Did you know that ‘sensitive’ is not a skin type? This is one of many reasons why “Suitable for Sensitive Skin” is another misleading marketing jargon term used frequently to label skincare. To tackle why this is so confusing, we need to first define what sensitive skin is and what it is not. Sensitivity is NOT a primary skin type, but rather a “skin mood” or secondary skin type.
“Sensitive Skin” is NOT a clinical term and there is no regulation on products that label themselves as “Suitable for Sensitive Skin” (we know, we sound like a broken record). Due to the lack of regulation, and the incredibly broad category of skin that is being referred to when we talk about sensitivity, this label doesn’t mean much. We have seen products with this label use many ingredients that in our opinion should be avoided by sensitive skins. Then there is the problem of the variation in types of sensitivity.
We are left with questions like;
Sensitive for what skin mood?
Is it free of fragrance?
Does it contain essential oils?
Is it soothing or hydrating?
When you see “Suitable for Sensitive Skin” this usually (big emphasis on the usually here) means that the product is free from common allergens, or is at least the formulation is intended to be more mild than other products in a range. But what about uncommon allergens? We can’t forget that every person’s skin is unique, it’s an organ after all, and therefore different skins have the potential to react differently to ingredients - “For Sensitive Skin” is not a guarantee!
While some skin might react to a certain chemical substance or ingredients there are so many other external triggers that could also impact the barrier function of the skin and cause a reaction or sensitivity. In fact, the inflammatory cascade may have external or internal causes such as UV light, sun, cold, heat, wind, water, pollution stress or hormones. Yet another reason why “For Sensitive Skin” is not a guarantee, as you must approach sensitive skin with a 360 approach. Starting with asking why and what is making your skin react!
Our definition of Sensitive Skin is, “fragile skin that is reactive either all the time or temporarily during certain times of the day.” In addition, we believe that sensitivity and reactivity in the skin may be genetic or acquired throughout the years to the overexposure to external irritants.
So why does it seem that sensitive skin on the rise? Because we are now exposed to more skin irritants, this includes both external and internal factors that have the potential to sensitise skin. That said, we must recognise this and treat the core problem rather than the symptom. Many products that claim to be “for sensitive skin” have very obvious irritants that you can be on the lookout for. As skincare consumers, we need to pay more attention to what we are putting on our skin and be conscious of how our skin reacts.
Most causes of sensitivity can actually be avoided or protected against. You can actually strengthen your skin barrier and reduce or eliminate skin sensitivity. However, if you have rosacea, eczema, or psoriasis, then your skin will likely be in a constant state of sensitivity, and you need to be much more careful with what products you use on the skin. Don’t forget also that sensitivity could also be an indication of a certain skin disorder such as eczema, rosacea etc. Therefore, finding the root of the problem is essential before using any tips of products !
Help! Why is my skin sensitive?
Here are a few things that can cause sensitivity on the skin:
Skincare Regime (stripping products, fragrance, harsh exfoliants, drying alcohols, or lack of a regime)
Lack of skin protection from the elements like sun, pollution, or other environmental factors
Stress and/or lack of sleep
Compromised Skin Barrier (also caused by the above)
Underlying skin condition like rosacea, psoriasis, or eczema
What to avoiD
Irritants we tell our clients that have sensitivity, especially a compromised barrier or those with eczema, rosacea, and psoriasis are;
Overly foaming cleansers that leave skin feeling ‘tight’ or ‘dry’
Controversial, but for those with hypersensitivity it is best to stick to synthetic products at least until the sensitivity is under control due to the potential variation in product formulation, as well as the use of fragrant plant extracts, enzymes, and oils. If you are wanting to use this type of product for ethical reasons, then there are a few options, but it is a tricky one!
Harsh chemical exfoliants