The other day I sat down and looked at all of the responses we got in the past year from people who have completed our skin quiz. It turns out that 1 in 4 people have “sensitive skin.” Me too! Sometimes, I feel like my skin reacts to everything. I get redness, itching, burning, sometimes swelling and it often ends up feeling like sandpaper.
This kind of inflammation of the skin is called dermatitis. Contact dermatitis is skin inflammation that is caused by direct skin contact with some kind of irritant. There are two main types of skin inflammation caused by skin care and cosmetics:
Irritant contact dermatitis, is BY FAR the most common form of dermatitis from cosmetics and skincare. Some studies have found that anywhere between 20% and 30% of people are affected in any given year. It can be harder to work out what is going on here. For strong irritants, a skin reaction can happen within minutes or hours of exposure, but with weaker irritants, it may take days or even weeks of continued exposure before you develop the rash.
Allergic contact dermatitis, which is an immune system reaction and affects around 1.3- to 1.4 people in 100. The rash tends to happen after a slight delay- more than 12 hours after contact with the allergen and peaks about 48 hours after exposure. While it is rare, you might not figure out the exact allergen unless you get your skin patch tested by an allergist or dermatologist.
Both forms of this kind of dermatitis are more likely to happen in people who get some sort of eczema anyway and people who are over 50.
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So let’s bring that back to reacting to skincare.
If you develop redness and stinging, at a cellular level you have inflammation and impaired skin barrier function. That means your skin ends up being more prone to sun damage, infections and aging. The most likely culprits are;
- Fragrance. You may see the term Fragrance or Perfume on an ingredient list. These terms relate to more than 5000 different artificial fragrances used in cosmetics and skincare products. Sometimes they’re used to make the product smell nice. Sometimes, fragrances are used to mask another chemical odour in the skincare. Either way they are a very common source of irritation. (While all our skincare is all perfume free, some products use a tiny amount of essential oil to hide the chemical smell)
- Preservatives. The second leading culprit are the various preservatives that are needed to make sure your skincare doesn’t go off or get invaded by microbes! Check your skincare for parabens, methylisothiazolinone
- Chemical sunscreens. Allergy to sunscreens affects around 1% of us.
So, what is hypoallergenic skincare?
This is skincare that avoids the fragrances, preservatives and chemical sunscreens that are most likely to cause contact dermatitis. But the term “hypo-allergenic” isn’t regulated and any skincare can claim that title. I suggest you do your research and check the ingredients for yourself. A quick search of the National Library of Medicine revealed literally hundreds of cases of reactions to all sorts of ingredients. NO skincare can guarantee to give no reactions to anyone!
If you are prone to sensitive skin yourself, try patch testing your ingredient on the inside of your elbow or wrist first. You’ll need to wait at least 24 hours before you can conclude that you won’t react!