Skin prepares itself to play a protective role against the environment during the day. For it to be effective, you need to cleanse your face to remove all impurities that accumulated overnight, the moment when cellular activity it as its most intense. Skin will become more resistant and ready to receive cream and care for the day.
Hygiene, the first caring step for sensitive skin
Hygiene is often discounted, as if the choice of a face cleanser doesn’t deserve as much attention as a cream. And yet, it’s the first step in caring for skin, since washing your face can have important consequences on your skin’s balance and on its effectiveness as a barrier… Especially if your skin is sensitive.
Sensitive skin, gentle hygiene required
The first and absolutely essential step in a skin care routine is cleansing your face. By doing so, you remove all potential pollutants from your skin that contribute to sensitising it. This is so that the cream or care product you then apply can be entirely effective. Indeed, your cleanser and cream work together as a duo: a cream will be that much more beneficial when skin has been properly cleansed to start with.
Good hygiene therefore requires finding effective cleansing and respect the skin’s balance, especially for preserving its barrier function. And this is especially the case when skin is sensitive.
The barrier function means the skin is able to stay sufficiently sealed to resist the penetration of irritants and prevent internal water from evaporating.
With sensitive skin in particular, the barrier function is often deficient. It nonetheless plays an important role, since it is what regulates what penetrates and leaves the skin.
A cleanser for sensitive skin must therefore protect the skin’s balance, in order to protect the effectiveness of the barrier function.
Understanding the barrier function
To visualise the skin’s barrier function, the epidermis is often compared to a wall of bricks. Skin cells represent the different bricks, and there need to be enough lipids to form the cement that holds them together. Finally, the skin's microbiome (all the micro-organisms that are naturally present on skin) helps to keep the wall in a healthy state, with a pH between 4 and 6.
Cleansers can alter both the skin’s barrier function and its microbiome, which can sensitise skin. This is why it’s important to pay attention to composition.
The risks of poor hygiene for sensitive skin
Water alone cannot eliminate all dirt that accumulates on skin, especially any that is oily or greasy in origin. This is why facial cleansers contain surfactants, which are cleansing agents that are able to remove dirt and residue that are present on skin. The type of cleanser is extremely important for all skin types – even more so for sensitive skin.
- There are many kinds of hygiene products such as soap, foaming gel, cleansing oil, micellar water …
- Surfactants tend to be classed based on their ‘detergence’, meaning their ability to remove dirt stuck on skin.Harsh surfactants damage the skin's barrier, since they destroy the skin’s lipids, essential to maintaining the barrier role.
If you have sensitive skin and don’t use a gentle cleanser, your skin will react immediately. You have probably already experienced tingling, stinging, redness and feelings of tightness or burning sensations, all the main symptoms. A poorly chosen cleanser can aggravate your skin’s sensitivity and perpetuate the vicious cycle of inflammation.
Cleansing neither too much nor too little, the priority being to respect the skin's balance
There’s a wide range of surfactants and some can be inappropriate or too harsh. When used, the surfactant interacts with the skin’s own components, and if poorly chosen, it can deteriorate the skin’s hydrolipidic film and barrier function. Too much stripping is just as bad as not enough cleansing.
What is good hygiene for sensitive skin?
All over the world, the Covid-19 pandemic has once again made cleanliness a central part of life, the simplest act of hygiene to fight against contagion. Beyond washing hands, cleansing your face also deserves a new look at old habits, especially when masks need to be worn for long periods. The trouble is that often sensitive skin tolerates cleansers poorly. It needs a gentle and high tolerance cleanser, free of perfume, and preferably one that requires no rinsing. One that is capable of eliminating pollution particles and all residue that is susceptible to provoking a reaction. One that also respects the skin’s pH, to preserve the microbiome. The issue at stake? The skin's barrier, always and forever. Indeed, a facial cleanser’s essential role is to protect the skin's barrier, the foundation of healthy skin.
When patients don’t have any other pathology, more and more we suspect that today’s hygiene habits, in particular daily washing with harsh soaps and cleansers, inhibit our skin’s barrier functions, leaving it vulnerable and sensitive to environmental conditions.
My advice for choosing a cleanser for sensitive skin:
- Be sure that it is formulated with a pH similar to that of skin
- It contains a gentle surfactant
- It has no perfume
- It is formulated with a minimum of ingredients, all at the optimum dose
- No harsh surfactants that strip, such as sulphates
- Perfume can be an allergen.
Do you have to wash your face morning and night? Yes!
Skin is an ecosystem on its own, a sort of dynamic exchange platform that contributes to vital functions and has its own internal biological clock. Day and night, skin doesn’t have exactly the same role, which affects the cleansing routine.
To eliminate all of the day’s impurities, skin activates its renewal, detoxification and regenerative functions. It becomes more permeable, and therefore fragile when faced with outside aggressive factors that can penetrate more easily. This is why it is so important to cleanse your face before going to bed.
The two basic rules for sensitive skin
Skin prepares itself to play
If it feels tight after you’ve cleansed your face, then the product you’ve used doesn’t work for you.
Morning and night at the least for your face, and more often depending on your lifestyle and needs (sports, climate, activities…). All potential factors of irritation, such as saltwater, sunscreen, perspiration, makeup… should be removed as quickly as possible.