“A touchy subject” – how to care for sensitive skin?

Holistic therapist and owner of Holos Skincare, Niamh Hogan, advises on caring for sensitive skin

The interview was published in Belfast Telegraph on the 10th of July 2021

What does having sensitive skin actually mean?
Sensitive skin is skin that is easily irritated and is reactive, but is a very broad term as sensitivity can be caused by many factors. It isn’t a one size fits all approach to sensitive skin and when someone presents with sensitive skin, it is wise to try to identify the cause. Knowing the cause is key to finding a balance in the skin.

What causes it?
There are so many causes. A person may be born with a skin disorder like eczema which can flare up due to environmental, dietary or other factors. A person can develop contact dermatitis from coming in contact with just one substance, a new shampoo, cleanser or any other product or maybe they work in an environment where chemicals are used. Rosacea is an inflammatory skin condition that causes redness and sometimes even painful pustules. Rosacea flares can happen with changes in temperature like hot showers or cold winds. Rosacea sufferers report that they can get flare ups from alcohol and spicy foods. There is mounting evidence that Rosacea can be linked to gut health. Using active ingredients incorrectly without proper advice can lead to damage of the skin’s acid barrier and lead to longer term sensitivity.

What should I look for in skincare products that will be less irritating to sensitive skin?
A rule of thumb should be unless a brand says specifically that a product is for sensitive skin, I would always seek advice before using. Elave is such a brand. Other things I would look for in skincare are pH balanced products and Probiotics. The Holos – Super Natural Activity Pre & Probiotic Spritz is a must have for both pH balance and probiotics and will keep the skin barrier strong defending it from pathogens that can cause irritation.

Are there any ingredients I shouldn’t use?
Anything that will upset the skin’s protective barrier so alcohol as a main ingredient should be avoided. Avoid synthetic fragrances and sulphates which can be irritating so use face washes like Elave Skin balancing cleansing gel £13.50. If using Vitamin C, avoid L-ascorbic acid and look for gentler forms of Vitamin C like the Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum £18 which uses sodium ascorbyl phosphate . It is important to mention though that even the most innocuous ingredient has the potential to irritate someone’s skin so if you are unsure about your sensitivity, seek advice. You may also have sensitive skin that is not caused by the use of skincare products, it may be internal but just manifests on the skin.

How should I test for a sensitive skin reaction?
You can only really know by trying a product so seek out sample sizes and test on a small area of the skin. Sometimes reactions are instant, sometimes they are not so getting large enough samples that will do for a few days can help you gain a better understanding of any reaction.

How can I protect sensitive skin in summer?
Include antioxidants like vitamin E which you will find in plant oils and butters in your skincare routine. Holos This is More Get Better Butter is suitable for sensitive skin and is naturally rich in antioxidant vitamins which protect the skin from free radical damage that causes premature ageing. The Shea butter will also help treat any red irritated areas. But the most important thing is SPF when outside in the Summertime.

What do I need to look for in a SPF for sensitive skin?
When choosing an spf, a mineral one is the better choice for those with sensitive skin. A chemical spf absorbs into the skin while a mineral one like Skingredients Skin Shield SPF £39 will be less irritating as it forms a barrier on the skin.

Can you outgrow sensitive skin?
Yes you can outgrow sensitive skin. Some people will have eczema as a child and have it disappear in adulthood. However I would always exercise caution if there is a history there. You can also remove sensitive skin by identifying what is causing it and avoiding it so it may not be a case of outgrowing it but a case of avoiding it.

What are the common mistakes those with sensitive skin make?
Assuming that if something is ‘natural’ it is safe for them to use. Natural skincare can be very potent and covers an array of ingredients that have major skin benefits but also the potential to cause irritation. For example, some natural skincare companies preserve products with ‘denatured alcohol’. which is irritating. Another mistake is assuming you can’t use active ingredients. All skin will benefit from ingredients that penetrate the epidermis and many active ingredients can be found in less irritating forms. Vitamin A which as retinol can be irritating but Bachuciol, a Retinol alternative is non irritating. Check out The Inky List, Bachuciol £10

Are exfoliators recommended?
Harsh exfoliants that have a rough pumice like apricot kernels or acid exfoliants with levels of more than 5% Alpha hydroxy acid can cause irritation and should be avoided. Choose an exfoliant cleanser that is specific for sensitive skin like the PHA Restore cleanser £30 from Neostrata Restore regimen which is an age-defying range specifically designed for sensitive skin. This cleanser allows even those with sensitive skin to get the benefits of active exfoliating ingredients.