Cosmetics: A recent Canadian survey revealed that 78 percent of mean and 50 percent of women describe their skin as “sensitive.” What is sensitive skin?
Dr. Lisa Kellett: This is a topic that confuses a lot of people. Sensitive skin is not a medical term. You won’t find it in any medical journals. It’s a layman’s term and thus is very subjective. The term means different things to different people. There’s no clear definition.
C: If “sensitive skin” isn’t a medical condition, what symptoms are people confusing with sensitive skin?
Dr. LK: Some people who have red or itchy skin describe their skin as sensitive. Others who have a history of eczema or dermatitis also will use the term.
C: Are you seeing an increase of patients that are coming to you with skin irritations?
Dr. LK: Absolutely. There clearly is a rise in patients with this kind of concern.
C: What causes our skin to become more easily irritated as we age?
Dr. LK: As we age, the epidermal barrier is not as efficient as it once was and allows more contact with the environment. This increases the chance of a reaction in the skin. Sun damage is also a big contributor.
C: Does pollution and stress play a role in skin that is more sensitive?
Dr. LK: Perhaps. Both can affect the integrity of the epidermal barrier. We need more scientific studies to really understand this. It’s true that our environment has never been as polluted as it is now. This is a relatively new phenomenon.
C: How do you treat skin that is easily irritated?
Dr. LK: Avoid caustic and irritating substances such as bleach, hair dye, solvents and cleaners.
C: Are there any ways to strengthen the skin and make it more resistant to outside aggressors?
Dr. LK: The use of barrier creams (good moisturizers) is a good way to protect the skin. Make sure it contains a broad-spectrum sunscreen.
C: Can strong scent affect the skin?
Dr. LK: Absolutely. Strong scent can definitely affect the skin. Many products that are labeled fragrance-free actually contain “masking fragrances” anyway. Some common ingredients that are beneficial to the skin naturally give off an unpleasant odour. So, chemists have to mask this with a fragrance. I recommend you the read the label carefully or ask your doctor to read the ingredients label if you are concerned with fragrance in your skincare products.
C: Can you share any tips for soothing skin that is easily irritated?
Dr. LK: It’s the best to use tepid water. Avoid hot water when cleansing. You might want to see a dermatologist for prescription medication (topical and sometime oral) to rapidly soothe skin if it is really irritated.