sensitive vs. sensitized skin

sensitive vs. sensitized skin

By KIMBERLY TAN

sensitive vs. sensitized skin

SENSITIVE VS SENSITIZED

it’s well known in the professional skincare community that clients almost always say they have sensitive skin, which isn’t truly the case. in all my years of practicing skincare professionally, i’ve literally seen thousands of faces and have only seen a handful of truly sensitive skin. the rest were simply sensitized. what’s the difference?

 

SENSITIVE SKIN

these folks are born with it, or have developed a condition that makes their skin as such. from what i’ve seen, this usually is an autoimmune disease, cancer or past major allergic reaction. their skin has since or always been reactive to products or ingredients, especially active ones that contain acids, vitamins or scrubs.

some have been so sensitive that they couldn’t use anything but water and shea butter on their faces, and it took us weeks or months to get their skin to slowwwwly acclimate to using things like cleansers and moisturizers, let alone exfoliants. 

this usually manifests as skin that easily turns and stays red, experiences uncomfortable sensations (like stinging or burning) and often takes an extended period of time to heal from external aggravators like products,  treatments, weather or the sun.

these folks likely can't tolerate fragrances, skin products or weather conditions that most others can, and often are more prone to other conditions like eczema or rosacea.

SENSITIZED SKIN

these folks are experiencing irritated skin for a temporary period of time, as a result of something they did or used that irritated their skin. it's uncomfortable for a short while, but will eventually heal. 

like, if you got sunburned, your skin is sensitive for that week until it heals up, to where it’s back to pain-free, peel-free, no-longer-hot-and-tomato-red-faced normal. or if you fried your face by buying and using every exfoliating product you found online in the same week multiple times a day, of course your skin is going to be sensitized! 

isolating and eliminating those irritants should allow your skin to heal up nicely within a few days, regaining its strength and resiliency. these folks may be able to go back to using or exposing themselves to what initially irritated them, by adjusting strength (using a less potent formula) or frequency (using a product fewer times a week).

RESET YOUR SKIN

if you are experiencing irritation with your skin, i recommend you stop all products that are causing the irritating sensation, and emphasize products that soothe and calm. this is what i'd call a bland, healing regimen.

you may experience peeling skin and though i understand the urgency to pick off those bits, but picking or exfoliating them off is only going to make the skin peel more.

think of peeling off dead skin like picking a scab; if you keep messing with it, it will never heal. you have to leave the skin alone so that the skin's protective barrier can regenerate itself!

avoid:

  • exfoliating acids - hyaluronic acid is ok though, since it's a moisturizer not an exfoliant
  • vitamins - vitamin c can sting, and vitamin a is an exfoliant
  • foaming cleansers, as they can be drying
  • scrubs - this means granules in skin products, machines that vibrate, rub or scrub, or using towels to vigorously rub the skin
  • picking your face

emphasize:

  • calming cleansers. non-foaming and moisturizing ones that rinse off easily would be best
  • rosewater, or some other calming flower hydrosol to hydrate and cool. you can try it in a spray bottle, or even chilled in the refrigerator
  • apply ice, if your skin can tolerate it. this can relieve itching, pain and inflammation
  • moisturize. apply it by warming up some product in your hands and gently pressing - not rubbing - it onto the skin. try serums, gels or aloe, as they spread onto and absorb into the skin easily with minimal touching. 
  • you can try taking an anti-histamine or quercetin to support your body's natural anti-inflammatory army. 

IN SUMMARY:

sensitive skin is a type.

this is a genetically inherited sensitivity that you were either born with, or now live with long-term, as a result of prior trauma. this condition - like acne - doesn't go away, but can be managed. folks with sensitive skin are also usually more prone to conditions like eczema or rosacea. less is more with this skin type.

 

sensitized is a condition. 

this results from an outside irritant that’s causing your skin to be temporarily compromised. by identifying and stopping the irritant, your skin heals. you may be able to reintroduce said irritant by reducing the potency or frequency of use.

 

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image by angélica echeverry on unsplash

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