It's a cruel reality that once you're at the age where the little things no longer irk you, your skin takes the opposite turn, turning red, irritated, and flaky at the slightest thing. It's suddenly, well, sensitive! And if you feel like you're constantly trying to soothe skin issues, you're not alone: "I notice that more women are coming into my office and saying they have sensitive skin," says Francesca Fusco, MD, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Indeed, over 50% of women categorize themselves that way.
The reason? Our quest for younger-looking skin may be to blame, says New York City dermatologist Ellen Marmur, MD: "Women are very committed to caring for their skin, but they're often diagnosing themselves with new issues and use so many new products to solve them that they develop irritation," she says. Cleansing religiously, exfoliating too often, and topping it all off with a generous layering of anti-aging products are just a few of the things that send our complexions into a tailspin. Increasing stress and environmental allergies also make skin more prone to problems. (Want the truth behind your favorite anti-aging ingredients? We debunked eight.)
Your Sensitive Symptoms: Taut and itchy skinDespite countless rows of products labeled "for sensitive skin" on store shelves, treating an unruly complexion isn't a one-size-fits-all affair. "Sensitive" products that work well for your friend's skin could just as easily wreak havoc on yours, so it's important to get beyond the general label and figure out what's really bugging your skin. Here, six common symptoms, and the right ways to treat them:
It might mean: Your cleanser is too drying. "It's the number one culprit behind unnecessary irritation," says skin care expert and celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau. Avoid sodium lauryl sulfate and ammonium laureth sulfate, harsh detergents commonly used in facial cleansers and soaps that break down the natural lipids in skin. When this happens, it's like a double whammy. "Little invisible cracks in the skin form, causing moisture to seep out and allowing irritants in. Suddenly, other products in your routine that didn't irritate your skin before might now," she says.
The fix: "Don't wash your face with soap more than once a day," says New Orleans-based dermatologist Mary Lupo, MD. "In the morning, wash with a face moisturizer instead of a cleanser or simply splash water on skin to maintain moisture. Then apply a moisturizer with an SPF." Try CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion AM with SPF 30 ($13; drugstores) or Vichy Capital Soleil Daily Moisturizer Cream with SPF 15 ($32; vichyusa.com). Then, wash your face at night with a sulfate-free cleanser, like Renée Rouleau Gentle Gel Cleanser ($35.50; reneerouleau.com) or The Body Shop Aloe Calming Facial Cleanser ($14.50; thebodyshop-usa.com).
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