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What it’s like to have sensitive skin

One of the most common reasons customers turn to Mokosh is for help with sensitive skin. For these people, caring for their skin can be a nightmare: applying skincare products can cause itching, burning, stinging, tightness, and dryness. It can be nearly impossible to find a product that moisturises the skin without setting off a chain reaction, starting with a prickling sensation that progresses to redness, inflammation and misery. 

What causes sensitive skin?

We know that sensitive skin is more common in women than in men, and it affects the face more frequently, where the skin is thinner and nerve endings are more abundant. It is not easy to predict what will set off a skin reaction because different substances set off reactions in different people. Even in the same person, one substance will irritate, while a closely related substance will not (1). We also know that skin reactions can be triggered by special environmental conditions like low temperatures, humidity, wind, heat and sun exposure. For each individual suffering from this problem, it becomes a matter of narrowing down the substances and the environmental conditions that start the response.

What is different about sensitive skin?

The clue to understanding this condition is that people with sensitive skin have similar physical changes in their skin. The common factor is a problem with the skin’s barrier function, which makes sense. Our skin’s barrier keeps out environmental irritants and harmful microorganisms (see our blog about the skin’s barrier here) and prevents them from reaching the deeper layers of the skin and setting off an inflammatory response.  In people with sensitive skin, the outermost layer of the skin is often thinner, and the level of ceramides, the fatty, lipid layer, is often reduced (1-3). These physical changes make their skin more permeable to irritating substances. 

Changes in the non-physical barrier are another common finding. An alteration in the skin’s pH from the optimum of around 5.5 will allow the growth of harmful microorganisms in the skin. It is also known that changes to the skin’s microbiome are important – an abnormal microbiome can increase the risk that harmful bacteria will colonise the skin (you can read more about the importance of the skin’s microbiome here and here).

How can I stop my skin from being so sensitive?

There are two approaches to dealing with sensitive skin. The first is to use skincare products that will help rebuild a healthy skin barrier while eliminating practices that disrupt it.

REBUILDING THE SKIN’S BARRIER

Building up the fatty ceramides in the skin’s barrier is extremely important for sensitive skin types. The ceramides become depleted with age and during the winter months, and they are almost always depleted in people suffering from dry skin. Even acne-sufferers, who often have oily skin, can have reduced levels of ceramides and a reduced barrier function (4). The omega-6 fatty acids can be incorporated into ceramides, helping restore levels towards normal. All Mokosh moisturisers have been formulated to offer a good supply of these essential fatty acids. Keeping the skin well moisturised by applying our high-quality barrier-building moisturisers regularly, once or twice a day, will help keep the barrier functioning at its best. 

SAY NO TO DETERGENT CLEANSERS

At the same time, it is important to avoid products and habits that harm the skin’s barrier. The main culprits are cleansers that remove important oils from the skin’s fatty barrier, depleting the ceramides. For sensitive skin, detergent cleansers and soaps should be avoided. Instead, we recommend cleansing with our two detergent-free options (find them here and here) so you can clean the skin without stripping away its oils. 

SAY NO TO BARRIER DISRUPTORS

Other more subtle effects on your skin’s barrier can come from the emulsifiers included in water-containing skincare – these are detergent-like molecules that allow water and oils to form a stable emulsion (read more about them here). Preservatives, also found in all water-containing skincare, can upset your skin’s microbiome, further altering the skin’s equilibrium. Staying too long under a hot shower or in the bath, even without the use of detergents, will deplete your skin’s natural oils, while spending time in dry, artificially heated or air-conditioned environments will dehydrate your skin. Humidifying the air whilst keeping the skin well moisturised will keep your skin hydrated in these drying environments.

AVOIDING IRRITATING SUBSTANCES

The second approach to dealing with sensitive skin is to avoid the common substances that cause skin reactions and trying to discover whether you have any particular sensitivities. The most common culprits in skincare products are fragrances and preservatives (5). It is also important to recognise that some skincare ingredients act as ‘penetration enhancers’ – they permeate the skin’s barrier more easily and allow other ingredients in the formula to reach deeper layers of the skin, with a much-increased potential to set off inflammation. Propylene glycol and alcohol are commonly used penetration enhancers in skincare products (6). However, it’s important to remember that everyone responds differently to different substances, so any ingredient has the potential to irritate the skin. 

How Mokosh Products can Help Sensitive Skin

We have designed our range to be as close to nature as it is possible to achieve. This is because we believe that our skin, like the rest of our bodies, will respond with health to botanical ingredients in their natural form. There has been a tendency to think that our skin is somehow separate from the rest of our bodies and that it is ok to apply petroleum-based products and chemically synthesised ingredients to our skin when we would not dream of eating them. We now know that our skin is a lot more complex than we once thought. It interacts with our immune system and our nervous system in ways we did not previously understand. For this reason, we consider that carefully selected pure botanical ingredients are both the safest and the most beneficial products to apply to the skin.

For sensitive skin, Mokosh products offer enormous benefits. They are virtually unique in that they contain no preservatives, the most common skin sensitisers, which can also disturb the skin’s microbiome. The range also includes a full complement of fragrance-free products. Our cleansers are free of lipid-depleting detergents, and none of our moisturisers include emulsifiers, which can also disturb the skin’s barrier.  All our moisturisers are rich in omega-6 fatty acids that can help restore the ceramides, helping to rebuild the skin’s barrier in all skin types. 

If you’re not sure which products are right for you, please get in touch with us using our Skin Consult service for advice on which products will suit your particular needs.  We always recommend starting out with sample or Mini sizes to make sure there are no individual sensitivities to our products. 

  1. The Prevalence of Sensitive Skin (2019) Frontiers in Medicine – Dermatology.

  2. Sensitive Skin: Review of an Ascending Concept (2017) An Bras Dermatol 92: 521–525.

  3. The Sensitive Skin Syndrome (2012) Indian J Dermatol 57: 19–423.

  4. Acne Vulgaris and the Epidermal Barrier (2013) J Clin Aesthet Dermatol 6:18–24.

  5. Allergy to Selected Cosmetic Ingredients (2013) Postepy Dermatol Alergol. 30: 307–310.

  6. Penetration Enhancers (2004) Adv Drug Deliv Rev 56: 603-18.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3579484/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3858659/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15019749


About The Author

Marion O'Leary

Mokosh Skincare was created by Marion O’Leary, a former veterinarian and medical scientist, in response to concerns about the health risks of ingredients used in virtually all skin care. She drew on knowledge from Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of medicine, and western science to formulate a range that is made using only 100% certified organic ingredients. She is convinced that skincare made this way significantly improves the health of the skin, in the same way that a whole food, synthetic-free diet is healthier for our bodies. Environmental sensitivities and social justice underpin the business ethos, with inclusion of fair trade ingredients, palm oil free certification, organic certification, cruelty free accreditation, packaging in glass and paper, and regular donations to environmental and humanitarian causes.

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