Effective Solutions for Skin Sensitivity and Inflammation
Consider this your ultimate guide to all things related to skin sensitivity - what it is, what causes it, and what can you do about it?
The beauty industry loves labels. acne-prone, anti-aging, natural - all these labels help us to narrow our focus in the midst of an overwhelming amount of choices. “Sensitive skin” is a label heard and used often, but the definition, diagnosis, and triggers are far more ambiguous. One thing is certain - your proteins involved in regulating your skin's immunity play a significant role.
What is Sensitive Skin?
In 2016, the International Forum for the Study of Itch (yes, that’s a real thing) formally established a definition for sensitive skin. Sensitive skin is the appearance of unpleasant sensations, such as stinging, burning, pain, pruritus (itching), and tingling in response to something that would not normally cause such sensations, which can last from minutes to hours or even longer.
Studies have identified 3 types of sensitive skin;
Type 1: Low skin barrier function
Type 2: Inflammation with normal barrier function
Type 3: Pseudo-health group with normal barrier function and no inflammatory changes
All 3 sensitive skin types have a high content of a protein involved in nerve functioning, relative to individuals with non-sensitive skin. Hence, it's important to understand the root cause of inflammation and how it creates skin sensitivity. The answer lies in your proteomics, the proteins that make up your skin.
Two Forms of Skin Sensitivity
Sensitive skin can be identified in one of two forms: objective or subjective. Objective sensitivity often presents visible signs of irritation such as redness, dermatitis, or acne. Whereas, subjective sensitivity relates only to sensational symptoms, or the feeling of your skin being sensitive. This type of sensitive skin is more common and typically self-diagnosed.
Due to the mystique of sensitive skin it has been notoriously difficult to officially diagnose.
Key Factors Contributing to Sensitive Skin
There are a number of ways sensitive skin can occur and depending on the root cause, the treatment can differ. The most commonly reported contributors to sensitive skin are shaving, weather, cosmetics, and diet. The key contributing factors include:
- Physical, such as ultraviolet radiation or temperature
- Chemical, such as cosmetics or water
- Environmental, such as pollution
- Psychological, such as stress or emotions
An additional key factor is body Proteins, including hormones, antibodies and enzymes.
Your lifestyle defines your protein profile. While your body is robust in dealing with certain levels of stress, age and other environmental factors affect your body's response drastically. This means that proteins needed to help you fight these responses are created at higher frequency. For example, if your body is undergoing constant stress, high levels of cortisol, adrenaline and insulin will be coursing through your body constantly. The energy required by your body to make these hormones reduce your body’s ability to replenish other proteins that are vital for thriving. This puts your body constantly in a “fight’ mode rather than in a “rejuvenating” mode.
Fluctuating hormones have been one of the leading factors in self diagnosed skin sensitivity, primarily in women experiencing PMS or menopause. From daily stressors to monthly cycles, hormones play an important role in this common skin condition.
Role of Stress & Sensitive Skin
Work burnout or relationship crises - whatever triggers your stress, the result is an increase in adrenaline and cortisol. Being in fight or flight response sends more blood to your muscles than to your skin as your brain determines that to be a higher purpose. However, since we are no longer facing stressful situations with lions or tigers but are facing other monsters like bad bosses, navigating difficult relationships, we need other resources over just muscle power. Not having nourishing blood flowing to your skin weakens it and makes it prone to sensitivity.
Because your skin barrier is the first line of defense against pollution, bacteria, and other environmental aggressors, a weak skin barrier can allow irritants in causing inflammation and sensitivity.
Role of PMS & Sensitive Skin
Through the 28 days of your menstrual cycle, your hormones are fluctuating, stressing your body and skin. Ensuring that your hormones are balancing each other out is key. For example, progesterone regulates estrogen and when the body is healthy, it outnumbers estrogen 50-100:1. However, in stress and aging or a progesterone deficiency, estrogen can outnumber progesterone. This is a condition known as “estrogen dominance,'' which can cause skin and health problems.
If you suffer from PMS, you’re familiar with the discomfort (an understatement) the week leading up to your period. Low energy, soreness, acne and, that’s right, skin sensitivity. Knowing that the proteins (hormones and enzymes) involved in your menstrual cycle are balanced here is key to solving your symptoms.
In regards to skin aging, an excess of estrogen (which can be brought on by low progesterone) can contribute to thinner and less elastic skin that tends to be wrinkled and saggy. One way estrogen has this effect is by contributing to edema (water retention) by increasing the skin cell's affinity to water.
Estrogen can also contribute to hypoxia (oxygen deprivation) by stealing oxygen from the mitochondria. Combined, the water-logging and oxygen deprivation of the skin cell can lead to inflammation, oxidative stress and skin damage.
One study found that 42% of menstruating women experienced increased skin sensitivity just before and during their period. To help protect your skin, avoid harsh activities and fragrances.
Role of Diet & Sensitive Skin
You’ve probably heard healthy skin starts from the inside out. It’s true that the foods we eat can affect our skin’s appearance, and that certain foods can lead to fine lines and aging of the skin, while others can promote healthier looking skin.
The food you use to nourish yourself directly goes into making necessary proteins for your body. Studies suggest our food choices can also contribute to inflammation. This can be a good thing. Inflammation protects the body against invaders, such as bacteria, chemicals or pollen, by activating the immune system. But when inflammation is chronic, or long-term, it can cause major disease and other conditions, including sensitive skin conditions.
Tips to Keep Skin Sensitivity in Check
Soothing sensitive skin may feel like trying to put a forest fire out with a tea cup, but simple changes in your diet and lifestyle routine can help you prevent triggering flare ups and better manage your sensitivity.
- Avoid skincare products with fragrance – both ‘natural’ and synthetic. Because natural fragrances contain more compounds in them, they are oftentimes more likely to cause an allergic or inflammatory reaction.
- Avoid beverages and food with ‘natural’ flavors – like fragrances, these flavors can include a host of ingredients that brands are not obligated to disclose which may contribute to your skin sensitivity.
- Consume cold-water fish, such as wild salmon, sardines and herring, which contain omega-3 fatty acids. Try to eat these twice a week, or take a daily fish oil supplement that includes EPA and DHA.
- Apply hydrator – a quality, hypoallergenic hydrator provides an occlusive shield that protects skin from environmental irritants.
- Wear mineral sunscreen - chemical sunscreens can cause increased sensitivity for some, and studies have shown chemical UV filters to have endocrine disrupting effects. Zinc, a common mineral sunscreen ingredient has the added benefit of skin soothing, and the array of choices for mineral sunscreens without the dreaded whitecast are growing.
- Patch test your skincare products before applying to your face. This can be done on a small area of your forearm to test if your skin will react poorly to the product.
- Incorporate new products into your skincare routine slowly - a complete routine overhaul can be exciting, but an overload of new ingredients or products can trigger a reaction in your skin - and make it difficult to identify the true culprit. Instead, slowly and steadily add new products to your regimen. Learn about the iuno skincare protocol and how it can help you have the healthiest skin using science, in 3 months.
Dry, itchy, red, and irritated aren’t the ideal labels to describe your skin. So when you’re feeling sensitive, eliminate exposure to irritants, patch test your products, and look to your body for answers.