Sensitive Skin

sensitive skin

An interesting question from Patricia that I think might interest some other people.

I have sensitive skin and always look for cosmetic products which are free of harsh chemicals. I was not aware of the m1 preservative until today when a report was made on the breakfast show and will in future try to find a product which does not include it. However, I have been aware of parabens for some time and have tried to use products that do not include parabens, difficult. Lloyds the Chemist did bring out a range of their own brand moisturisers parabens free, but for some reason I can’t find that range now, think it may be discontinued. Inecto make a moisture replenishing body lotion which is paraben free, I love this, and have given to friends and to one young friend in particular who suffers from dermatitis and she likes it very much. I have checked some of the most expensive brands of cosmetics, and for some reason most seem to include parabens in their make up, don’t know why because surely cosmetics, particularly lipsticks, are something which are used up pretty quickly, I know mine are.

I think there are two distinct meanings to the term sensitive skin. Some people have skin that is just a lot more porous and dry than others. This means that it is not a good barrier and is prone to becoming dry and itchy. I can sympathise with this as my skin is a bit like this, and is getting worse as I get older.

If you have this kind of sensitive skin you need to avoid things like soap and detergents, and maybe look around for a heavy duty moisturiser that suits your skin.  Any extra protection is a good thing.

The other thing people mean when they say sensitive skin is prone to allergic reactions.  We all have immune systems that can react to just about anything at just about any time.  Some people however seem to get this problem more than others.  Also some ingredients trigger off more reactions than others.  Despite what you might think from some marketing material and coverage in the press, neither methylisothiazolinone (MI) nor the paraben family are particularly likely to cause skin reactions.  The parabens in fact very rarely cause allergic reactions which is quite remarkable given how widely they are used.  MI is a bit more of  a problem, but even so still stacks up pretty well to the alternatives.

This is why these preservatives get so widely used.  Nobody wants to launch a product that causes users issues, so companies stick to the ones they know perform well.  I ran a post a little while ago bemoaning the fact that Simple have switched to using MI in Canada.  Even though I don’t think they should have done so, I can understand the pressure they are under to minimise the number of reported reactions.  The problem is that when the same preservatives get used again and again nearly everybody gets exposed.  So if you do have a problem, well you are going to struggle.

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But there is good news as well.  If you don’t suffer from allergies to parabens or MI, as the vast majority of people don’t, then there is nothing to worry about.  They are not harmful or in any way ‘harsh’.  If you have not previously noticed any issues with MI then there is a good chance that you don’t have a problem with it.

(I have done a more detailed post on what to do when you have a reaction to a cosmetic product.)

Why do cosmetics need to have preservatives?  Skin creams are pretty similar to milk in terms of shelf life.  You’d need to pick your products up from the chilled cabinet and keep them in the fridge if they weren’t preserved.  I dare say one day somebody will try doing just that.

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One Response to Sensitive Skin

  1. Ed says:

    Hi Colin (& Patricia)

    Most people think sensitive skin is the first kind – dry and itchy. Which is why many skin care companies have “sensitive” as a skin type – basically providing a heavy moisturiser for dry skin.

    Those with Type 2 Sensitive (ok, the second kind, but sounds cool ;-) might have dry, combination, age prone or any other skin type but still have skin that reacts to a lot of ingredients in cosmetic products.

    It takes consumers with Type 2 a long time to work out that the majority of companies marketing products for sensitive skin just mean dry skin.

    Those same companies will take their standard formulations, add a bit of chamomile usually, and not bother to think about the preservatives or any other ingredients that might be unsuitable for sensitive skin.

    You’ll find anti-redness toners containing alcohol, peppermint and sodium hydroxymethylglycinate (a formaldehyde preservative), moisturisers for hypersensitive skin with lemongrass and MI and non-irritating cleansers with SLS detergents, eucalyptus and phenoxyethanol.

    All of the above ingredients have their place in products and aren’t irritating for the majority of people. However, they can cause horrible reactions for people with extremely sensitive (Type 2) skin.

    I included some natural ingredients as well so you don’t think I’m just having a pop at the mainstream – natural skin care ranges get it just as wrong.

    There are very few companies out there who treat sensitive skin as more than just a marketing activity.

    For the average consumer, the best thing to do is try out products. If you get a reaction, send it back for a full refund.

    No reputable brand or store would say no. Don’t let anyone sell you the line that any redness or burning is your skin “detoxing” or “adjusting”. It is reacting – get your money back.

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