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How to Care for Sensitive Skin

By Renée Batchelor

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Sensitive skin is a skincare term that gets bandied about often, but in fact it is not a condition in itself. Dr Angeline Yong, a consultant dermatologist at Angeline Yong Dermatology says, “Although [it’s] used to describe several dermatological disorders, sensitive skin is not a distinct condition in itself but rather a symptom of clinically diagnosable diseases, such as psoriasis, eczema, rosacea or acne.”

Those who have this condition will find that their skin is much more reactive than the average person’s and may find that anything from heat to alcohol can change their skin’s appearance or cause irritation and discomfort. “In most cases, sensitive skin refers to skin that flares up during (or after) environmental changes in the temperature or humidity, consumption of certain foods or drinks, or stressful situations. You can have sensitive skin without having allergies and vice versa but you can also have both,” she says.

According to her, those with sensitive skin may experience dryness, a tendency to flush or blush, or have skin that tingles, feel itchy or burns. Bumps, pustules and hives may also appear on the skin. Diagnoses for sensitive skin can range from contact dermatitis — an itchy rash that comes from an allergic reaction to a substance — to rosacea — a chronic inflammatory disorder that causes the cheeks, chin nose and forehead to turn red. Other more common forms of skin sensitivity can include eczema, photodermatoses (a reaction to sunlight) and psoriasis. It is important to get a clear idea of what is causing your skin sensitivity so a diagnosis by a dermatologist is needed.

Best Practices

When it comes to taking care of sensitive skin, Dr Yong says that there are several things you can do so as not to aggravate it. “Try to avoid polypharmacy (concurrent use of multiple medications) or excessive use of various skincare products and avoid frequent changes between products,” says Dr Yong. She also recommends that you stay away from fragrances and surfactants (components that break down oils and fats in your skin) in your skincare and cleansers that can irritate dry skin and then pat the skin dry, rather than rub it, after washing. You should also avoid washing the face more than twice a day as this can leave it red, dry or flaky. Similarly, long, hot showers can strip the skin of its natural oils so it’s best to limit shower time and moderate the temperature if you suffer from dry or sensitive skin on the body. When it comes to post-cleansing steps, Dr Yong suggests moisturising the skin more often to reduce dryness and protecting it with the regular use of a high-protection sunscreen.

There are also lifestyle changes that you will have to make in order to better protect your skin. “Avoid sugary and high-glycaemic diets as diets heavy in sugar and refined carbohydrates speed up the ageing process and promote breakouts. You should also stop smoking, if possible as nicotine reduces blood flow to the skin and impedes its ability to receive adequate oxygen and nutrients,” says Dr Yong.

In-Clinic Treatments

If you have sensitive skin, it doesn’t mean that treatments and facials cannot be done. But all clients should see a dermatologist before beginning treatment.“ After the analysis, the patient may be instructed to take certain medications or embark on a particular skincare regimen to manage underlying conditions and to prep the skin before undergoing any procedure,” says Dr Yong.

To help with the compromised barrier function of sensitive skin, Dr Yong recommends treatments like the Hydra Facial, a medical-grade facial that improves general skin health by clearing blocked pores while hydrating the skin, as well as intradermal hyaluronic acid fillers like Restylane Skinboosters, Belotero Hydro and Juvederm Volite. “[These] all add hyaluronic acid to the skin via a number of small injections over

a large area of the skin. The placement of tiny droplets of hyaluronic acid under the skin helps to draw water molecules, which help restore skin hydration and improve skin structure and elasticity, thereby strengthening its barrier function,” says Dr Yong. Another option she mentioned is Profhilo Bio-Remodelling Injectable, which consists of 100 per cent pure hyaluronic acid, and helps stimulate collagen, elastin and fat stem cells under the skin to lessen the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and scars.

If you would like to use lasers to help rejuvenate the skin, Dr Yong recommends picosecond lasers. “For wrinkled skin or skin where the dermal epidermal junction is weak and affected, I would recommend a picosecond laser such as Picoway or Picosure to remodel that junction. The laser pulses from the Picoway and Picosure are so fast and powerful that it changes the way the laser delivers energy to the targeted cells. These two lasers have the ability to lighten skin blemishes, pigmented lesions and even botched tattoos without risking the damage which can occur with nanosecond lasers that utilise photothermal energy,” she explains. These can also help tighten, lift and remodel the skin with minimal to no downtime unlike traditional fractional ablative lasers.

If skin redness is an issue, pulsed dye laser like the Candela Vbeam can reduce the appearance of rosacea, and other vascular lesions with minimal incidence of side effects. Meanwhile the AvRed light LED can be used for skin rejuvenation, wrinkle reduction, acne and dyschromia of the skin (alteration of the colour of skin or nails) such as pigmentation and rosacea.


One of the hardest parts about having sensitive skin is knowing what makeup products will aggravate it. Makeup artist Larry Yeo feels that the term has been overused. “Currently the term ‘sensitive skin’ has been overused and overhyped; everything seems to be for sensitive skin recently,” he says. When it comes to selecting products, it is all about knowing what sensitivity each individual person has.

“Sometimes, different parts of the face also react differently. Your left cheek might flare up because of the foundation used compared to your right cheek — it all varies to how your skin reacts,” says Yeo. He also cautions strongly against believing that natural or organic brands are better for your skin. “All pigment, ingredients and formulations have to be chemically processed in order to make it safe for human skin. We wouldn’t want to put grounded iron rust, mud from random clay or rub berries on our lips to have a stain,” he says. He also notes that sometimes certain ingredients might be triggers rather than outright sources of adverse reactions and that a combination of certain products with high levels of retinol, alpha hydroxy acids or beta hydroxy acids may be causing the issue. An allergy or reaction could also develop over time.

The cleanliness of your makeup tools is also important and these should be cleaned regularly. In our humid weather, brushes and sponges should be cleaned once every three to four days. But you can skip the antibacterial washes. “An affordable facial wash from Senka can clean out synthetic brushes while a shampoo from Tsubaki can wash out natural hair brushes. I like cleaning out sponges with BeautyBlender Solid Cleansers. It cleans the sponge well without making it brittle,” shares Yeo.

If you have sensitive skin around the eyes, Yeo recommends staying away from blue, purple or very black eye products. For foundations, powders and concealers, keep away from heavily scented products. Some of the products he recommends include: Clinique Even Better Refresh Hydrating and Repairing Makeup, M.A.C Studio Fix Complete Coverage Cushion Compact SPF 50/PA++++, Laura Mercier Secret Camouflage Concealer, Chanel Le Correcteur de Chanel Longwear Concealer and La Mer The Sheer Pressed Powder.

On products to avoid, Yeo says that you have to observe what your skin is reactive to and stay away from certain colours, types of products and fragranced makeup. “Some allergies might stem from heavily fragranced products. My general guideline is to use products that claim they are fragrance-free. This doesn’t mean the product has no fragrance, it just means, in marketing terms, no extra fragrance was added,” says Yeo.

If you have sensitive skin you should also avoid products that promise high pigmentation like long-wearing lipsticks. You should also avoid eyelash extensions, as there is a risk of developing contact dermatitis around the eyelid area. Finally, if you want to cover up skin redness caused by conditions like rosacea, find a yellow-based foundation or concealer to apply over the area. “Application is as simple as building up the coverage gradually by layering. First layer to tone down the redness and then tap on the foundation for a higher coverage. The focus is to tone down the redness, not to hide it. Hiding it just adds more textures and can create an uneven finish on your face,” says Yeo.