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May 27, 2020 3 min read

If you have sensitive skin, you will know that many things can stress out your skin and make it flare up. The list of stressors will be different for everyone but it could include:

 - Changes in temperature or humidity

 - UV stress

 - Over enthusiastic cleansing or exfoliation

 - Chemicals found in many household products including cleaning and beauty products

 - Diet and lifestyle

Why is my skin so sensitive?

The reason your skin reacts more to skin stress is to do with your immune response to certain types of skin stress. When the body (or skin in this case) percieves it is under attack, chemicals called cytokines are released which swing the immune system into gear causing inflammation and possibly also releasing histamine, which is produced if you have an allergy to a particular stressor, and can cause hives. This immune response is perfectly natural and a useful response if there is, for example, a wound that needs to be repaired. However, researchers now know that if the immune system is permanently in a state of alert, premature ageing across the body can occur. This can happen in the skin and can lead to a loss of skin tone and development of wrinkles. 

Why is the immune response greater in some people than others?

There are several reasons that the immune system of someone with sensitive skin might be more reactive. Some people are born with a thinner skin, a weaker skin barrier layer and a more hyperreactive immune system. Often pale, fair skinned people suffer from this most. 

However, the immune system may be over reacting because it is already in a state of alert because of other stresses happening in the body. Sometimes, poor digestion and "leaky gut syndrome" can contribute to small particles of food entering the blood where they are identified as invaders, causing a food intolerance. Food intolerance will leave the immune system in a heightened state which means it will then respond more to other skin stressors that might occur. If you think you have a food intolerance, it might be helpful to visit a nutritionist to try to identify the problem and improve your digestion. 

Another thing that can cause over inflammation in the body are nutritional deficiencies. The body produces inflammatory and anti inflammatory chemicals called prostaglandins using essential fatty acids Omega 3 and 6. Inflammatory prostaglandins  are made from Omega 6 and anti inflammatory prostaglandins are made from Omega 3. Because our diet is very high in Omega 6 oils (found in most vegetable oils and processed foods) and low in Omega 3 fatty acids (found in oily fish and certain seeds and nuts) an imbalance develops. Supplementing with Omega 3 essential fatty acids can be helpful to restore balance between these chemicals and end the inflammation process at the appropriate time. 

Mental stress and lifestyle imbalances can also cause the immune system to over react. Mental stress causes the production of adrenalin and cortisol, which are both pro-inflammatory, and also depletes the body of vital nutrients it needs to maintain a healthy immune system. 

Things to try

Getting sensitive skin behave is a process of trial and error but here are a few suggestions of things to try:

 - Rule out food sensitivities and improve digestion

 - Supplement with a good quality Omega 3 supplement

 - Reduce lifestyle stress

 - Reduce potential skin stressors such as irritating chemicals, over enthusiastic cleansing and use products that defend against environmental stress

 - Be very careful about introducing new beauty products into your routine. Always do a patch test and introduce one by one to check for reactions. Only use what is necessary to minimise exposure to different irritants.