We Irish hoomans are much more prone to skin concerns like rosacea, acne, dryness, dehydration, keratosis pilaris and sun damage than many of our European counterparts. At the same time, our milky skin is envied by people the world over and who doesn’t love freckles?! Time and time again, I receive the same questions about the same issues and there seem to be some questions that appear more often than others. It poses the question: why are those of us from the land of saints and scholars more inclined to such an array of conditions?
Irish people tend to be Fitzpatrick Scale types 1 and 2, with the odd 3 thrown in. The Fitzpatrick scale was developed to determine how different skin types react to ultraviolet rays. Type 1 means that you would have ivory skin (without sun exposure), light coloured eyes and your skin always burns, always freckles and never tans AKA the stereotypical Irish person that people think of. Type 2 means that you will also have light coloured eyes, pale or fair skin and your skin usually freckles, will burn and peel but not all the time and your skin will not tan easily. Type 3 are fair people with more yellow-toned skin, darker eyes (brown or hazel) and their skin could freckle, sometimes tans and sometimes burns.
What causes skin sensitisation?
What does this have to do with skin sensitivity?! It’s a bit more nuanced than you’d expect – sunlight can halt the skin’s barrier from functioning as it should, especially if you don’t protect it. I feel a bit like a broken record but PROTECT YOUR SKIN!! It isn’t sun protection, it’s light protection. Yes, it feels like the sky is mocking you when you’re applying SPF on a rainy morning but you readers know as well as I do that the Irish sun can belt out at any point in the day. If your barrier, the very top layer of your epidermis, is damaged, it cannot protect your skin from free radicals that can cause things like skin ageing, pigment spots and dehydration and sensitise the skin to your usual products.
What other factors play in to sensitivity in Irish skin?
I believe most other things that exacerbate skin sensitivities in Irish skin are due to lifestyle:
- Being a small island, we are incredibly susceptible to cold winds, which dehydrates the skin thus making it sensitive. Irish people are very fond of toasting themselves in beside the radiator and then going out into the icy gusts straight after – this change in heat can dry your skin out leading to a host of other issues.
- I hate to feel like I’m pointing the finger but a lot of Irish people just don’t look after their skin properly. There’s a huge emphasis on covering it with makeup and plenty of men feel like skincare just isn’t for them. If you took a peek into the bathroom of a Spanish or French man, you’d see moisturisers, cleansers, eye creams and serums galore!! Things like not using SPF, not drinking enough water, not washing your face properly, using baby wipes to remove makeup and not hydrating the skin properly accumulate and lead to us looking older than we are, suffering from congestion and way too many other things to list.
- I’m allowed to make this remark having personally worked with the skin of hundreds of Irish people in the past and in the present: we over-exfoliate and we take very hot showers to counteract the cold outside. When you exfoliate your face everyday of the week with gritty products (microbeads, DIY sugar scrubs etc.), you are literally stripping your skin of the vital oils that make up it’s barrier and, as I said earlier, this means that your skin is liable to free radical damage.
- I don’t like to feed into the notion that ALL Irish people are big drinkers as it is simply not true but a lot of us are keen on a regular gargle… Alcohol leaves your skin gasping for water, causes drinkles AKA dehydrated wrinkles and can irritate pre-existing conditions. If you want to read more, check out Skin Sins: Alcohol.
What is the difference between sensitive skin and sensitised skin?
You’re born with sensitive skin and it is passed through genetics (thanks, parents!!). Pale skin that reddens easily is more likely to be sensitive. Sensitive skin may have a thinner epidermis (AKA the top layer of skin) and the blood vessels will be closer to the surface, and thus more visible.
Sensitised skin, on the other hand, comes about usually later in life when the skin has been exposed to environmental aggressors like those listed above. If your skin has become sensitised, your skin may look thin, feel tight after washing and you could have bumpiness and flushing.
Could my sensitivity be the result of allergies?
Maybe it is not your skin that is sensitive but your body responding to something it is sensitive to!! You would not believe how commonly it happens that someone is experiencing symptoms like hives and rashes for their whole lives before realising that they are allergic to a specific substance. If you are treating your skin respectfully, inside, outside and on top, and are still searching for the reason for regular rashes and hives, it may be worth it to have a skin prick test with your GP.
Should I switch to only hypoallergenic products?
The term “hypoallergenic” carries little to no meaning at all. All that it implies is that a brand believes that the product is unlikely to cause an allergic reaction. Different people have different allergies and there is not a hope that a brand can predict every single allergy that every single user has. There is no standard as to what is deemed hypoallergenic, it is mostly a medical-sounding word that has no medical definition. Brands do not even have to perform tests on their product to be allowed to call their products hypoallergenic.
With this in mind, the only way that you can be certain that you won’t have an allergic reaction to a product is by patch testing the product on the inside of your forearm and monitoring the result for a few days.
Some brands are specifically formulated to take care of sensitive skin (different to simply calling themselves “hypoallergenic), like La Roche-Posay and Avène. I highly rate these brands for sensitive skin – La Roche-Posay have spent thirty years working in conjunction with dermatologists to ensure their ranges are suitable and helpful to sensitive skin!! That’s twelve years longer than I’ve been alive!!
How can I help to limit skin sensitivity related to my lifestyle?
Making small changes in regards to how you live can have a huge difference on your skin. Apply SPF daily, hydrate the skin with a serum daily (serum rather than moisturiser as it penetrates deeper) and remove your makeup properly. My very own Cleanse Off Mitt (RRP €5.95) removes makeup without affecting the skin’s pH balance like wipes do. IMAGE Skincare have a whole range to help undo environmental damage, the Vital C Range. I’d specifically recommend the Vital C Hydrating Intense Moisturizer (€73.00). I rarely recommend a thick moisturiser but a compromised skin needs to be nourished due to it’s reactivity.
Be careful when it comes to temperature changes and your skin – overheating or over-air-conditioning your home may dehydrate the skin! Don’t over-exfoliate and avoid gritty exfoliants altogether – a skin-respectful alternative would be Yon-ka Gommage 305 (€33.50). Dermalogica UltraCalming Barrier Repair (€47.60) will soothe the skin if it has become sensitised and work to repair the skin’s barrier.
To treat your skin from the inside, increase the omegas in your diet and/or take a supplement, like Advanced Nutrition Programme Skin Omegas+ (€36.00 for a month’s supply). Omegas have anti-inflammatory qualities to bring down the symptoms of sensitised skin and they help the skin to retain hydration by strengthening it’s barrier function.
Ingredients To Avoid For Sensitive and Sensitised Skin
- Alcohol (seen in skincare as SD alcohol, ethanol, denatured alcohol, alcohol denat., benzyl alcohol)
- Sulphates (Ammonium Lauryl Sulphate and Sodium Lauryl Sulphate)
All of these are known to irritate sensitive and sensitised skin.
All in all, with regard to sensitised skin, if you respect the skin, it will respect you back.