sensitivity or redness
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Frustrating flare-ups and redness signal inflammation and a damaged barrier layer. New scientific research has unearthed a new trigger behind sensitized skin, as well as powerful ingredients for recovery and relief.
Millions of people perceive their skin as sensitive. The American Academy of Dermatology reports that 50% of the United States population experience some form of sensitive skin. Globally, it is of increasing concern, especially among women. In Europe, the United States and Japan, the prevalence of sensitive skin is about 50% in women and 30% in men, with younger adults reporting more sensitivity than older adults.
A true sensitive skin condition is caused by a genetic predisposition. Someone who is truly sensitive is born with this condition and tends to be prone to blushing, asthma and allergies. This skin is considered more delicate with less melanin or pigment, a thin epidermis and blood vessels close to the skin surface, hence the obvious appearance of redness. Sensitive skin is often the result of a defect in the skin’s protective outer layer – known as the epidermal lipid barrier layer – allowing irritants, microbes and allergens to penetrate the skin and cause adverse reactions. A disturbed epidermal lipid barrier is an important component in several inflammatory skin diseases such as rosacea, atopic dermatitis, psoriasis and eczema.
Rather than a result of genetics, sensitized skin is a reflection of your environment, lifestyle and physiology. Pollution, stress, hormonal fluctuations, smoking, alcohol, poor diet, medical procedures and even over-processed or over-exfoliated skin can all lead to sensitization. Cosmetic ingredients including alcohol, lanolin, fragrance and D&C colorants can also lead to sensitized skin. While those with fair skin (usually of Northern European ancestry) traditionally experience sensitive skin, sensitized skin can be triggered in any person regardless of racial background or skin color. Approximately 36% of the population in China has declared themselves to have sensitive skin, a condition that may in fact be attributed to the high level of pollution in both rural and urban parts of this region.
The common link behind irritation, flushing and stinging is inflammation. Paired with the loss of skin’s protective barrier, skin health is compromised and becomes highly reactive.
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Triggered by the immune system, skin inflammation is caused by a foreign substance such as pollen or artificial fragrances.
Triggered by the nervous system, sensitized or inflamed skin may be the result of the environment, chemicals or physical and emotional stress. (Figure 1.)
Both immunogenic and neurogenic inflammation can yield the same redness, itching and swelling that result when the body is injured or irritated. In the end, it is the combination of genetic susceptibility, immune disruption, nerve activity and epidermal barrier function that contributes to skin sensitivity and inflammation.
Loss of Protective Barrier
Excess exfoliation, exposure to soap and water, even psychological stress can compromise the skin’s protective barrier, lowering tolerance against potential stressors resulting in sensitization and irritation. (Figure 2.)