S: Sensitive Skin
By Julia Scirrotto
Photo credit: Greg Delves
Between do-it-yourself LED facials, microdermabrasion, and chemical peels, it's no wonder the
American Academy of Dermatology reports that skin irritations are usually self-inflicted.
Manhattan-based dermatologist Dr. Dennis Gross estimates he's seeing 50 percent more cases
of sensitive skin than he was just three years ago. "Now that there's so much at-home treatment
available, the temptation is definitely there," he says. "The thinking is, The more I do for my skin,
the better." Consider the woman who decides to indulge in her first domestic microderm. No
problem there - until she immediately follows up with an astringent and a retinoid moisturizer.
Suddenly, the retinoid, which she'd used without incident for months, triggers unsightly irritation.
"When we strip away the skin's natural barrier of protection" - say, by overdoing it with an
extreme exfoliator like microdermabrasion - "we enable toxins, pollutants, sensitizers, allergens,
and irritants to enter and cause problems," says Arkansas derm Dr. Sandy Johnson. Skin needs
recovery time after an intensive treatment. Unless you know better - and I certainly didn't - the
common knee-jerk reaction to a skin problem is to throw more products at it.
The good news is, you can fix the damage you've done.
For starters, forgo the candy-store approach to cosmetic counters - this is no time to sample
every colorful potion you can afford. You always pay a price for overindulgence, so switch to a
bare-bones regimen of mild cleanser, chemical-free sunblock (look for a mineral formula
containing titanium dioxide or zinc oxide), and an unscented moisturizer, as additives like
fragrance and preservatives can further aggravate sensitized skin. In cases of extreme redness,
some derms will also prescribe a topical like cortisone - but be sure to use sparingly, because
steroids can weaken the epidermis and trigger new allergies. Stick to this scaled-back regime for
two to four weeks - generally enough time to bring skin back into balance - and then gradually
reintroduce one product at a time. "Before you can do a workout with 30 pounds at the gym, you
have to do it with 10 first," says Gross. "Skin abides by the same principle."
Sensitive-skin-friendly formulas are now available at all price points - from posh brands like
Darphin and RéVive to Walgreens standbys like Cetaphil and Eucerin. The key is to pamper with
the fewest possible ingredients. "You want to avoid any product that boasts vitamins,
antioxidants, alpha hydroxy acids, and sunscreen all at the same time," says Dr. Diane Berson,
adjunct assistant professor of dermatology at New York University.