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Sense and Sensitivity: Living with sensitive skin

April 9th 2013 / Judy Johnson Google+ Judy Johnson / 2 comments


In her new column, Judy Johnson tells what it’s like to be a beauty junkie with sensitive skin

I can remember my worst, most visible skin reaction; it was a hot summer's day, I was 18 and prepping myself for a date, and my neck was covered in an angry, bumpy red rash that looked like I'd slept among stinging nettles. I didn't have time to see a doctor and so, priorities clearly in check, I went ahead with the date armed with a silk scarf, a pack of extra strength Piriton allergy tablets and a little magical gold pot of thick, creamy YSL concealer given to me by my very sympathetic mother. That product saved my (love) life.

Having sensitive skin isn't easy, and having it when you're a beauty writer is even tougher. I've always been one to experiment with products; from the moment my sister found me, face covered in talcum powder at my mum's dressing table aged four (I think I was trying to look like Kylie) to this very day where I get to try and test the very latest launches in my day job at Get the Gloss. Yet while my fellow Glossies tear open skincare packaging and set to work applying cleansers and creams to their faces in a little mirror at their desks, I have to approach with caution.

After years of getting a rash here and a puff there, I've learned a few quick-fire ways of knowing how much of a risk a product is to my skin. I have to check if it has a fragrance; I stay away from essential oils as much as possible; if the packaging uses words such as 'potent' I avoid it like the plague, and I always, always patch test.

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Testing really is the only way to know for sure, which unfortunately means risking a reaction every time I want to give something a go - but it's always worth the wait to know a red face isn't around the corner. I test first on the back of my hand, as skin is tougher there (so if it reacts here, it REALLY doesn't suit my skin). I'll then put a good dab on the inside of my elbow, and if I'm feeling brave, on the side of my neck or jaw line. If there's no reaction within 24 hours, great; but I'll still keep testing it for a day or two, having been caught out before on products that were slower to make an impression.

Sadly, it doesn't end at skincare. Make-up can be just as risky, I can no longer spray my beloved Vera Wang Princess fragrance on my skin, only clothes; and I use a Fairy Non-Bio washing powder to be extra vigilant even though I feel ridiculous buying it, as the packaging infers it's made for those under the age of two.

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The biggest problem with sensitive skin is that there are no rules; there's no one ingredient that all sufferers will react to, and there's no perfect brand for everyone. But after a lifetime of suffering with reactions to everything from deodorant to eyeshadows, I'm learning step by step what works, what to avoid and what to read between the lines of beauty labels. 'Suitable for sensitive skin' is no longer a phrase I trust.

Google doesn't help matters - there are very few places on the web where you can get unbiased advice on which products are suited for sensitive skin, and yet you'll find hundreds of thousands of forums filled with people asking that very question. So from now on I'm going to be sharing what I know and what I find out; I'll bring you a regular dose of brands you can hopefully trust (there really is no one-brand-fits-all, but I'll pick carefully) and investigate just what it is that gets under our skin. Just remember not to panic - a reaction never looks as bad as you think. Those antihistamines and concealer worked a treat and I ended that fateful summer day with an official boyfriend. Sensitive skin 0, Judy 1.

Join the conversation

  • Sherry
  • April 10th 2013

I will be following this topic with a great level of interest. I have massively reactive skin. Curse of the atopic gene.

  • emma
  • April 9th 2013

HI Judy. I know how you feel, when I was in my early twenties my skin and scalp reacted so bad to so much stuff, in the end I found out I was allergic to witch hazel. My scalp is still sensitive even to the point of Johnson's baby shampoo making it really flakey. The best shampoo I've tried is Aveda rosemary and mint. Anything for sensitive skin I stay away from. Love get the gloss, emma.x

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