Sometimes things bother me so much that it keeps me awake. Which is why I got out of bed at 11:30 PM to come write this post that been mulling around in my mind for the past month or so.
Red, irritated skin (note: sometimes irritated skin feels fine but is unnecessarily red and blotchy) has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. Be warned that this is going to be a very, very long post as I’m going to try address all the aspects of having red skin, so better grab a cup of rooibos and put your feet up for 10 minutes.
Below I walk you through a couple of things I’ve learnt about treating red skin. Some of them I learnt from books, tutors and trial-and-error with clients in my beauty therapy days (it’s amazing how you pick up behaviours that result in skin ish when you treat a couple of dozen faces a week) and some I’ve discovered from using various products on my own skin and doing blog research.
I only have moderately reactive skin myself – it mostly gets unhappy when I expose it to alcohol, fragrance, and extreme weather. I can comfortably use acids, but not so much retinols. Your skin may be different, so I tried to discuss a broader sensitive skin type below.
So, to get started I’m assuming that your redness isn’t the result of a medical condition, and that it’s not Rosacea (If it’s mild Rosacea you can still read on though).
Cleansing is an oh-so-important step in your skincare routine. For starters, ditch the foamy cleansers if you have red skin. Completely and utterly. We can’t negotiate on this one. The mere fact that it foams means it’s aggressively disrupting your skin’s pH balance, and thus its barrier protection functions. Aside from that, most foaming cleansers contain sulphates (it’s the foaming agents) that are irritating to sensitive skins.
Use a cleansing balm or -oil, and gently remove it with a soft face cloth. Always cleanse twice (wash, rinse repeat) to ensure you’ve gotten rid of all pollutants, makeup, and anything else that’s hanging around in your epidermis – it’s all just waiting to cause a reaction. My skin often feels soothed and looks less red a couple of minutes after oil cleansing alone.
Product recommendations: I really enjoy The Body Shop’s Silky Camomile Cleansing Oil (around R150), LUSH Ultrabland Cleansing Balm (from R115) – although this one is really thick and waxy, so it might not be the best one to start with if you’re new to oil/balm cleansing. I also recently started using Balm Balm Frankincense Cleansing Balm (R150) and so far, so good.
I’ve always felt that toning is a completely unnecessary step if we’re talking about traditional toners – more so with sensitive skin. They’re NOT going to shrink and tighten your pores, and if you cleanse twice you don’t need it to remove excess makeup – a representative of a big cosmetic brand actually tried to sell me that story a couple of months ago still – you’d think if you work for a brand you’d be more clued up, right?
If you like the idea of toning, you can use a mild AHA toner to help keep your skin’s pH balance in check, speed up the cell renewal process and increase your skin’s hydration levels. Follow that with a spritz of soothing facial mist to ensure there’s no heat on the skin before you carry on. AHA products should leave you with a mild tingling sensation for a couple of minutes, which should decrease to almost nothing after a couple of weeks. If you experience anything more than that, skip this step.
Product Recommendations: I like the convenience of Nip + Fab Glycolic Fix pads, around R265. For the spritz afterwards, try Vichy Thermal Spa Water, Dermalogica Ultracalming Mist or Dermalogica Antioxidant Hydramist.
3. Serums and oils
Redness is very often a sign of dehydration, and one of the best ways to address that is with a serum/oil duo.
It’s a simple case of water and oil repelling each other – apply a water based hydrating* serum first, quickly followed by a facial oil. The two will want to move in opposite directions, meaning the water based serum will quickly absorb, and the oil will do it’s thing in the outer layers of the epidermis – plumping and softening, mostly.
*You also need to incorporate anti oxidants to minimise environmental- and free radical damage that often shows up as redness. But hydration should be addressed first, as it would have the most immediate effect.
Serums: Kiehl’s Hydro Plumping Retexturising Serum Concentrate (R625), Skinceuticals Hydrating B5 Serum (around R1200).
Oils: I find that most oils do the trick, just check to make sure they don’t have any alcohols or fragrance/parfum listed as an ingredient.
4. Moisturise & Sunscreen
Give your skin five minutes or so to settle after the serum and/or oil, and then follow with a good moisturiser. Ensure that your moisturiser is free from alcohol and fragrance (more on that later). It’s very, very vital to use sunscreen (I prefer SPF50) every single day, so if it feel like there is too much going on here for daytime, skip either the oil or the day cream but DO NOT skip the SPF.
If you’ve previously reacted to SPF, it’s very likely in response to Zinc Oxide, Titanium Dioxide or both. Don’t fear, these ingredients aren’t in all sunscreens, they’re only in physical sunscreens – it’s the stuff we used as kids that made our faces so very white (or pink or orange or green if you had those zinc sticks – I can still remember their smell!).
The alternative is a biological/chemical sunscreen that gets absorbed into your skin and gets neutralised there (as opposed to physical sunscreens reflect UV rays away from the surface like mirrors). Check the ingredients to rule out the Oxides, or ask your dermatologist/skin therapist to recommend one.
If your skin is particularly angry at night it’s likely from severe dehydration. If that happens to me I just keep applying either oil or moisturiser every 20 minutes or so until it eventually calms down.
Product recommendations: I don’t seem to have issues with sunscreens – if in doubt, buy the baby/kids versions as they tend to be gentler. I like Vichy, Dermalogica and Nimue sunscreens best.
5. Alcohol and Fragrance (and probably colourants too)
If redness is an issue, the first things to boot from your skincare routine are products are products containing alcohol and fragrance – which pretty much means 90% of the stuff you can buy off the shelves in a store/pharmacy. There are some alcohol derivatives that are perfectly good because they’re actually fats – I wrote a post about the difference between the two kind almost three years ago now, you can have a look here to see which ones are good and which ones are evil.
Fragrance and colourants are wholly unnecessary in skincare – there’s no point really, I don’t choose my face creams for their scent or hue. Fragrance can be incredibly irritating and even inflammation-inducing, so its best to minimise it. Even the fragrance obtained from essential oils that are found in most natural/organic products can irritate your skin, so its best to avoid it altogether if you have super reactive skin. I’ve never had a reaction from natural fragrance (i.e essential oils) though.
Oh, and the other type of alcohol (that kept me in bed for most of New Year’s Day as if I’m an amateur that doesn’t know anything about my limits) is really bad too. It’s very dehydrating and often causes bouts of Rosacea to flare up if you’re so inclined. If you have overindulged, slap on a soothing/hydrating mask overnight (AFTER A THOROUGH CLEANSING) and be generous with serum and oil for a couple of days thereafter.
Your skin definitely is what you eat. Sadly. Healthy, glowing, plump skin is a good indicator of overall health, as your skin is the last organ in line (after the vital ones like, you know, your heart, kidneys and liver) to get nutrients – so if your skin is healthy, you’re in good shape.
Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are linked to a reduction in skin inflammation and they can be ingested as supplements or you can break open a capsule and apply it to the affected areas (full disclosure: haven’t tried that but it’s on my list).
Your skin, like your other organs, need water to function. Coffee and Coke has a dehydrating effect, so they don’t count. Yet again your skin is last in line, so if you’re not properly hydrated you’ll see it on the surface pretty quickly. If you struggle with water, try herbal tea or home made iced tea with Rooibos, lemon and a little raw honey.
I don’t believe that drinking water directly hydrates your skin though – I reckon you just wee out the excess. But if your detoxifying organs (liver, kidneys) work well because you’re drinking enough water, your skin will be in better condition because of that.
That’s about it from me. I’m planning a series on different skin conditions to run once a month. I’m happy to answer some questions in the comments below or anywhere else you can find me, and if you have specific skin conditions you’d like me to chat about, let me know and I’ll do what I can.
PS – I do apologise to everyone that took the time to send me questions when I asked for them a couple of months ago. I accidentally deleted the note on my phone that had them, please forgive me! I did include everything I could remember, but you’re welcome to leave a quick comment and I’ll answer as best I can.