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Dermatologist Explains Sensitive Skin

Ep 6: Dermatologist Tips for Sensitive Skin

Dermatology Weekly Flash Briefing – What exactly is sensitive skin? Is it a common skincare issue, or a medical diagnosis? Join us in this episode as we tackle these questions about sensitive skin, chat about what to look out for in products for sensitive skin, and whether on not there is a need for personalized skincare.

Chelsea: Hi everyone! Welcome to the 6th episode of Dermatologist Talks: Science of Beauty. I’m Chelsea and today we’re going to be talking to Dr. Teo Wan Lin on all things sensitive skin. We’re going to touch on what exactly sensitive skin is, and dermatologist tips on what ingredients and products to look out for. 

Let’s dive straight in! There are so many different definitions of sensitive skin, is it a common issue, or a medical diagnosis?

What exactly is sensitive skin? 

Dr. TWL: Sensitive skin, or reactive skin, is very much a layperson’s description of skin that is perhaps more reactive to environmental triggers. Individuals with sensitive skin very likely have a form of eczema. Eczema itself is always related to a defect in the skin barrier, which could be genetic and inherited due to a deficiency in a molecule known as ceramide, that forms the barrier of the skin. It could also be due to environmental factors such as the overuse of harsh detergents. Irritant contact dermatitis, or allergic dermatitis can occur with the use of inappropriate skincare or makeup products. 

If you have sensitive skin, you probably have one or all of the following symptoms: redness, stinging, flaking, and overall sensation of skin reactivity whenever you’re exposed to a change in the environment, or sometimes change in your skincare. 

What are some things to look out for when trying out a new product for sensitive skin?

Patch Test

Dr. TWL: A tip that I would advise if you have sensitive skin and would like to try a new product is this: before you apply product on your face, you should perform a small patch test. Take a pea sized amount of the product and apply it on your inner arm over a circled area, which can be marked with an eyebrow pencil, and leave it on overnight.

If you develop any form of redness, irritation, stinging pain, or swelling, then it is possible that you have an allergy to the product ingredients. Allergies are generally rare. So if you’re talking about products that are drying, and may eventually lead to skin irritation, sensitivity, or eczema in the long term, you will still see a negative patch test, as you’re not truly allergic to the ingredients. It is simply the process of the product stripping down your skin barrier until the cumulative damage occurs, which is when you have the full-blown case of skin sensitivity. 

Brand research

Patch test aside, something I want to emphasize is that you should always do your brand research. Skincare brands that work with academia and have partnerships with biologists, dermatologists, and scientists are much more likely to do due diligence in terms of testing. 

Chelsea: There are so many different skin types, like oily, dry, acne-prone, or sensitive skin.

Should we be looking for specific products that cater to our skin type? Is there a need for customized or personalized skincare? 

Dr. TWL: The idea of personalization of skincare is not entirely wrong, but perhaps, should be refined. I want to emphasize that as a dermatologist, we have traditionally never distinguished between the types of cleansers we recommend for individuals with oily, acne-prone skin, or those with sensitive, dry skin. By default, we always advise to use gentle but effective cleansers. The concept is this: a product formulated for universal skin types is going to be dermatologically more sound than others that claim to be formulated for specific skin types. 

Universal requirements of healthy skin

The requirements of healthy skin are pretty universal in nature. There is the barrier function, which needs to be respected; and the process of gentle, but effective cleansing that removes oil, dirt, debris, germs from the surface of your skin.

Chelsea: Well that about sums up our episode. Thank you guys for tuning in, and we’ll see you in the next episode.

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Ep 6: Dermatologist Tips for Sensitive Skin