates into a healthy and calm complexion. Here’s some more lifestyle ideas to help your sensitive skin:
1. Choose soft, natural care
With sensitive skin it’s crucial to choose mild, natural products without perfume or synthetic additives, all of which tend to over-stimulate the skin. That goes for cosmetics and bodycare, as well as detergents in your wash and cleaning products around the house. When you change from conventional to natural care, your skin will need time to adjust, so be patient. It may take up to six weeks before the effect is visible, and during the first phase, the symptoms may worsen temporarily. This means that the skin is shedding waste and kick-starting its metabolism – a good sign!
2. Provide gentle cleansing
Cleanse sensitive skin on the face with a mild cleansing milk using a cottonwool ball. Rinse off with lukewarm water and gently pat your face dry – don’t rub hard with a towel or flannel as rubbing stimulates sebum production. Eye make-up can be removed with a mild facial oil, again on cottonwool. Do not use facial scrubs.
3. Be careful with makeup
Make up can also contain substances that irritate your skin, so be extra careful how much make-up you use and choose as many natural products as you can.
4. Adjust your diet
Drinking plenty of water keeps your skin well hydrated and supports organs like the kidneys that cleanse your body. What goes on inside is important if you want your skin to glow with health. Choose healthy, organic foods rich in vegetable oils and fats (eg from cold-pressed olive oil, avocado oil and coconut oil), proteins (from wild fish and organic meat), vitamins – especially vitamin A, C and E – and minerals like iron, zinc, calcium, phosphorus and magnesium. Food labels will tell you a lot, and learning more about what you eat will stand you in good stead.
5. Avoid extreme weather
Exposure to excessive sunlight and heat, high winds and very cold temperatures make the skin work hard, pushing it to become unbalanced. If your job or where you live means you can’t avoid this, ensure adequate protection in the form of a sunscreen or weather protection cream, and if you only occasionally expose yourself to extreme weather (on a holiday or a trip) then prepare ahead by buying the right cream, lip-balm and after-activity moisturisers.
Weleda has a range of products especially suited to sensitive skin in adults and children, from our Almond Soothing facial range to our Babyderma White Mallow range for babies with extremely sensitive skin. Look out our weather protection cream and unfragranced oil for babies too – there’s nothing stopping adults from using them!