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"I have sensitive skin." ...but do you really?

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Cactus Sensitive Skin

The Quick Take

There a huge difference between sensitive and sensitized skin. Know what you've got and it could change your entire skincare game.
By Kelsey Duchesne

“I can’t, sorry – I have sensitive skin,” has been my faithful go-to line for over two decades, perfectly applicable in just about any skin-related scenario.

 

When approached with any unfamiliar product, I’m quick to remind anyone who will listen that my skin becomes an itchy, blotchy mess if scrubbed with anything that isn’t scentless and ultra-moisturizing. I’m specifically referencing the lotion I borrowed from my great-grandmother when I was 10, and still use every night before bed. The packaging may have changed over the last decade, but my dedication to the brand and my sensitive skin has not. 

I didn’t realize that having sensitive skin was so wrapped up in my identity until I was told that I did not, in fact, have sensitive skin when receiving my first facial. Now, imagine you went in for an eye exam and the doctor told you your eyes were green instead of blue -- yeah, it felt like that. 

I quickly succumbed the first stage of loss (denial) by informing the Skin Therapist examining my face that I actually did have sensitive skin. “Oh, I do, actually! My skin burns frequently and gets irritated easily.” As the Skin Therapist continued to massage my face, she relayed more truths that I hadn’t prepared myself for. “You have normal skin, actually -- although it is a bit dry. What you’re describing to me sounds more like sensitized skin, not sensitive skin.”

Sensitized sounded like the off-brand version of sensitive, but I was quick to learn that the two are in different categories entirely. Sensitive skin is a skin type, along with normal, dry, or oily. Because skin types are predetermined by genetics and DNA, you cannot change a skin type. 

While sensitive skin is a skin type, sensitized skin is a condition that can occur within any skin type – and can be changed.

Truly textbook sensitive skin is your type if you experience two out of the three following: allergies/hayfever, asthma, or eczema. If you only experience one out of the three, like myself, than you most likely have sensitized skin. You can’t tell if skin is sensitive simply by looking at it, as sensitive skin isn’t always sensitized. “We see sensitized skin every day. It’s really something more people are affected by than they realize,” said Jeni Sykes, Co-Founder & Head of Skincare at Heyday. “It can be a huge relief to learn if sensitization is playing a key role in your skin concerns, because that gives you a different and usually far more effective starting place to solve the concern.” 

While sensitive skin is a skin type, sensitized skin is a condition that can occur within any skin type – and can be changed. Some frequent symptoms are ones I’ve experienced: itchy, dry, red, and reactive skin. Sensitized skin is not a result of genetics -- it typically forms from a cocktail of environment, lifestyle, medical history, or even your current skincare routine.

I know a few of my sensitized skin symptoms stem from not drinking enough water and being a born-and-raised East-coaster who is content going in between the freezing-cold outdoors and the heated office, but I know my sensitized skin is also a product of my lack-of-products. As someone who grew up (and still, up until recently, only used) bar soap and lotion, it was time to condition my skin with some products made for sensitized folks like me. I needed to start cleansing and exfoliating with products that wouldn’t leave me feeling like an ill-fated bee-keeper, so I went on the hunt with my Skin Therapist for remedies that kept both me and my skin calm. 

I have since done a little Spring cleaning and removed “I have sensitive skin” from my vernacular, and embraced my newly-realized relationship with sensitized skin. Instead of blaming my largest organ for being so hostile, I’m approaching it with more love and understanding, because sensitized skin is treatable. Your quest for stronger skin won’t be fulfilled after the first cleanse, but here some key lifestyle changes that will put you on the road towards de-sensitized skin.

Drink lots of water. I know for a fact that this is harder than it looks (who has time for all of those pee breaks?) but it’s worth it! Start with a glass in the morning, and have a glass before you go to bed. And of course, keep a water bottle on your desk for refilling! 

(Try your very best) to get 8 hours of sleep each night. There are great apps to keep track of your patterns, like Sleep Cycle, but the iPhone and Android also have a feature built into the alarm clock that will alert you when it’s time to start powering down. Who doesn’t want an excuse to curl up and get their snooze on? Shut the laptop and phone and reach for a book or listen to music before bed to keep your sleep stress-free. 

Go easy on the heating/AC, or prepare your skin for it! Before going to bed in a freezing cold room (my preference) or a heated one, moisturize accordingly. 

Don’t product hop. Sensitized skin has a tough time trying a bunch of different products, especially ones that aren’t tailored for sensitized skin. Find your daily, reliable products and introduce new products gradually into your routine!

Not quite sure where to start? I felt the same way. Pop into Heyday and work with one of our Skin Therapists. Along with a stellar facial, they’ll fill you in on the right products for your sensitized condition and how best to incorporate them into your routine. The good news about sensitized skin is that with patience and care – you can change it! Sometimes it just starts with accepting and embracing where you are, and enjoying the journey to a healthier, more balanced you. 

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