Breaking the Cycle - Understanding and Soothing Sensitive Skin
September 5, 2023
What does it mean to have sensitive skin?
How would you describe your skin type? Is it oily? Is it dry? A combination of both? What about sensitive?About 40% of people worldwide would identify as having sensitive skin, but there isn’t a clear definition for it. Since everyone’s skin is different, it can mean different things to different people although some commonly associated traits can be signs of irritation, redness, and dry, flaky skin. Although some people may be more likely to say that they experience sensitive skin, ultimately any skin type can experience the signs of skin irritation that are commonly associated with skin sensitivity. Sensitive skin can be triggered by many different things. Temperature, UV exposure, humidity, environmental stressors (like pollution), and even your genetics may have an impact. Even though there isn’t a firm definition of sensitive skin, one commonly understood factor is this: irritation can be caused by a damaged skin barrier, and vice versa (we’ll explain).
The Role of the Skin Barrier
So if a major component of experiencing sensitive skin is the skin barrier then what exactly is it?The skin barrier is your skin’s shield that functions to keep the good stuff in and the bad stuff out. It also helps your skin retain water, which is why it’s also commonly referred to as the “moisture barrier”. Water as we know is essential for the body, but is also crucial for skin health. The skin barrier is made up of multiple elements that work together including natural moisturizing factors and skin lipids. Natural moisturizing factors act as mini water magnets that grab onto water and help keep it from escaping. The skin lipids act like waterproof layers that help trap water inside and reduce the ability of unwanted molecules from getting through the skin barrier. Ceramides and fatty acids are examples of these skin lipids. Finally, we have the skin cells themselves. They act as a strong final layer of protection, by acting as a physical barrier to make it ‘harder’ for molecules to enter and exit the skin. To sum up, the skin barrier is the first line of defense against external elements that can damage your skin and make it irritated. When your skin barrier is compromised this can kickstart the cycle of irritation.
Sensitive Skin and the Cycle of Irritation
Building a Stronger Skin Barrier
- Prep your skin with a gentle cleanser (ideally a cream or balm-based option)
- Treat your skin with serums that help with hydration and barrier support
- Seal your skin with a moisturizer to help reduce water loss and support the skin barrier