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Sensitive Skin: Simply Basic Health And Beauty

Simply basic health and beauty care is the bottom line when it comes to sensitive skin.

Surprised it's so simple? Many people are. Particularly when a 2007 survey by Simple Research found that 83 per cent of women in the UK suffer from some form of skin sensitivity. And by extension, similar numbers could be expected in other western countries.

With that many women in constant torment, you'd think there'd be more information about the causes, risk factors and treatments.

So let's remedy that situation here and now.

Simply basic health and beauty care starts with the delicate area around the eyes because it's particularly susceptible to environmental, emotional and chemical damage. Why? Because it is only about one quarter the thickness of skin elsewhere.

That understanding is key to avoidiong and attacking the problem. 1stholistic defines a sensitive skin as a thin or a fine-textured skin.

"It reacts quickly to both heat and cold; therefore, it sunburns and windburns easily. It is commonly dry, delicate and prone to allergic reactions. Temperature changes, some detergents, cosmetics and alcohol (used on the skin) can all cause irritation, leaving the skin red and blotchy, with visible surface veins," it says.

The widespread belief is that sensitive skin is very common and has many causes. Both true. Getting specific, however, is where simply basic health and beauty ideas start to diverge widely.

Wildcrafted, for instance, says that "Usually it is an allergic reaction to one or more chemicals. The difficulty is in identifying who the culprit is. Soap, make-up, skin care and hair care products, washing powders, detergents, and other chemicals are all capable of instigating an allergic skin reaction in people with sensitive skin."

The Simple research study found that consumers see things quite differently.  When they interviewed over 650 women aged between 16 and 65 about their facial skin type and the key factors that cause skin sensitivities, this is what they found:

1. Stress
Because of today’s hectic lifestyle, two thirds (66 per cent) of respondents experienced skin sensitivity caused by stress. Constant worry can greatly influence the skin’s function and lead to skin, eye and scalp irritations.

Dr. Susie Morris, Consultant Dermatologist and Honorary Senior Lecturer at UCH London NHS Trust says: "The eye zone is more prone to damage because the skin is only 0.5mm thick and lies over a dense capillary network that is prone to puffiness. It becomes stressed by frequent eye movements such as squinting and by rubbing that is commonplace in stressful moments. So if you find yourself in a stressful situation, try to take a couple of minutes out to relax, avoid rubbing the eye and apply a moisturiser that is specifically formulated for the eye area and free from perfume - the cosmetic ingredient that is the biggest source of contact dermatitis."

2. Sun
The sun is seen as equal first on the irritant scale, with 66 per cent of women experiencing sensitivity.

Dr Morris advises “Always use a sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30 for the eyes. Ensure it has both UVA and UVB protection, but avoid applying to the upper lids. Avoid waterproof sunscreen as this does not allow the skin to breathe."

3. Hormonal Changes
Third on the list is hormonal change. Some 64 per cent of women identify this as a problem at key times, such as the menopause and during their teens.

Dr Morris comments: “Skin sensitivity can be caused by hormonal imbalance, but factors such as our genetic profile can also play a part, as sensitive skin can run in the family.”

Jo Givens, Manager of the SIMPLE:SPA in Covent Garden, adds: "It is essential to adjust your skincare regime to the way your skin changes. It is worth visiting a professional skin therapist to get specific advice on a personal regime that adapts to hormonal changes, otherwise you may make the skin sensitivity worse."

4. Make-Up Ingredients
The fourth source of sensitivity is the ingredients in make-up, with 62 per cent of women citing this as a cause of irritation. Perfume, colour and preservatives can all cause skin irritation. Furthermore, make-up bags can be a breeding ground for bacteria if cosmetics are kept for too long.

Caroline Frazer, professional make-up artist and Simple’s resident skincare expert, advises: “Audit your make-up bag on a regular basis and bin any potential skin hazards. Mascara, for example, can cause some potentially harmful eye allergies and you shouldn’t use them for longer than six months.”

The College of Optometrists recently discovered that 92 per cent of women admitted to keeping their mascara for longer than that, and nearly two-thirds use eye make-up that is over two years old.

5. Wind
Half of the women surveyed (50 per cent) said the wind affects their skin.

Jo Givens comments: “We change our wardrobe for windy, cold weather and skincare needs the same approach. Many of the therapists at SIMPLE:SPA see an improvement in customers’ skin tone when a regime has been revised. My advice is to keep it Simple: just like a coat protects you from the wind and the rain, use a barrier and eye cream to keep moisture locked-in and to avoid irritation”.

6. Pollution
The skin is in constant contact with the environment, so it comes as no surprise that 36 per cent of women are affected by pollution which can cause high levels of skin irritation.

Dr Morris says: "To calm irritated eyes, use tea bags soaked in cold water and always create a barrier by wearing a daily eye cream."

7. Perfume
Over a third (36 per cent) of women are irritated by the perfume contained in many skincare products.

Caroline Frazer says: "We all wear perfume as part of our beauty regime so it is essential we avoid it as part of our skincare regime, or we just double up on the damage done."

Dr Morris strongly advocates patch-testing when trialling new products to ensure minimal adverse reactions: "Place a small amount of a new product on your forearm and leave for 24 hours. If you experience any redness, avoid it. Also remember that the eye zone is several times more sensitive than your forearm, so if you experience any redness at all then don't use the product near your eyes."

8. Air Conditioning
The drying effect of air conditioning is accountable for 32 per cent of skin sensitivities and can lead to tight, flaky skin and irritated eyes. As well as making sure your skin is protected with a good moisturiser, eating Vitamin E-rich foods like olive oil, nuts and seeds can help to keep the skin and eye area healthy.

Jo Givens says: "Many of us work in air conditioned offices so it is worth having your favourite moisturiser with you to use during the day, particularly around the eyes which will dry out more quickly. This is especially important on long haul flights when your moisturiser can stop you from landing with skin akin to a prune."

1stholistic also advises that you choose products that do not contain potential allergens such as fragrance or PABA sunscreens. Wash your face with mild baby soap, rinse thoroughly and pat the skin dry with a soft towel; do not use a rough towel.

Never use any makeup or perfume without first trying a little of it on the inside of your wrist to see the reaction of your skin to it, for very few items of makeup agree with a sensitive skin. Every night apply home-made moisturizing cream on your face before retiring for the night.

The company also says that these essential oils are ideal for sensitive skin - Chamomile, Lavender, Neroli, Rose, and Sandalwood.

You see? Caring for sensitive skin really is simply basic health and beauty 101. And all of us can do that!