Sensitive Skin: What Is It and How to Deal

Ever wondered why your skin is highly reactive when it comes to most products? Chances are you have sensitive skin. Learn more about this topic together with Dr. Aznaida L. Tawagon-Pandapatan, a diplomate from the Philippine Dermatological Society.

FURTHER READING: 4 Ways to Manage Oiliness

How would you know if you have sensitive skin?

“[The term sensitive skin refers to] skin that is more prone to inflammation or adverse reactions. This is characterized by frequent incidence of redness, acne lesions, itching, stinging, flushing, and urticaria,” explains Dr. Aznaida. If these symptoms occur upon skincare application, your skin is on the sensitive side.

On top of that, Dr. Tawagon-Pandapatan breaks down the four subtypes of sensitive skin (in reference to Dr. Leslie Baumann) below:

Acne subtype

This subtype frequently ”develops recurring acne (papules, pustules, comedones, and cysts).”

Rosacea subtype

Symptoms for this subtype include ”recurrent flushing, redness, and hot sensations, and may develop inflammatory papules and telangiectasias.”

Stinging subtype

This type encounters “stinging, burning, or itching; without visible skin rashes/redness.”

Allergic subtype

Characterized by “rashes after contact with allergens or irritants.”

What skincare ingredients are ideal for this sensitive skin?

Use this guide when skincare shopping to stay clear of unwanted flare-ups from possible irritants.

Sensitive-acne subtype

People with this subtype “should use non-foaming cleansers that deposit fatty acids on the skin,” dr. Aznaida suggests. These include stearic acid (shea butter component) and linoleic acid (found in argan oil, safflower oil, and others). 

On the other hand, Dr. Tawagon-Pandapatan advises that one should avoid oleic acid obtained from olive oil as this can cause skin membrane disruption.

It is also necessary to opt for barrier-repairing ingredients like peptides, ceramides, glycerin, niacinamide, squalane, linoleic acid.

Sensitive-rosacea subtype:

Fellas that have acquired this skin type should choose products containing vasoconstrictive, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory ingredients. Examples of anti-inflammatory ingredients are aloe vera, argan oil, bisabolol, caffeine, chamomile, colloidal oatmeal, cucumber, green tea (in low concentrations), licorice, niacinamide, oxymethazoline, and zinc.

Sensitive-stinging subtype:

According to Dr. Aznaida, it is a must to “look for anti-inflammatory ingredients in skincare: aloe vera, argan oil, caffeine, chamomile, colloidal oatmeal, cucumber, green tea (in low concentrations), licorice, niacinamide, oxymethazoline, and zinc.” However, she advises disregarding the following: alpha-hydroxy acids (particularly glycolic acid), benzoic acid, bronopol, cinnamic acid compounds, Dowicel 200, formaldehyde, lactic acid, propylene glycol, quaternary ammonium compounds, sodium lauryl sulfate, sorbic acid, urea, ascorbic acid, and witch hazel.

Sensitive-allergic subtype

For people with this skin type, it is a must to “look for anti-inflammatory ingredients as mentioned above.” She warns that applying products that contain fragrancesbenzyl alcohol, calendula, cetyl alcohol, cinnamon, essential oils (all types), glyceryl thioglycolate, lanolin, niacinamide, paraphenylenediamine, peppermint, preservatives, propylene glycol, sorbitan, sunscreen agents (oxybenzone, avobenzone, PABA), toluene, sulfonamide/formaldehyde resin, and triclosan could make the situation worse. Avoid these ingredients at all costs.

Do note that in some cases, subtypes appear as a combination of two or three, if not all. Ultimately, Dr. Tawagon-Pandapatan reminds us that “the guidance of a dermatologist plays a central role in choosing the skincare products of a patient with sensitive skin.”

What are some tips to avoid sensitivity reactions/flare-ups?

Dr. Aznaida gives us a quick rundown of the practices one should do to prevent skin irritation.

  1. Use mild non-foaming cleansers.
  2. Moisturize. Even if you have oily skin, never forget to moisturize—choose the formulations that are not too heavy.
  3. Avoid physical exfoliants. It is ideal not to use physical scrubs or scrubbing gadgets. Instead, use your fingers to clean your face, together with non-foaming cleansers.
  4. Do a patch test before trying a new skincare product.
  5. Try products one at a time, never two or more together at one go. Try at least one product for two weeks before adding another one.
  6. Simplify your skincare routine. Despite the allure of so many attractive skincare products, it is best to use only the basic ones you need. The more you put on your skin, the more irritation may occur.
  7. Overall, it is always best to ask a board-certified dermatologist to guide you in choosing the right products for your skin type to gear towards healthy skin.

Having sensitive skin can be tricky — even the slightest misstep can cause your skin to act up. However, being aware and arming yourself with knowledge to diligently take care of your skin will reap great results. This way, you can enjoy putting on skincare sans the sensitivity.

About the contributor

Dr. Aznaida L. Tawagon-Pandapatan, DPDS

Diplomate, Philippine Dermatological Society

Dermatology Consultant, Amai Pakpak Medical Center, Marawi City, LDS

Co-founder, Pandapatan Dermatology Clinic, Marawi City, LDS

Part-time Faculty, XU-JPRSM (Xavier University-Jose P. Rizal School of Medicine)

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