By Michelle Konstantinovsky
Breakouts, redness and burning, oh my! If you're among the millions of people with sensitive skin, you know these afflictions all too well. But sensitivity doesn't have to lead to suffering — the right diagnosis and products can help you steer clear of skin snafus for good.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), there are four distinct types of sensitive skin: acne, rosacea, burning and stinging, and contact dermatitis (this includes allergies and irritants). All types are characterized by inflammation, but each category has a slew of specific attributes. Addressing these aspects directly is your best bet to clear, problem-free skin.
Symptoms: Whiteheads, blackheads and pimples.
How common: 40 to 50 million Americans have acne, according to the AAD.
Ingredients to avoid: Acne sufferers should steer clear of pore-clogging products, and stick with cosmetics and toiletries that are labeled "noncomedogenic" (meaning they don't clog pores). And though it may seem sensible to battle pimples with harsh cleansers, experts advise using a more mild approach. "[Common skin irritants] are regular or harsh soaps," says Dr. Jeffrey Benabio, dermatologist at Kaiser Permanente in San Diego. "Soaps or any type of shampoo strip all the oil off your skin causing irritation. The less natural oil you have — from aging or strong soap — the more likely your skin is to be sensitive or suffer an itchy rash."
Treatments: Anti-inflammatory ingredients and antibacterials, including antibiotics, benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid and retinoids. For acne on the body, gentle, mild cleansers can help. Dr. Benabio also recommends moisturizing every day after showering to keep your skin well hydrated.
Symptoms: Facial flushing, pimples, broken blood vessels on the face.
Cause: The cause of rosacea is not completely known, but according to the National Rosacea Society, people with the disorder tend to have facial blood vessels that dilate too easily, and the increased blood near the skin surface creates redness and flushing. Factors such as heat, anxiety or alcohol consumption can trigger flare-ups and increase redness. "Heat causes excessive perspiration that can cause chaffing in areas of friction [like the] arms, legs and breasts," says Corrie V. Alford, MD, dermatologist and lead physician at the Kaiser Permanente Cumberland Medical Center in Atlanta, GA. "It's also a well known trigger for rosacea flares."
How common: Rosacea is estimated to affect well over 14 million Americans.
Ingredients to avoid: The National Rosacea Society recommends steering clear of alcohol, witch hazel, menthol, peppermint, eucalyptus oil or clove oil, which can all cause stinging, burning, or facial redness. Dermatologist Leslie Bauman, MD, also advises staying away from products that contain vitamin C and alpha hydroxyl acids (AHAs), as they are acidic and can cause stinging.
Treatments: Anti-inflammatory ingredients that do not cause irritation are the best way to keep symptoms at bay because they reduce the redness and inflammation caused by rosacea and prevent facial flushing. Products that include caffeine, sulfure, sulfacetamide and natural ingredients such as feverfew, chamomile, green tea and licorice extract can be helpful. If the problem is exacerbated by heat, Dr. Alford recommends avoiding excessively long and hot showers or baths.