Prevention is all well and good but sometimes, you just need a cure. Judy Johnson picks the products any sensitive skin sufferer should have to hand for those unexpected reactions
Curiosity kills the cat, and the same is true of any sensitive skin sufferer who dares stray beyond the confines of a tried-and-tested routine. I have an arsenal of beauty products I can count on for rash-free skin, but when I hear of an exciting new product I can't help wanting to give it a try - and often end up downing antihistamines like they're Skittles.
It seems I'm not alone; a recent study by Allergy UK and sensitive skincare brand La Roche-Posay found that 78 per cent of those who suffer with skin sensitivities have symptoms all year round. In the UK, skin problems are the most common reason for GP consultations* and it can take up to five visits to pinpoint the problem and treat it correctly. With three quarters of the people surveyed stating that their face was often affected, it's no wonder almost half of them admitted to feeling embarrassed or less confident.
There's nothing more terrifying than that little tingle, when your skin suddenly feels a bit hot, looks a bit red and is begging for a scratch; you never know quite how big the reaction will be or how long it's going to last, which is why testing first is always a good idea. But if you've fallen down the rabbit hole and got yourself into a red and bumpy situation, there are things you can do to help stop it in its tracks.
Cosmetic dermatologist Dr Samantha Bunting explains: "[A reaction] most often presents around the eyes and on the neck, where the skin is thinnest, and the skin becomes red, dry and itchy. When this happens, stop your usual skincare regime for the time being.
"I recommend using something very gentle, like Avene Tolerance Extreme Anti-Irritating Soothing Cream and Cleansing Lotion , both £14.50 - they are preservative and fragrance-free. Moisturise generously and frequently. It may sting a bit at first, but in time this should become less severe as the skin's barrier repairs."
Thankfully, Dr Bunting says, most reactions will calm down in a few days, but if not you should visit your doctor who might give you a topical steroid which is anti-inflammatory. But once the reaction has settled, you have work to do to bring the skin back to its best.
"Those with thin, sensitive skin should work on building up their skin's barrier function, to reduce the risk of reacting to skincare in the future," explains Dr Bunting. "Avoidance of overly aggressive foaming cleansers, alcohol-rich toners, vigorous exfoliation and excessive use of cleansing brushes are all sensible manoeuvres - these are the common contributors to sensitive skin, and increase the risk of a reaction by depleting the skin's barrier function; it's there for a reason!"
If you're lucky enough to know what caused the reaction, it's worth taking a look at the packaging and making note of any likely triggers from the ingredients list. If you suspect it's a true allergy, Dr Bunting suggests chatting to your doctor and asking to be referred to a dermatologist for patch testing, to identify the causative agent.
While there are plenty of products out there specifically for sensitive skin (you just have to find them, which I intend to do), it's always good to have a backup plan. Here are the failsafe ones I am never without.
Care Aqueous and Calamine Cream
This cheap little pot of cream is the first thing I reach for when my skin's acting up, be it redness from shaving, sunburn or, as is usually the case, a reaction to skincare; calamine lotion alone is quite drying, so combined with a rich emollient it works wonders. Lotil cream , £3.59, is also handy if skin looks damaged and very dry - just beware of the slightly tar-like smell.
Pai Chamomile and Rosehip Sensitive Skin Cream
Pai is an utter genius when it comes to sensitive skin, and this face cream is no exception. Harnessing the power of natural ingredients such as German Chamomile and plenty of antioxidants, it helps to calm redness while soothing the irritation. It does have a notable au naturel scent but to me, that's just oddly reassuring. I use it daily and if I've strayed to another product and regretted it, it always brings me back to happier skin in a few days.
Cetaphil Restoraderm Body Moisturiser
It's really quite difficult to find products suitable for reactions on the body, which is distressing if you've been irritated by a fragrance or self tan. Dr Bunting recommends using Cetaphil’s moisturiser immediately after bathing (ideally with Cetaphil’s body wash), when the skin's water content is high, to help trap moisture and repair that barrier. I also swear by their cleanser , £8.99, which is ultra-gentle for the face.
Piriton Allergy Tablets
If the irritation is proving hard to handle, an antihistamine might help relieve symptoms. Always check with your doctor first, but I find Piriton works for me - though it will make you drowsy, so speak to a pharmacist about other options if that's going to be an issue; GTG's Sarah Vine is a fan of Zirtek. The chlorphenamine maleate blocks histamine receptors, which essentially means it prevents chemicals which are released in the body when a reaction occurs, as well as stopping an increased blood flow to the area.
Vichy Dermablend Concealer Stick
Assuming you can't just lock the doors, close the curtains and let the world pass by while your skin recovers, you might want to invest in a good concealer. You don't want to coat the skin too much and if the surface is bad, no amount of cover up will particularly help. But for smoother, red blotches or areas, a thick creamy concealer like this one from Vichy will allow you to leave the house without a bag on your head.
If a reaction is very bad or not improving, visit a pharmacist or GP. You may need a topical steroid cream or tablets to take it down - just make sure you know for next time what it was that set it off.
*British Journal of Dermatology Vol 165; 5, 1044–50, Nov 2011
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