The truth about sensitive skin

Most of us who suffer from acne either feel we have sensitive skin or are told that we have it. So is it something that is genetic? Are we born with skin that is sensitive? Or is it something that we do that makes it that way?

I went through most of my 20’s thinking I had sensitive skin. I bought skin care products for sensitive skin and all that did was make my skin worse. As a kid, I did have skin that turned red easily but it was smooth and clear. As I grew older my skin got increasingly worse. It was red in places, dry in places, it felt tight when washed, it felt dry and tight but looked oily. And this type of skin is generally termed as sensitive skin. If you suffer from acne I am sure you know exactly what I’m talking about.

So what exactly is sensitive skin? Sensitive skin is skin whose uppermost layer, which acts as a barrier against the environment, is weak. How does this layer get weak? The most common factors are age and environmental stress. Medicated ointments, harsh soaps, pollution, bad diet, lack of proper hydration, using hot water to wash your face also contribute to this.

What happens when this layer is weak?  I once used benzoyl peroxide for a few breakouts on my chin and the next day my chin had hives and it was swollen and itchy. I had to go to the dermatologist and get something for the swelling and itching. Tea tree oil had exactly the same reaction. So what happened here? I had used benzoyl peroxide without any reaction before. The thing is that the years of using harsh soaps and constantly using different creams on my face for acne had weakened my skin barrier completely. So the inner layers could not deal with the strong benzoyl peroxide and therefore it reacted with the hives and the itching.

For years I used to get terrified of even washing my face as I knew that after I would feel like my face was about to crack. This is pretty strange for someone who has acne and is told that acne is caused by excess oil, .

So what had made my skin sensitive? Let’s go back to when I started getting acne at the age of 14. At this age, I started using medicated ointments and using harsh soaps on my face. As my face got oilier I washed it more, not realizing that both were connected. I took antibiotics prescribed by doctors and, applied even more ointments. None of these ointments did anything for my acne. All they were slowly doing in the background is making the uppermost layer of my skin weak. This is the layer that protects the skin and when this layer is weak, you will have symptoms of what is then called sensitive skin like stinging, burning, dryness, peeling. Fast forward to a few years later. I had chemical peels done on the advice of a skin clinic. I just cringe thinking about what I did to my skin.

When I stopped using soap to wash my face, half of the sensitive skin symptoms like dryness, redness, and the itchy feeling disappeared within days.

So the best way to deal with sensitive skin is to make the uppermost layer of the skin thicker. Doing this will not only make your skin stronger and less sensitive, but it will give it a smooth and radiant look.

So I leave you now with some tips to make your skin barrier stronger. Doing this will also make your skin less prone to acne and able to fight it better.

  1. Stop washing your face with a soap based cleanser. If you have to, stick to just once a day and that too using a very mild cleanser that does not contain detergents like sodium lauryl sulfate.
  2. Avoid toners that contain alcohol. If you must use toner use green tea or rose water.
  3. Stop using medicated ointments for at least 6 weeks.
  4. Drink 2-3 liters of water. This keeps your skin  hydrated and helps repair the skin.
  5. If you do use scrubs, stop for a while. Give your skin at least 6 weeks rest so that it can repair itself.
  6. Don’t use hot water to wash your face.

Comment below if you have any other suggestions to help deal with sensitive skin.