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The dif­fer­ence be­tween sen­si­tised and sen­si­tive skin – and why it’s im­por­tant to know it.

You’ve tried a new serum and your skin turns red and patchy (not glowy and glasslike as promised). Or maybe you’ve been slammed with work, and none of your usual favourite skin­care prod­ucts seem to calm your ir­ri­tated com­plex­ion. If you re­late to ei­ther of the two sce­nar­ios and hold the per­cep­tion that your skin is sen­si­tive, here’s a PSA: It might not be. In­stead, it could be sen­si­tised.

Be­fore you think that we’re be­ing some gram­mar nazi here, it’s key to note that they’re two dif­fer­ent con­di­tions – a largely over­looked fact. Ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Der­mal In­sti­tute, the R&D arm of Amer­i­can beauty brand Der­ma­log­ica, about 62 per cent of peo­ple glob­ally con­sider their skin to be sen­si­tive, but rarely sen­si­tised

As Der­ma­log­ica cor­po­rate trainer Jodi Ayre points out: the ef­fects of both (the un­com­fort­able sen­sa­tions, the flare ups) are sim­i­lar, ex­plain­ing the mis­con­cep­tion. She adds that many tend to self-di­ag­nose their skin con­cerns due to a lack of knowl­edge, which may lead to im­pulse buys that can fur­ther dam­age skin.

Sen­si­tised vs sen­si­tive skin Sen­si­tive skin is of­ten “de­ter­mined by your ge­net­ics”, ac­cord­ing to Dr Chris­tine Choi Kim of The Body Shop. In short, you’re born with it. Some of the more com­mon ex­am­ples in­clude eczema and rosacea, where skin is con­stantly red, itchy and de­hy­drated.

A sen­si­tised com­plex­ion, on the other hand, “is ac­quired and caused by ex­ter­nal and in­ter­nal fac­tors, and can hap­pen to any­one”, says Choi. It can be the re­sult of hor­monal changes, the use of prod­ucts that are not ideal for your skin type, or other ex­ter­nal sources of ir­ri­ta­tion like pol­lu­tion, stress and an un­healthy life­style – com­mon de­nom­i­na­tors of fast-paced liv­ing.

Sur­veys by the In­ter­na­tional Der­mal In­sti­tute fur­ther show that eight in 10 peo­ple have seen their skin be­come sen­si­tised in the past year. Here, Dr Ian Tan of IDS Clinic, shares that one in five pa­tients vis­its for is­sues re­lated to sen­si­tised skin, re­in­forc­ing this grow­ing phe­nom­e­non.

Bat­tling the big smoke

The world’s mount­ing pol­lu­tion is­sue might be part of the cause. Such ex­ter­nal fac­tors cause skin’s bar­rier func­tion to weaken, in turn com­pro­mis­ing its pro­tec­tive layer, mak­ing it less ef­fec­tive at de­fend­ing and block­ing out harm­ful ag­gres­sors. The re­sult: un­wanted break­outs, ir­ri­ta­tion and red­ness – sound fa­mil­iar?

The good news: Sen­si­tised com­plex­ions can be treated – and even cured – by us­ing the right prod­ucts. Sen­si­tive skin, though, stays with one for life and can only be man­aged, not fixed. In ad­di­tion, there’s an in­creas­ing num­ber of prod­ucts that help tar­get the is­sue (though it’s im­por­tant to first visit the derm for a pro­fes­sional di­ag­no­sis on the state of your skin).

Off-the-shelf help Der­ma­log­ica re­cently re­leased a new duo, the Calm Wa­ter Gel ($109) and Bar­rier De­fense Booster ($142). Used to­gether or sep­a­rately, these prod­ucts soothe sen­si­tised skin and are said to pro­tect it from fu­ture flare-ups.

The for­mer is an uber light­weight gel­type mois­turiser that cre­ates a weight­less bar­rier against en­vi­ron­men­tal threats. It also has the brand’s Dual Hyaluronic Acid Tech­nol­ogy to lock in mois­ture, while cac­tus pear, ap­ple fruit and glyc­er­ine re­port­edly calm and im­prove skin’s sta­bil­ity to man­age in­flam­ma­tion and break­outs.

For par­tic­u­larly sen­si­tised skin, the Bar­rier De­fense Booster can be used on its own, or mixed with a mois­turiser. Made with the brand’s Triple De­fense Com­plex, it calms ir­ri­ta­tion and re­in­forces skin’s pro­tec­tive bar­rier. Also in its for­mu­la­tion: tetrahy­drocu­cur­mi­noids – an ac­tive de­riv­a­tive of turmeric root – with pow­er­ful anti-in­flam­ma­tory and an­tiox­i­dant prop­er­ties.

While ap­ply­ing an ex­fo­li­at­ing mask sounds counter-in­tu­itive for ir­ri­tated skin, The Body Shop’s Al­mond Milk with Oats Instant Sooth­ing Mask ($32.90) is on the rec­om­mended list. The creamy wash-off mask, made with ac­tual bits of oat­meal, man­u­ally and gen­tly sloughs away dead skin cells. The ad­di­tion of or­ganic al­mond milk helps nourish and hy­drate dry, ir­ri­tated skin, while restor­ing its op­ti­mal pH level.

Be­sides these new launches, Dr Tan sug­gests look­ing for prod­ucts with an­ti­in­flam­ma­tory ac­tive in­gre­di­ents like aloe vera, col­loidal oats, niaci­namide, pan­thenol and an­tiox­i­dants. In ad­di­tion, ap­ply­ing a phys­i­cal sun­block to pro­tect against UV dam­age is a good pre­ven­tive – and cor­rec­tive – mea­sure. Con­stant mois­ture is also crit­i­cal in man­ag­ing sen­si­tised skin, so look out for mois­turis­ers aimed at bar­rier re­pair.

From left: Der­ma­log­ica Calm Wa­ter Gel, $109, and Bar­rier De­fense Booster, $142.The Body Shop Al­mond Milk with Oats Instant Sooth­ing Mask, $32.90

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