So You Think You Have Sensitive Skin?

Dr. Zein Obagi doesn’t believe in sensitive skin. He believes that skin needs to be strengthened by using the right skin care regimen to restore it to optimal health.

Classic symptoms of so-called sensitive skin include:

  • diffuse redness and irritation, especially in the T-zone
  • tingling, tightening, dryness, and flakiness
  • reaction or discomfort to procedures or products—shaving, waxing, cosmetics
  • blotchiness, swelling, edema, which sometimes can advance to rosacea

In fact, these are really signs of skin weakness, and it’s sometimes caused by the use—or overuse—of the wrong products, particularly moisturizers. It seems antithetical—a moisturizer was probably the first product that you used on your skin, and the one you trusted and used most frequently. But it could also be the one that harms and ages your skin the most—either accelerating skin aging, or inducing skin sensitivity.

With young and healthy skin, the cells in the dermis collect water from the food we eat and water we drink, and deliver that water to the surface of the skin. It’s a natural part of cellular nourishment and repair. That’s why it’s so important that we keep skin cells active and functioning normally. But when you apply a moisturizer to hydrate and plump the skin, the skin cells in the epidermis send a message to the cells in the dermis: slow down, we’re fat and happy up here. That causes the cells in the dermis to become lazy and go dormant—and the skin becomes drier, thinner, and less elastic. At that point, the skin is compromised and begins to lose its ability to function as a natural and protective barrier. That induces sensitivity and leads to redness, irritation, wrinkling, and accelerated aging.

Crazy as it seems, moisturizers—which supposedly are calming and soothing—are frequently just the opposite. If you’re going to use a moisturizer, use one that suppresses irritation, that calms the skin, and  that contains some retinol to awaken dormant cells. And don’t ever use a moisturizer to the exclusion of products that activate and stimulate your skin.

Kick the moisturizer habit. Make sure that your skin is rejuvenating and repairing itself. It’s one of the best strategies for well-nourished, healthy skin.