Like snowflakes, fingerprints, and latte orders, each of our skin types is uniquely ours. That’s why natural skincare is so beneficial – we’re able to customize products to suit our different lifestyles, ethics, cultures, and needs. Your go-to emollient may wreak havoc on your friend’s more oily skin, but her tea tree oil may make your skin impossibly dry.
So where do you start? There are some commonalities between the needs of different skin types that can help guide you to the types of products and lifestyle changes that may be best for you. In this series, we’ll go through some tested, tried and true methods for bringing out your skin’s natural beauty based on your type. We’ll start with inflamed and sensitive skin types.
Part 1: Lifestyle and Skincare Secrets for Sensitive and Inflamed Skin
A word to the wise, though: experimentation is the name of the game for any natural skincare regimen. Though all these tips and lifestyle modifications are based on needs of sensitive or easily-inflamed skin, find what best suits your unique skin type by trying out different combinations and products.
How to determine if you have sensitive skin
Visit any cosmetics or drugstore and you’ll see tons of products labeled “for sensitive skin.” But what does that actually mean?
Even doctors and research scientists are confused about what constitutes sensitive skin. A 2006 paper noted that
“There is no internationally accepted consensus regarding the criteria which define sensitive skin. For some, any adverse reaction to a product topically applied to sensitive skin, including breakouts, redness, scaling etc. Others include environmental factors as causative, including cold, dry wind, heat and high humidity, solar radiation, etc., which add to the manifest complexities of the subject.”
Upwards of 50% of women report having sensitive skin. But according to Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, co-director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery in Washington,
“[Sensitive skin is] an overused phrase, People may be overusing their products, leading to irritation.” In fact, overusing products, especially anti-aging products can lead to irritation, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your skin is sensitive.
a few simple ways to determine if your skin is actually sensitive.
- If you touch your skin with medium pressure and it turns red, there’s a good chance it will be very sensitive to any products with fragrance or unnatural dyes.
- When applied to your skin, most products cause a stinging or burning sensation.
- You have allergies or hay fever. There’s a connection between having allergies and having sensitive skin, especially eczema.
- If you’ve been diagnosed with eczema, rosacea, or frequent allergic reactions, there’s a good chance your skin is prone to sensitivity and inflammation as well.
If you don’t have any of the above but still feel your skin is sensitive, try reducing the number of products you use for a few weeks and see if the irritation goes away.
Lifestyle changes for managing sensitive and inflamed skin
Besides skin care, there are some alterations that you can make to your daily routine that will greatly help in managing your inflammation-prone skin.
Drink up… water, that is.
Excess caffeine and alcohol can dehydrate sensitive skin, so limiting your intake of both is beneficial. When you drink alcohol, the body metabolizes it, releasing a byproduct called acetaldehyde that is toxic to body tissues. It causes dryness and inflammation of skin, while releasing a histamine that dilates capillaries that increase redness.
Steering clear of binge drinking – or at the very least, drinking more water when going for that second martini – can help decrease these effects. Similarly, caffeine acts as a diuretic in the body, leading to wrinkles and premature aging.
Always wash up before bed
If you have sensitive skin, never, ever, EVER skip removing your makeup before bed! Skin renews itself while you sleep – if you still have residual cosmetics on your skin, this important step is prevented. Makeup can also seep into your pores while it’s trying to “breathe,” causing breakouts. One of my favorite natural products for removing makeup is jojoba oil – you can also add in some rosewater for extra calming and detoxifying effects.
Manage your stress levels
Managing your stress is one of the single most important things you can do for your skin, your body, and your overall wellbeing. Stress has been called a “worldwide epidemic” by the World Health Organization, thanks in part to a push for productivity and taking on more and the omnipresence of technology.
Getting a good amount of sleep and setting healthy boundaries will do more for you and your skin than a fancy product ever could. Many people also find that introducing a mindfulness practice that includes yoga or meditation also helps them feel more balanced and decreases cortisol, the stress hormone.
Skincare basics for sensitive and inflamed skin
Always Start Small
If you have this skin type, using a “patch test” any time you introduce a new ingredient into your routine is a must. Sample your product on a small patch of skin, and then observe effects for 24 hours before using it more broadly.
Keep it simple
More than any other type, people with sensitive and inflammation-prone skin can benefit from a more natural beauty regimen that’s free of potentially harmful additives. I personally have eczema and have found using fewer products with fewer ingredients has been the key to reducing my skin’s inflammation.
Exfoliate Once or twice a week, no more.
I love exfoliating products just as much as the next gal. But if you have sensitive skin, go easy! Harsh rubbing and scrubbing are no-nos for those with this skin type. Once or twice a week with a gentle, natural exfoliant is okay, but any more than that can cause chronic irritation. Some of my favorite natural exfoliants for sensitive skin are oatmeal and baking soda, but avoid overly-acidic or alkaline products that could be too astringent.
Because your skin may be sensitive to any number of ingredients, it’s best to make sure you are buying the best possible ingredients to prevent them from being adulterated. “High-quality” doesn’t always mean expensive. One exception is essential oils. Usually, the best quality oils are expensive (but worth it!). But, if you are making your own skincare products, you can save a huge amount versus buying commercial products.
The best natural ingredients for sensitive skin
Embrace Gla-rich oils
If you or someone you know suffer from psoriasis, eczema, or atopic dermatitis, science has found a solution that may help tame the redness and itchiness. GLA-rich oils may be the answer you’ve been waiting for to treat inflammatory skin disorders. A double-blind clinical trial from 2007 found borage oil to be an effective treatment for atopic dermatitis with no side effects. Borage oil has a fishy smell, so if that bothers you (like it does me) opt for evening primrose oil.
Roman Chamomile, Rose Geranium, and Patchouli help calm Inflammation
If you have sensitive skin, I’ve said it before, but chamomile is one of my all-time-favorite botanicals for sensitive skin. As a natural antiseptic and anti-inflammatory product, adding a few drops of chamomile to any product will calm and soothe easily-irritated pores. Rose geranium and patchouli also have similar benefits. If you mix all three together, the aroma is magical. As for dosage, also aim for essential oils to be less than 1% of the total of your product. I often aim for .5% to .75% in a facial lotion.
Hydrate your skin with honey and glycerin
Honey is another go-to for warding off inflammation and drawing moisture to the skin. Composed of mainly fructose and glucose, it’s packed with proteins, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals that boost your sensitive skin to its fullest potential while staying gentle enough to not irritate it. Check out my DIY Face Mask recipe to give yourself to a sensitive skin-friendly treat. Glycerin provides similar benefits with less stickiness.
Calm irritation with green Tea Extract
Green tea is a miracle for the skin and has been known to reduce inflammation and help calm skin conditions like rosacea. The great news is you can get benefits from green tea both by consuming it (gotta love a matcha latte!) and applying it to the skin. Green tea extract contains polyphenols which are responsible for the anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Start by adding green tea to a facial mask like the DIY Clean Green Acne-Fighting Face Mask. Then, ss you start to “level up” your beauty routine, consider adding green tea extract to your DIY lotions.
“Level Up” DIY Skincare Tips for Sensitive and Inflamed Skin
- Chug chug chug. If you drink alcohol, always drink lots of water afterward to counter the effects of acetaldehydes. This is always a good idea but especially important for those with sensitive or inflamed skin.
- Keep it clean. Always wash your face before bed and wash your pillowcases frequently.
- Manage your stress levels. Stress can cause a number of issues that can affect your skin. Consider yoga, meditation, and aromatherapy to help reduce tension.
- Test it out. When using anything new, always start with a patch test to see how the product will react. For some people, the effects will be instant. Other times, the product can take up to a week before you notice an effect.
- Be gentle. Avoid over exfoliation or over scrubbing your skin. Gently exfoliate no more than twice a week.
- Keep it simple. When in doubt, use a few ingredients as possible. You’ll be amazed by what a few, high–quality ingredients can do for your skin.