Derm DMs: What Is Sensitive Skin Syndrome?
Flashback to a few years ago and my skin was relatively normal, maybe a bit acne-prone. But after trying so many serums, oils and acids (I like to try products, OK?), my skin completely changed. It became red and irritable — seemingly out of nowhere. It turns out, I developed sensitive skin syndrome. To find out more about my new skin sensitivity and how to improve my skin barrier, I spoke with Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank, author of the The Pro-Aging Playbook, cosmetic dermatologist and founder of PFRANKMD.
What Is Sensitive Skin Syndrome?
It’s possible to naturally have sensitive skin, but sensitive skin syndrome is a bit different. “Sensitized skin has become sensitive as a response to something, such as a skin-care product or treatment, whereas sensitive skin is an ongoing condition or biologic skin disorder” says Dr. Frank. “With sensitive skin syndrome, skin can show signs of redness, dryness, flakiness, breakouts and burning, particularly when applying products that may have AHAs or BHAs.” It’s also common to develop ingredient allergies and experience irritation.
Ironically, it’s not advisable to try and fix the skin with more skin care. “A common thread in sensitive skin syndrome is overuse of products,” says Dr. Frank. “It doesn’t have to be so complicated to achieve results — excess of anything poses difficulties, particularly in cosmetic dermatology.” He explains that it’s best to keep things simple and only rely on what the skin actually needs, as opposed to flooding it with a thousand different ingredients.
How to Address Sensitive Skin Syndrome
When skin sensitivity develops, Dr. Franks says it’s important to stop using all products and bring the routine back to basics with a simple cleanser like the CeraVe Cream-to-Foam Hydrating Cleanser, moisturizer like the SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Repair and an SPF like the La Roche-Posay Anthelios Melt-in-Milk SPF 100. Using a straightforward and simple routine will allow the moisture barrier to heal and the skin to reset to baseline. If irritation and sensitivity persists, make sure to consult with a board-certified dermatologist.
How to Incorporate New Products
“When adding in products once again, as with trying any new skin care, add them in one at a time to ensure the skin is not irritated and stays in a normal state,” says Dr. Frank. If there’s a reaction, don’t continue using the product in hopes of the skin getting better. “The idea that skin has to become worse before it gets better usually does not hold true with over-the-counter products. So if the skin reacts, don’t use the products.”
Make sure to also look at the ingredients list, use cleansers specific for your skin type and use treatments and serums in moderation. “Beware of products that are marketed as organic or natural too as many of these types of natural products can have very active ingredients that create sensitivity despite being natural,” says Dr. Frank. “For example, fruit stem cells, such as those derived from raspberries or other berries or citrus, can have an irritating effect similar to an acid.”
Design: Hannah Packer