Is Your Skin Sensitive or Sensitised? Here's How to Tell the Difference

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Raise your hand if you've ever said your skin is 'sensitive'? Same.

But did you know sensitive skin isn't actually a skin type? More often than not, what we mean when we say we've got sensitive skin is that our skin is sensitised. And it almost always involves an impaired skin barrier.

If you're into skin care, you'll know what I'm on about, but for any beauty newbies here, a healthy skin barrier is essential for happy skin. Only, your skin barrier is moody and it doesn't take much for it to throw a tantrum.

But what is a skin barrier and how do you know if yours is broken? You can find out by listening to the Week 10 episode of Skincare School the podcast below (or keep scrolling for the quick version).

What Is a Skin Barrier?

The sciency version: Your skin barrier is the outer layer of your skin (the epidermis) and contains your stratum corneum, which is made of skin cells, lipids, oils and our bodies' natural moisturising factors like amino acids and fatty acids.

Short version: It's a barrier protecting your skin to keep the good stuff in and the bad stuff out. Basically it's a nightclub bouncer, for your face.

The skin barrier is the first line of defence between you and the outside world... and the last line of defence for keeping your body hydrated. Its main jobs are to maintain balance, guard against pollution and external elements, protect us from UV and sun damage, and slow down water evaporation or transepidermal water loss.

What Is an Impaired Skin Barrier?

An impaired skin barrier is what happens when your bouncer stops checking IDs at the club and starts letting people walk out the door with bottles of booze from the bar. It's chaos.

When your skin barrier is compromised (think of it as a mask with tears in it), the result can be sensitised skin. When your skin is sensitised, things that shouldn't sting (like water) do, and you may experience redness, inflammation, uneven texture and dullness.

What Causes Sensitised Skin?

Here are just a few things that can impact your skin barrier, resulting in sensitised skin:

  • External aggressors from sun damage and pollution.

  • Over-exfoliation or overuse of active skincare.

  • Incorrect skincare choices for your skin.

  • Seasonal or environment changes.

  • Illness and medication.

  • Stress and diet.

How to Know If Your Skin Barrier Is Damaged.

How do I know if my barrier is damaged, you ask? It depends on your skin type.

If you're a damaged oily skin, you might produce more oil. But a damaged dry skin can become rough or flaky. Compromised barriers can also worsen inflammatory skin conditions like acne, eczema, dermatitis and psoriasis.

The typical signs your skin barrier ain't happy include:

  • Redness and sensitivity.

  • Dehydration, dryness and flaky skin.

  • Rough texture to touch.

  • Stinging or burning.

  • Increased oiliness and breakouts.

Here's a few examples showing the difference between sensitised skin and healthy skin.

Hannah Furst Skin BarrierHannah Furst Skin Barrier

Amy Clark skin barrierAmy Clark skin barrier

What NOT to Use on an Impaired Skin Barrier.

Put simply, all the fun stuff.

Less is more when it comes to active ingredients. Pull back on the use of actives for at least two weeks, and slowly reintroduce them with care. Same with wash cloths, facial cleansers and devices.

The Best Products to Repair Your Skin Barrier.

Skin barrier crying out for help? We've all been there. Literally, have you seen the photos above?

Generally, look for products with skincare ingredients like hyaluronic acid, ceramides, niacinamide, oils and glycerine. And SPF! You must wear sunscreen when your barrier is impaired, very important!

How Long Does It Take to Repair Your Skin Barrier?

Depends on what kind of condition it's in, but generally speaking, it takes between two to four weeks for your skin barrier to heal... if you treat it kindly. Any longer than that, seek expert advice to suss out what's going on.

Finally, to anyone with an impaired barrier, Godspeed! You've got this.

Want more content on sensitive skin? Check out these articles and videos below!

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