Guest post by Kristin Cristiano - Director of Education
How does having sensitive skin affect my skin’s ability to function normally?
One of the primary issues with sensitive skin is the lack of barrier function. The skin’s most important job is to protect and when the skin barrier is not intact, things go awry. The outer stratum of the skin is layers of keratinized, flattened cells that are embedded in a mortar of waterproof lipids. This provides an excellent way of preventing water within from evaporating or leaking out. It also protects the body from anything foreign (such as antigens) from entering.
When something impairs the maintenance of this “wall,” antigens can then enter to create irritation and even allergic reactions. A break in the barrier sends a signal down to the dermis which can start an inflammatory response which aggravates the barrier even more. This creates a vicious cycle. The break also allows water from within to evaporate (transepidermal water loss) and the skin becomes dry and flaky. With antigens invading the skin and moisture leaking out, it is imperative that the skin be healed and protected.
What are the first steps one should take when treating sensitive skin?
The rule of thumb in skincare is to address the inflammation first, because until that is under control it is hard to stop the cycle. Ingredients such as Cucumber, Gotu Kola Extract and Indian Senna provide anti-inflammatory effects. The skin also needs soothing ingredients and antioxidants to control the free radicals that accompany inflammation. Oat Beta Glucan has been used for centuries to provide comfort and anti-irritant properties. Black Willow Extract is not only anti-inflammatory but is an antioxidant as well. Pomegranate Seed Extract is a powerful antioxidant and also known for its moisturizing properties.
What are some of the most important products and ingredients for treating sensitive skin?
Moisture, both in the form of hydration and lipids, is crucial. This will help replace what has been lost because of transepidermal water loss and lipids will help to “patch” the tear in the wall. Of course with all this damage to the skin, it will tend to age faster, so anti-aging ingredients that will not irritate the skin are useful. Neroli Flower Oil is an emollient that increases skin elasticity while helping strengthen shallow, delicate capillaries. Rose Flower Oil and Olive Fruit Oil are known for their ability to heal and calm as well as being emollient. Sunflower Seed Oil is easily absorbed and rich in both vitamins as well as fatty acids.
Sunscreens are imperative as sensitive or sensitized skin is more photo-reactive. A physical sunscreen or a mixture of physical and chemical is easier on the skin than one that is all chemical. Look for products with Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide. They should be applied daily and provide a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or above.
In some cases Retinol, a type of Vitamin A, can be tolerated and can even help the skin, but it should be Retinol and not the prescription version, commonly known as Retin A. Retinol is much slower to penetrate and can help to normalize the behavior of cells - but again, only at a low percentage and it should be started slowly to allow the skin to acclimate.
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