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Sensitive Skin

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Sensitive skin care is an important topic for the professional aesthetician. Why? Because sensitive skin is very common in today's population plus it is a condition that can be quite challenging to recognize and treat. For example, some people do not care for their skin properly or use harsh products. Usually, this results in some sort of irritation or dryness that leads individuals to think that they have sensitive skin. So then, what is sensitive skin? This condition is difficult to define. However, in general terms, sensitive skin can be defined as skin that is easily irritated and the results can range from mild to severe.

How do you know if a client has sensitive skin and requires sensitive skin care? Difficult question to answer. In fact, licensed professionals often have difficulty recognizing and treating this condition. Nevertheless, there are common signs or symptoms that lead one to conclude that they have sensitive skin. Once it has been established that your client's skin is sensitive, the next step is to manage it. Unfortunately, many individuals get very frustrated with this problem. This article will go deeper into sensitive skin issues and address individuals who have skin reactions with only minor exposure to some sort of irritant.
Sensitive skin manifests as erythema (redness) and edema (swelling) from a range of reactions based on the skin's own chemical components or from a chemical that comes in contact with the skin. About 40 to 56 percent of Americans suffer from sensitive skin. This can include redness, tightness and stinging, flushing or irritation of the skin, peeling, swelling, rashes or acne. These symptoms may be caused by an environmental factor or genetic predisposition. Sensitive skin can begin from birth and can continue throughout the years, even for the elderly. Redness can occur quickly and last minutes, can come and go in cycles, or may become permanent. Repeated stress and inflammatory reactions can be the cause of a persistent chronic condition.
Skin allergies are usually found in people with dry skin (lack of sebum production). The reason for this is that the damaged skin can be penetrated more easily when it is dry and has difficulty blocking allergens due to an impaired barrier function. The lipid barrier consists of fatty substances that help form the skins protective barrier. The lipid barrier is located in the stratum corneum. Beneath the stratum corneum, the lipids in the intercellular spaces are also responsible for the barrier function of skin. They protect skin cells from moisture loss and supply a fresh source of lipids to the lipid barrier in the stratum corneum. A compromise of lipid barrier function can result in:


  1. Increase of moisture loss leading to dry, scaly or cracked skin.
  2. Further damage occurring with moisture loss in skin cells in the lower layers of the epidermis. The health of the cell is affected because dehydrated cells function poorly. The immune system of the skin eventually becomes weakened.
  3. Finally, the risk of infection or the incidence of other skin diseases increases. Secondary effects of gaps in the lipid barrier can show up as bacteria-related acne, eczema, rosacea-type inflammation, atopic dermatitis and skin congestion among other problems.

Environmental changes can make dealing with sensitive skin worse. Changes in the seasons can have serious effects on the skin. When the temperatures get cold during the winter, it can take the moisture out of the skin. This can cause the skin to get itchy and crack, which can be painful. High humidity can cause the body to sweat more and heat up faster. Once this happens, the skin can become red, blotchy and irritated. Humidifiers and dehumidifiers can help in keeping the moisture in and out of the air as the seasons change. Too much sun exposure can also make the skin dry, irritated and sunburned. It is important to wear sunscreen when being exposed to the sun and to moisturize after sun exposure.
Food allergies may cause the skin to break out in hives. Avoiding these foods is the best way to stop symptoms from occurring. It may also be helpful to read the ingredients of packaged foods. A lack of B complex vitamins can also create skin sensitivity. Eating foods such as whole grains, wheat germ, oatmeal, fish, egg and almonds can help.
Cosmetic sensitivity can usually be attributed to fragrances and preservatives. Sensitive skin types should be cautious of products that contain fragrances. These individuals will need to invest in natural based products that contain natural preservatives and fragrances. It is wise to read the labels of cosmetic products to know what is topically and internally going into the skin. Always begin a new product by testing only a small area of skin surface at a time, and gradually increase the amount applied as skin seems to tolerate the new preparation to avoid provoking sensitive nerve endings. An example of sensitive nerve endings is when the individual tries on a new cream and almost instantly gets a powerful stinging reaction. If you notice any problems on your skin (i.e. flakiness or redness), switch to a different product.
Avoid products that contain chemical petroleum by products, parabens, mineral oil, sodium lauryl sulfate, phthalates, artificial dyes, synthetic fragrances or creams that contain alcohol. Natural ingredients are easily absorbed and less likely to irritate sensitive skin.

Products containing these ingredients are effective in the treatment of sensitive skin:

  • Licorice root extract – anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.
  • Shea butter – derived from the seed or nut of the karite tree, contains numerous fatty acids and triglycerides rich in natural tocopherol (vitamin E) antioxidants to soften and moisturize skin.
  • Willow herb – a natural alternative to hydrocortisone to reduce inflammation, irritation and propionibacterium.
  • Totarol – a potent anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory derived from the totara tree in New Zealand is a gentle alternative to benzyl peroxide.
  • Hydrocortisone – an anti-inflammatory cortico-steroid is very effective in managing flare ups of itching, redness and skin irritation.
  • Pumpkin seed oil – an antioxidant rich in zinc, magnesium, iron phosphorate ferulic and alpha-linolenic acid and vitamin A to aid in the skins natural healing processes.
  • Enzymes – are capable of effecting changes in the appearance of the skin such as releasing dead skin cells to decongest clogged pores and soften wrinkles. They also act as protectants, capturing free radicals preventing damage to the skin caused by environmental pollution, smoking, bacteria, sunlight and other harmful factors.
  • Chamomile – is soothing, anti-inflammatory and used for wound healing and lightening.
  • Saponaria extracts – also known as soapworts, are cultivated for their attractive flowers; they grow freely in any soil and under most conditions. The crushed leaves have been used as soap since the Renaissance. Its naturally-foaming action removes impurities and excess oils without affecting even the most hyper sensitive of skin.

Living with sensitive skin can be difficult, but there are treatments and products available for most causes of sensitive skin. There have been major breakthroughs in recent years when it comes to what sensitive skin can be exposed to and through proper skin analysis and consultation professionals can recommend treatments and products that can benefit your client's skin.

Lyn Ross, president and founder of the Atlanta-based Institut'ť DERMed, is a Georgia-Board Certified master aesthetician, entrepreneur and an innovator. Utilizing 23 years in skin care as a trainer and teacher, Ross has combined educational opportunities, approaches and products to create a unique MediClinical skin care salon that continues to set trends in beauty and fitness industries. Two Atlanta locations, a teaching institute, and an emerging franchise later, she is now offering clients a full range of skin care services and a therapeutic line of cosmeceuticals that contain the highest concentration of active ingredients available without prescriptions. In Fall 2001, Ross renamed her spas Institut' DERMed, formerly known as Dermess, to reflect the importance she places on educating clients and her staff. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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