Sensitive Skin Guide


If you’re reading this, most likely you’re a part of the 44.6% in the American population that suffers from sensitive skin. For women, that percentage is even higher. Maybe you suffered from eczema as a child, or broke out in hives and rashes at the drop of a hat. Perhaps you have just recently developed your sensitive skin, and are searching for reasons why. Whatever it is, I feel you. As a kid, I suffered from mild dermatitis and was extremely sensitive to things like laundry detergent, new clothing, perfumes and dyes, and the list goes on. Basically anything foreign would result in itchy red patches on my skin. As I got older, my skin problems seemed to tame a little bit, and mostly I just dealt with acne (of all kinds). As a naïve high-schooler, I used trendy yet harsh products like Proactiv and slathered my face in benzoyl peroxide just to keep the acne at bay. Unfortunately, the overuse of these harsh chemicals caused burns on my face and turned my skin back into the sensitive landscape it once was. Years later and I’m still struggling with the lingering sensitive skin issues.

Recently, I have broken out in what my Curology provider has diagnosed as “perioral dermatitis” which is basically the devil-child of acne and eczema, and occurs around the nose, mouth, and chin. Not only does it look awful, but it’s very itchy, red, and tends to blister up for no reason. Doctors don’t really know much about this condition—like what causes it or what helps to treat it—besides the fact that topical steroids make it so much worse. Great. So in my recent journey with this rash from Hell, I have discovered some pretty valuable information when it comes to treating sensitive skin. Here’s what I know:

There is some research that suggests skin conditions are a reflection of your DIGESTIVE SYSTEM. Weird, right? But after reading about and listening to people’s stories of their skin clearing up by changing their diets and nursing their digestive systems back to health, I believe it. The most common factors that inflame skin to the point of acne, eczema, dermatitis, sensitivity, and so on include:

Wheat and gluten intolerances

Dairy allergies

Candidiasis or yeast overgrowth


Poor absorption

“Leaky gut” syndrome

Excess sugar

Slow digestion

If you have skin issues and also tend to get constipated, have diarrhea, eat a lot of gluten, sugar, or dairy, or have those pesky little forehead bumps that look like acne but aren’t really… your sensitive skin could have to do with your digestive system. Elimination diets are a cheap and (somewhat) easy way to find out if you skin reacts to a certain kind of food. First, try taking out dairy for a few weeks and see if there’s a difference. If not, try gluten next. Think about foods you eat a lot of or on a daily basis… take those out one by one. The hope is that eventually taking something out will clear up your acne or eczema. Using supplements like digestive plant enzymes or magnesium can help move things along when it comes to digestion, so that toxic waste isn’t just sitting in your colon. Remember, drinking lots of water can really help your digestion and skin, too.

The next step is managing your sensitive skin. If you don’t have time or motivation to figure out the root cause, there are some options for at least managing the severity of acne, eczema, and other sensitive skin issues:

Avoiding products with Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS). This foaming agent, found in many toothpastes, face cleansers, body washes, and shampoos tends to exacerbate skin sensitivities. Your skin solution could be as simple as eliminating all your bathroom products containing SLS and opting for a more natural or simple product. Also watch out for toothpaste with fluoride which many people are sensitive to!

Avoiding dyes, fragrances, parabens, alcohol, and exfoliating agents. It may sound like a lot, but these ingredients have been proven to make sensitive skin worse—typically because they are either too harsh, too drying, or are too chemical-ridden. It’s best to avoid!

Colloidal oatmeal. This ingredient, found in many “sensitive skin” products at levels of 1% or 2% can be super-soothing to inflamed skin. We’ve all heard that oatmeal baths and face masks are great for soothing skin, so why not incorporate an everyday product with oatmeal built in to your skincare routine?

Speaking of routines—skin does NOT like it when you rapidly change things around (typically because you’re desperate for relief… trust me I’ve been there). Give any new product or regimen at least 3 weeks before you ditch it... it may just take a little time to work its magic.

Simple, natural products. For sensitive skin, less is more. Sometimes people will go to the extreme and try “zero therapy” which is when you stop doing anything to your face or using any products and have had great results. If you’re not into that though, try choosing a simple regimen; wash your face with a mild, hypoallergenic, non-comedogenic cleanser in the morning and before bed (preferably soap-free), follow up with a mild toner like pure rosewater or non-alcoholic witch hazel, and layer on a simple moisturizer (even better if it’s one ingredient… like jojoba oil or shea butter!).

For those tiny forehead bumps that don’t want to disappear, or if you suffer from perioral dermatitis like me, try using an antifungal for a few weeks. These include miconazole nitrate creams, clotrimazole (Lotrimin) creams, or basically anything that is labeled for “athlete’s foot” or “jock itch” or even for “ringworm.” Sounds gross, but sometimes this type of acne and dermatitis has a yeast-based cause, and using an antifungal can do wonders. Just stop use if there is any irritation whatsoever!

Changing your pillowcase at least once a week, if not more.

Switching laundry detergent to something either natural, or that is labeled “for sensitive skin” and doesn’t contain any harsh chemicals.

Putting on all of your moisturizer while your skin is STILL WET. To really soak in the moisture after a shower or washing your face, don’t dry your skin before lathering up with body cream or facial moisturizer. It may feel weird at first, but trust me, you’ll notice the different. Hello soft, supple skin.

Yes, SPF is important, but be careful what kind. A lot of commercial sunscreens contain chemicals that sensitive skin does not like or react well to. Try a mineral-based facial sunscreen or something with just zinc oxide. Even better if it’s non-nano zinc oxide. This may just be the adjustment your skin needed.

Remember, your skin does not define you. If you are feeling down and out because you just can’t get that acne, rash, eczema, rosacea under control—don’t let it crush your confidence. As long as you are taking care of your skin, it doesn’t matter what face you show to the world. Everyone deals with skin issues at some point in their life, you are not alone. And you are surely not less attractive or capable just because your skin sometimes wants to freak out. Take a deep breath, and don’t let it stress you out too much—that can just make things worse. Learn to love the skin you were born with, no matter what journey it takes you on!

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[Photo Credit to Miroslava Haina and Don]