Sensitive or Sensitized Skin? That is the question. For many months -not to say years- I thought that my daily redness was only due to my sensitive skin when I actually had sensitized skin. It is fairly common to misdiagnose as they might “look” the same even though they’re fairly different:
- Sensitive skin is a skin type, something you’re born with that’s in your DNA. Being genetic, it can’t truly be fixed, but you can help it.
- Sensitized skin, on the other hand, is a skin condition: typically your skin barrier has weakened due to external and internal factors such as over-exfoliating, using the wrong products, diet, stress, weather… Luckily, if you have sensitized skin you can heal your skin back to its optimal health.
I think over-exfoliating is how my skin truly got sensitized. I’ve never had problems with skin irritation before moving to Berlin. Of course, the weather was a big change for my skin, especially in winter, but my skin was fine until about two years ago after I started my full-time job in Berlin. I was trying out new products every day, exfoliating too often, trying out any “hype” ingredients, using too many actives and switching routines all the time. As exciting as this can be it can really mess up & weaken your skin barrier.
For the past couple of months, I’ve tried to get my sensitized skin under control. After lots of trial and error, I think I finally found a routine and solutions that seem to do the trick. Below you’ll find the steps I followed, and I’ll also share a few of my favourite calming products:
1 – Less is More
When my skin all of a sudden became super irritated and sensitized, I was advised to step back, to use less products and to stick to a minimal routine for a couple of weeks. Cleanser, toner, hydrating serum, cream and/or SPF that’s it. No super fancy oils, no exfoliating, no masks, no acids, no vitamin c, no retinol, no new products. Try to do that for at least two weeks and you should notice your skin noticeably calming down.
2 – Stick to a simple routine
Go back to basics and use products that you know your skin loves and never has issues with. If you can, try to use products that contain ceramides and omegas 3 & 6.
Ceramides are fats/lipids naturally occurring in your skin, they help protect it against aggressions. Omegas 3 & 6 will help with circulation and inflammation. They will also help to strengthen your skin barrier, which is what you want when you have sensitized skin, as this is what will lock in moisture and elasticity.
Also, make sure to use SPF daily and think of incorporating a hydrating serum, as sensitized skin tends to be dehydrated.
3 – Fix some lifestyle habits
If none of the above tips does the trick for your skin, you might want to consider having a look at your lifestyle. Check how much water you drink daily, your coffee & alcohol intake. Do you smoke? How are your stress levels & sleep? Try to eat more fruits & veggies full of antioxidants and vitamins. Skin health is a 360° approach.
4 – Skin Journal
I would pair this one with the previous tip, keeping some sort of skin journal has been pretty helpful to me. The idea is to keep a skin journal for at least a couple months where you keep track of all the products you use, your water, coffee & alcohol intake, if you exercise or not, your meals, your sleep, your period, your stress levels, etc. Anything that can affect the skin goes in there. Ultimately, you’ll be able to find out if your irritations might be triggered by certain types of food, your hormones, the weather, some products, etc.
Keeping a skin journal has helped me figure out that strong exfoliating products were a big skin irritant for me (especially when your skin is already sensitized) as well as the harsh cold wind. It also helped me figure out that I was using a lot of products containing essential oils. Ingredients like essential oil blends, citrus peel extracts, and limonene are natural and are often used in products marketed for sensitive skin, but they are known to cause allergic reactions and sensitize your skin over time. I truly believe that this is one of the main triggers for me. I have been experimenting at the moment and minimizing their use.*
5 – Don’t PANIC
I know this is something that can be easier said than done, but think about what I wrote earlier. Sensitized skin is something that can be reverted so there is no need to panic even though your skin is having a little freak-out.
MY FAVOURITE CALMING PRODUCTS
*I don’t necessarily think that essential oils are inherently bad, I think most people do fine with them and don’t react to them. But if you already have sensitive skin and are experiencing sensitized skin, you might want to have a look at the ingredients on your products.