Surprising though it may seem, sensitive skin is not a skin type in the true sense of the term. In truth, it can affect any skin type, from oily and acne-prone teenage skin, all the way through to dry and mature skin. One thing all sensitive skins have in common is an excessive reaction to harmless stimuli in the environment or skin care products.
But what makes sensitive skin truly unique is the way it evolves over time: over the course of an hour, a day, a year or a lifetime… environmental and hormonal factors can all change the face of sensitive skin.
A day in the life of sensitive skin
Skin has a biologically programmed 24-hour or circadian rhythm, which can affect its sensitivity. At night, lower levels of the anti-inflammatory hormone cortisol combined with a surge of pro-itch mediator histamine can accentuate skin’s sensitivity. The result? A rude awakening, to burning, itching and tight-feeling skin.
But that’s only half the story. The truth is, although skin is partly controlled by pre-programmed physiological mechanisms, a woman’s daily routine can be just as important.
You start the day with a long hot shower, before stepping out into the polluted street air. You grab an Americano on the way to your air-conditioned office. At lunch you catch up with a friend while enjoying a spicy dish on a sunny terrace, then it’s time for your hectic afternoon meeting schedule. After work, you drop by the gym for a pulse-raising workout before heading to your favorite bar for a cocktail with the girls… Any of that sound familiar?
The truth is that each and every one of these daily moments – temperature and humidity changes, pollution, caffeine, spicy food, sun, stress, exercise, alcohol – can heighten the discomfort of sensitive skin.
Sensitive skin through the seasons
Sensitive skin loves stability and hates change. Spring and autumn are its most feared seasons as weather conditions can be unpredictable. With its fragile barrier and hypersensitive nerve endings, skin does not have time to accustom to quickly changing temperatures and humidity levels, which leads to heightened sensitivity.
Each season also brings with it peak pollen levels from different species of plant. In spring, tree pollen prevails, while summer is the season of grasses and autumn is associated with weed pollen. Each wave of pollen has the potential to trigger allergic manifestations in the skin. For many people, this leads to a predictable rise and fall in skin’s sensitivity over the course of the year.
Sensitive skin through the generations
Alongside skin’s circadian rhythm and the changing seasons, longer-term physiological changes can deeply influence its sensitivity level.
- Baby skin: with a cutaneous barrier still “under construction,” baby’s skin is highly prone to redness and irritation. When it comes to cosmetics, less is always better.
- Teenage skin: in a bid to control their oily and acne-prone skin, teens often use harsh cleansers and abrasive scrubs, stripping skin of its natural defences and leaving it hypersensitive.
- Pregnancy and menopause: hormonal fluctuations affect skin’s sebum secretion, which can lead to a weakened barrier function. These same hormones also influence skin’s network of blood vessels, which can worsen flushing and redness.
- Aging skin: as the years pass by, characteristic changes occur within the skin. Sebaceous gland activity diminishes, while both the epidermis and dermis are thinned. Often dehydrated with a poor defensive barrier, aging skin is especially vulnerable to external aggressors.
How to keep skin on an even keel
Sensitive skin is a constantly changing entity, influenced by countless internal and external factors. To maintain its balance and progressively reduce its sensitivity, expert dermocosmetic skincare solutions are at hand.