When skin goes from normal to super-sensitive

Jun 01, 2007, 4:00am

What's happening to your skin? Once so easygoing and "normal," it now seems to react to whatever you put on it. Sometimes it stings, sometimes it burns. It looks oddly red after washing - and the expensive new creams and lotions you've bought lately only make things worse.

What's happening to your skin? Once so easygoing and "normal," it now seems to react to whatever you put on it. Sometimes it stings, sometimes it burns. It looks oddly red after washing - and the expensive new creams and lotions you've bought lately only make things worse.

Your skin is exhibiting sensitivities. The question is, why?

Some people do have truly sensitive skin; it reacts badly to anything more than the gentlest treatment with the most basic products.

"There are actually several different explanations for what may be bothering your skin," explains High Point, N.C., dermatologist Zoe Diana Draelos, M.D.

"Some skin types are very reactive; these often can be found in very fair-skinned women with light eyes, red hair, who burn easily in sunlight. Their skin probably always has been more sensitive to what is applied to it. But then there are women who have had no previous problem, and all of a sudden nothing that they apply feels comfortable. There are two primary reasons for this."

TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING According to Dr. Draelos, in an attempt to do what's right for their skin, some women become overzealous in the number or types of products they layer on themselves.

"We refer to this as a poly-apothecary problem," she explains. "It simply means you've maxxed out your skin's threshold to the combination of ingredients you're asking it to accept.

"It often happens when, with the best of intentions, you buy a new facial scrub, then you apply a mask, followed by a serum, followed by a firming cream, followed by a moisturizer. There may even be a toner or astringent in this mix. Each of these products has its own set of ingredients, and sometimes they don't agree with one another. Sometimes they've disrupted your skin's barrier - the uppermost layer of skin that helps protect it - and it simply needs time to heal.

"Alternatively, one may be taking medication or using topical creams or lotions to control acne or rosacea, and there is a tendency for these kinds of medications to cause the skin to be more sensitive."

BACK TO BASICS Dr. Draelos suggests immediately cutting back on all the "super performance" creams and lotions and getting back to basics for about two weeks to give the skin's barrier a chance to repair itself.

Using products that help this process means switching to cleansers and moisturizers that dermatologists often recommend, such as the new CeraVe line that contains a hydrating cleanser, a moisturizing lotion and a moisturizing cream. It's formulated with ceramides, which account for up to 40 percent of intercellular matter and also a play a vital role in the skin's water-retaining capacity. Intercellular lipids play a crucial role in the skin's water-retention properties by trapping water and preventing excessive water loss. These products can help soothe, calm and restore "disturbed" skin to a state that is less reactive.

Use of products such as CeraVe, Eucerin or Cetaphil helps to restore the skin barrier. Free of the fragrance, dyes and common ingredients in soaps and scrubs, these products should be a staple of anyone's skincare regimen. But they're especially valuable to people whose skin exhibits signs of stress.

"It's not to say that we can't enjoy the benefits that some of the high-priced specialty creams and serums have to offer," Dr. Draelos says. "But when it comes to providing a solid foundation for your skincare regimen, going back to basics is often the key."