Understanding Sensitive Skin 1st Oct 2017 | By Dr Kesiree Naidoo Thousands of ingredients are used by the cosmetics and skincare industry, including pure compounds, plant extracts, oils and waxes, preservatives, surfactants, detergents and polymers. While all ingredients used are tested for safety, some patients may still experience reactions to some of them.There are 2 types of reactions that may be seen.The most common is the primary irritant contact reaction. This tends to be of rapid onset following contact with the irritant ingredient, and causes mild discomfort, redness and possibly scaling of the skin.An allergic contact reaction on the other hand, is often delayed, persistent, and sometimes severe.More than 50% of the general population perceives their skin as sensitive, and this is often related to impaired barrier function. The human skin is constantly exposed to environmental stress, including changes in humidity, extreme temperatures, pollution, and daily topically-applied products, including soaps and household chemicals. These factors can lead to the removal of the epidermal barrier lipids, thus leading to impaired barrier function. Ingredients that have been used in the past can become irritating to the skin, because of the increased penetration into the skin.A wide variety of procedures and ingredients can act as irritants.Mechanical, chemical and environmental factors can act alone or in combination to produce skin irritation.Mechanical factors: cosmetic procedures such as waxing, laser therapy, dermabrasionChemical factors: solvents, some acids, alkaline substances such as soapsEnvironmental elements: air-conditioning, food allergies, prolonged exposure to water.These factors contribute to skin irritation, the disruption of the skin barrier and increased trans-epidermal water loss.Other common irritants in cosmetic formulations are fragrances, preservatives and some botanical ingredients.In order to manage cosmetic intolerance syndrome, we need to focus on maintaining and supporting the integrity of the skin barrierIf the skin barrier is working well, it will retain water effectively. If it is defective the skin will become dry and dull, and this means that irritants can penetrate more rapidly, causing sensitivity.Much like a security guard for your skin, the barrier is there to stop potential irritants from passing through, and to protect what lies beneath!So follow these simple steps to restore and maintain your skin barrier function:Avoid foaming cleansers containing sodium laureth sulphate. Avoid astringents, like alcohol on the skinAvoid physical granular scrubs or skin buffers, as these are too harsh on the skinDo not wash the skin with overly hot waterLook for products containing active ingredients that are proven to be safe and effective.Keep the skin well hydrated. Use barrier repair creams containing cholesterol, ceramides, essential and non-essential fatty acids.It is important to note that if you have a ‘sensitive’ skin, you could possibly have a skin condition like rosacea or eczema. It is best to consult with a dermatologist for a proper skin evaluation and diagnosis.