If you’re frequently experience itching, burning, redness, or rashes, then you might have sensitive skin.
Or maybe your skin’s just dry.
If you experience adverse reactions to things like glycolic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or topical retinoids—that’s surely sensitive skin.
Or, well, maybe you’re having an allergic reaction.
The point is, skin is complicated, and what you might self-diagnose as a sensitivity is actually something far more manageable. Here are five myths about sensitive skin, plus five tips for easing the burn.
Myth #1: The product’s the problem
Yes, it’s possible that you’re having a reaction to something you rubbed on your face. But sensitive skin is generally more complex than that, says board-certified dermatologist Jennifer S Kitchin, MD, FAAD. “We believe the cause is an increased permeability of the upper layer of the skin, known as the stratum corneum,” she says. And that’s bad for two reason: Permeable skin could be letting offending compounds in, and it could also be letting water out. So oftentimes, sensitive skin lacks the moisture required to preserve harmony at the surface.
>Limit Your Shower Time: Hot water opens pores and lets moisture escape, so rather than blast yourself with near-scalding water, Dr. Kitchin advises that you stick to mild-temperature showers lasting no more than 5 minutes. And if your skin feels dry, consider skipping a day or two. Let that natural body oil (and possibly aroma) do its work.
Myth #2: Sensitivity makes your skin feel dry
Actually, you probably have that backwards: Dryness is often the primary culprit here. People get the causality mixed up. “While sensitive skin might also be dry, dry skin might not necessarily be sensitive,” Dr. Kitchin says. Again, hot showers and baths could be to blame. But so could dry, cold weather and indoor heating. And all this could be exacerbated by a harsh cleanser that strip oil from your skin. The point is: Your skin probably isn’t sensitive. It’s just abused.
>Moisturize twice per day: After washing your face in the morning and before bed, apply a gentle moisturizer, like our Performance Skincare. It’s made without parabens, sulfates, dyes, or other common irritants.
Myth #3: Sensitive skin is an allergic response
Allergies follow a different pathology than sensitive skin, according to the Brazilian Society of Dermatology. An as Dr. Kitchen notes, sensitivity generally centers on the face, while allergies are more likely to manifest all over the body. But that’s not a hard-fast rule. “Other areas where we commonly see sensitive skin include the forearms, scalp, hands, and groin,” she says. That said, if you’re noticing acute reactions to strong ingredients like benzoyl peroxide, topical retinoids, and glycolic acid, that’s a good reason to see a dermatologist, says Kitchin. It could be a sensitivity, an allergy, or something unrelated.
>Avoid harsh products: Products with dyes, preservatives, and chemical fragrances are common culprits for rashes and reactions. The problem is, it’s hard to isolate the offending ingredient, so most good-for-you products (ahem, Asystem Performance Skincare!) avoid them entirely.
Myth #4: Organic and natural products are better for sensitive skin
This is one of the single most pervasive and unfounded myths about sensitive skin, says Dr. Kitchin. Terms like “organic” and “all-natural” sound wholesome, but they don’t necessarily make a product more compatible with your skin. “Some of these products have been put through studies and provide the gentle yet effective results that they claim to produce,” she says. But it really comes down to the individual ingredient—not whether or not it’s natural.
>Be skeptical of labels: The more buzzwords you see on a label, the more you should question whether the product inside is any good. Don’t forget: Poison ivy is organic and natural, but you probably don’t want it in your moisturizer.
Okay big guy! Look, you may luckier than others when it comes to your body’s reaction to environmental assaults, but that doesn’t mean you’ll never have a reaction, says Dr. Kitchin. Odds are, your day will come—especially as your skin accumulates damage related to aging and sunlight. When the irritation occurs, you’ll want to pay attention to what might have triggered it. If it’s a specific product, you’ll notice a reaction within several minutes to several hours. But if it’s a change in the environment—temperature, altitude, and so on—then you’ll want to be sure you’re combating the problem with that twice-daily moisturizer we keep harping on.
>Hit the SPF: In the short term, UV damage from the sun can burn your skin. In the long term, it breaks down cells, increases the odds of skin cancer, and can lead to premature aging. Oh—and it can increase sensitivity, too. Shield your skin from UV rays with an SPF of 30 or higher every single day, even in winter. It’ll keep your skin health, and you’ll avoid looking like Mickey Mantle’s baseball glove when you’re older.