Page 1 of 3Darn, it happened again! You’ve just tried a new facial cleanser, but instead of the healthy glow you had hoped for, your skin became red, itchy and irritated. With a sigh, you throw the cleanser into the drawer filled with all of your other beauty product rejects—items you can’t use because of your sensitive skin.
While dermatologists define sensitive skin as a severe reaction such as pustules, bumps and sores after using a cosmetic product, most people feel they have sensitive skin if they have mild redness, stinging, burning or tightness soon after using a particular product or if they frequently experience chapped skin or ingrown hairs. And while it is uncomfortable on its own, sensitive skin is often an indicator of a more serious skin condition, such as contact dermatitis, rosacea and eczema—conditions that your dermatologist can diagnose and help you treat.
Contact dermatitis is an inflammation of the skin that occurs when you come in direct contact with an irritant or allergen, such as soap, detergent, fragrance, nickel or other metals, and solvents or other chemicals.
A reaction may occur the first time you’re exposed to the irritant or it can develop over time as the product is used on a regular basis. Symptoms of contact dermatitis include itching, skin redness or inflammation, tenderness, localized swelling, and oozing or crusting sores.
Contact dermatitis can be treated by washing off the irritating substance with lots of water and avoiding further exposure to the substance. Topical steroid medications may reduce inflammation, but in most cases the best treatment is to simply leave the area alone. Healing usually takes place without complications within two or three weeks. Sufferers can help prevent further reactions by avoiding the irritating substance as much as possible or by wearing rubber gloves if contact is unavoidable.
If your skin turns red at the slightest thing and seems to overreact to emotions, temperature changes and spicy foods, you may have a condition called rosacea. Rosacea is also a likely possibility if you have visible blood vessels on the face and permanent skin redness.
Rosacea must be treated by a dermatologist. Your doctor may prescribe prescription creams or perform laser therapy to reduce redness. Lifestyle changes (reducing stress and avoiding extreme temperature fluctuations, spicy foods and intense exercise) can also improve the appearance of rosacea. Wearing proper sun protection at all times is a must for rosacea sufferers.
Do you have red, flaky patches on your elbows that never go away? If so, eczema may be the culprit. Eczema occurs when the outermost layer of the skin is stripped away. This allows moisture to escape and allergens to come in. Patches of eczema commonly show up on the knees, elbows, and tops of the feet, between toes, and on the hands, face and scalp.