by Allison Marks

by Allison Marks

Sensitive Skin Guide

Sensitive Skin vs. Skin that Breaks Out- Everything you need to know:


I often find when clients are explaining their skin to me they say “my skin is sensitive”. The first question I then ask is; what do you mean by “sensitive”. “Do you mean sensitive in the way that products sting and burn or sensitive in the form of breakouts”. Many of us think our skin is sensitive because it breaks out so in this post I want to clarify the difference between breakouts and sensitivity.

Breakouts are a condition typically caused by incorrect product use, hormonal fluctuations, comedogenic ingredients, or dirt, oil, and trapped debris.

Sensitive skin you inherit- the tendency toward allergic rashes or redness potentially linked to rosacea and inflammation.

Here is where I find the confusion often lies: Sensitized skin, including breakouts are caused by lifestyle choices or too many aggressive treatments. The key words being aggressive treatments. There is an increase in skin inflammation or sensitive skin issues due to usage of too many products and more highly active products. Case in point, my mother and grandmother never had upwards of 10 skincare products in their beauty routines!  The overuse of active products can impair the skin’s barrier function (which helps keep bacteria out and moisture in) therefore leaving the skin overexposed. An impaired barrier function is what manifests as flakiness and redness. Overuse of active and drying acne products is often the reason why you break out and define your skin as sensitive.

Here is a guide to help calm your skin:

Skip Acids- if your skin stings and burns, avoid AHA’S (glycolic acid), BHA’S (salicylic acid), Retinol and for some Vitamin C (ascorbic acid). Exfoliation is still important so try Lactic Acid and fruit enzymes as they are gentler forms.

See your Dermatologist- if you have chronic redness or flushing as you may have rosacea. You will also want to use caution with chemical exfoliants (AHA’S, BHA’S, and retinols) and physical exfoliants (scrubs and facial brushes).

Avoid Perfume- products containing fragrance, including essential oils as they can cause an allergic reaction.

Wear SPF- Avobenzone often causes the most stinging so look for physical blocks with Zinc Oxide.

Avoid Heat- Heat and excessive humidity can exacerbate sensitive skin. Keep the blowdryer away from your face, don’t run hot water over your face in the shower, and make sure to not let the heater or a/c in your car blow directly on your skin.

Avoid Sulfates- sulfates (SLS) are harsh detergents in some facial cleansers that strip the skin of its natural protective barrier worsening potential for breakouts and flushing.

Eat anti-inflammatory foods (such as, green leafy vegetables, walnuts, chia seeds, bone broth, blueberries) and cut back on alcohol and processed sugar- we now have studies showing sugar causes inflammation within the body which can show up in the skin through redness and puffiness. Inflammation is also a precursor to accelerated skin aging. Avoid spicy foods, hot liquids, and caffeine as they can exacerbate redness.

Manage stress- yoga and meditation help me stay calm but for others spending time in nature or hanging with their pet lowers stress just as effectively.

Thanks for stopping by and reading x

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