Demystifying the widespread skin phenomenon.

15 08 24 Reactive 00

Skin issues can be incredibly frustrating: Seemingly out of nowhere, redness, pimples and rashes can crop up and put a damper on your day. Maybe it was something you ate or a trigger ingredient in a topical—regardless of the root cause, you’re likely running to your medicine cabinet for a remedy. We’ve seen many skin-care lines launching products to target “reactive” skin, formulated for those of us who are prone to irritation but have no major culpable skin issue.

What is Reactive Skin?

Dr. Sam Hanna, FAAD, DABD, a dermatologist with Dermatology on Bloor in Toronto, explains: “Often, I’ll see a person who really doesn’t have significant skin changes but reports irritation, stinging and burning with any topical application. Over the years, their skin’s response pattern has been given many names including sensitive skin, reactive skin, intolerant skin, multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome and, at times, even status cosmeticus.”

Read Labels Critically

Even if a product label boasts the word “natural” or “organic,” proceed with caution: “[These words] are too imprecise and have frankly lost all meaning. A natural product containing 'pure' essential oil or the extract of a plant is, of course, actually comprised of many compounds, any of which may be irritating,” says Dr. Hanna. “Nature makes poison ivy and snake venom, so knowing something is natural just isn’t enough information to decide on the safety, tolerability and usefulness of a skin-care product."

Inflammation Triggers a Reactive Response

Just like a name can’t be pinpointed, neither can a specific cause of reactive skin. Typical of most skin conditions, inflammation is often to blame. There are two common types of inflammation: immunogenic and neurogenic. Immunogenic inflammation is when the immune system responds to an irritant perceived as an intruder, like pollen or artificial scents. The skin attacks the intruder, causing redness or swelling. Neurogenic inflammation is stimulated by chemicals and pollutants, which trigger inflammation to protect the perceived threatened area. This is useful in healing wounds but can bring on symptoms of itching, dermatitis or rosacea. Both types of inflammation stress your skin, and this weakened lipid barrier leads to overly reactive skin. Many instigators of inflammation are external aggressors, such as extreme weather, smoking, excessive exfoliation and makeup with heavy fragrances.

TIP: Go fresh-faced! “Powdered foundations are generally less troublesome than liquid foundations. Neutral-toned makeup, especially eye shadow, tends to be better tolerated than bright colours.”
–Dr. Sam Hanna

Build Up Your Skincare

If you’re experiencing reactive skin, Dr. Hanna suggests first deconstructing your routine and starting from the ground up: “Start with a very basic regimen. I reccommend choosing a gentle non-soap cleanser and using that for two weeks. If you can tolerate that, you can begin to add simply made, well-manufactured products one at a time every two weeks.” Since everyone’s skin reacts differently, it’s important to build a routine that works best for you.

7 Sensitive Skin Fixes

Seek out the right products for your particular skin sensitivity and inflammation with our editor-approved recommendations.