The skin is an organ with many functions. One of those functions is as a sensory organ. It can sense pressure, temperatures, itchiness, movement, etc. It is supposed to be responsive (and reactive!) to things that may cause danger to the body.
- We sense a change in environmental elements to protect us from harm. (Examples include hot showers/burns/sun exposure/ice/frostbite)
- Excessive pressure causes pain so that you move away.
- The body’s immune response can cause itchiness so that the body responds appropriately (like pushing out the “toxin” from a bug bite)
You can expect healthy, functional skin to be sensitive to its surroundings and reactive in the instances where it is truly in danger. It is only doing its vital job of being a continually transforming barrier (with a communication element) that is your body’s first line of defense.
There are two instances, however, that we come across regularly and recognize as a symptom of skin dysfunction. Though they both present in a similar way (which is often referred to as “sensitivity”) the underlying conditions differ, so finding relief in each instance may take a slightly different path.
Much of the time when we describe our skin as “sensitive” we may mean that it is reactive and has a hyper (immune system) response to a triggering situation, even if the situation is not actually dangerous. This is usually the case when there is miscommunication between the skin and the immune system. Some look at these as “allergenic” or “autoimmune” issues. We like to think of them as simply a case of “confusion” where the body is getting “too many messages” and not enough “translators.”
Although it takes more than just switching up skin care products to turn around a hyperactive immune response (particularly if it is a systemic problem), it is a good idea to follow these skin care guidelines when your skin experiences this type of sensitivity.
- Mineral Mist: When your skin is reactive, It is prudent to avoid using a pure hydrosol or flower water as a toner. There are too many “messages” from it being in the most pure form with no minerals (because it is distilled) to help your body translate them. Instead, be sure to use one of our Mineral Mists (perhaps Sense & Sensitivity) to emulsify your Nourish & Replenish Oil in your Moisture Duo so that you are providing the full gamut of what the body needs and not just a raw material. This not only provides the skin with what it needs at that moment, but can even improve skin function so that it is less reactive to everything else in the future.
- Limitations: Limit your use of skin care products that contain artificial ingredients such as emulsifiers and preservatives. Sometimes the body looks at them as aggressors and will wage war. Limiting your topical skin care to the most basic Functional Regimen will help you to avoid typical allergens and excess “messages.”
AM: Rinse with water, apply your Moisture Duo
PM: Rotate cleansers between NO EVIL, Integrity Biome Mask, and Sense & Sensitivity Clay Mask, mist your face with 5-6 sprays of Mineral Mist (see below) and go to bed without moisturizing.
- If you have been using products/drugs that suppress immune response (ex: anti-inflammatories, steroids) to keep the reactivity “under control” do not stop the suppression “cold turkey” because that which has been kept under control will be given the opportunity to go “out of control” and you may not be ready for that yet.
- Book a facial that includes an Integrative Therapy for Reducing Redness and Reactivity where you will be guided through the necessary self-care steps towards reaching a place where your skin is no longer reactive while getting a relaxing service that will soothe and calm your current redness.
Another symptom that is often referred to as “sensitive skin” is what we consider sensitized skin. Sensitized skin is skin that has been worn down to a point where it is having a hard time rebuilding itself again.
When the skin is BROKEN DOWN (“cleansed”) more than it is given the opportunity to BUILD UP, we often find ourselves in a deficiency state where the skin cannot defend itself well. This deficiency state can create an inflammatory response that results in a dysfunctional feedback loop with the immune system which makes it extremely difficult for the skin’s barrier to repair and protect itself.
What could sensitize skin or trigger an event that leads to sensitized skin?
- Strong “peels” – Products that strip the skin or strongly exfoliate can damage the barrier function when used improperly.
- Drugs and vitamins “confuse” the skin which can lead to a damaging feedback loop that in turn leads to sensitized skin.
- Essential Oils – Many “natural” skin care companies and DIY tips on the internet promote using a high percentage of essential oils for regular skincare. We believe that this is too much and recommend extremely small amounts. We use less than 1/100th of a percent essential oils in the two facial products where we use them. Most of the time don’t use them at all.
Poorly formulated products or using raw materials as if they are a professionally formulated product
- Antioxidant Oils -Once the open electrons that invite free radical damage have been saturated, antioxidants become irritating aggressors. Putting “pure” oils that are high in antioxidants (pomegranate, rosehip, carrot) may not irritate the skin immediately, but if used in the purest form over a period of time (more than 3-6 weeks) the skin may start to become sensitized—making it more reactive to everything. We have found that a balanced mix of these oils (Seeds of Change) for 3 weeks out of each season (that’s only 4 times a year!) to be the most beneficial.
- Using oil “like a moisturizer” (either “pure” or in a mix) by putting it straight on the skin or using a higher percentage of oil than water in your Moisture Duo will start to create a dependency on the oil which, in turn, tells your skin to produce less of its own oils. This degrades the barrier.
Too much of any one type of cleansing
Our recommendations: Gentle if any, staying away from strong acids and heavy scrubbing—herb/grain based a few times a week.
Our recommendations: Only a few times a week-no more than once every 24 hours.
Our recommendations: Once a week is enough, unless there is a specific situation we are focusing on. Then follow your esthetician’s advice for frequency until the desired result is reached and then return to once a week.
Our recommendations: Very, very rarely if at all.
What can you do?
- You may try to first resolve this issue by switching up your topical regimen in the way described above for reactive skin, but unfortunately, home care alone is not usually enough to allow your body to resolve the issue.
- Book a facial that includes an Integrative Therapy for Barrier Repair which starts with a unique “Clearing Serum” which is the first step in breaking the feedback loop and turning around the situation. You will be guided through the necessary home-care regimen that will allow your skin’s barrier function to rebuild itself while getting a relaxing service and leave the facial considerably less red and with smoother skin than when you came in.
- Are you overdoing it?
- Are you trying to use raw materials as if they are properly formulated preparations?
- Is the source that you are getting the information/recipe from qualified?
Determining if you are reactive:
- Specific ingredients cause either redness or itching
- Most skin care products tend to make you feel irritated
- Your skin feels tight and itchy underneath, even if it looks fine on top
Determining if you are sensitized and in need of barrier repair:
- Your face seems to get more and more flushed as time goes on
- Putting on product quells the redness momentarily but does not make it better long-term
- The more oil/moisturizer you use, the drier you feel
Writing by Emma Graves
Emma, a certified herbalist & highly skilled aesthetician who has been working in natural skin care since 1998, originally developed the Between You and the Moon product line to serve her clients in finding a method of natural, holistic skin care that provided tangible results. A 4+ generation holistic practitioner, her love of skin care and holistic methods was chronicled in her early blog “The Pimple Whisperer,” some of which is still available on this website.