How to Soothe Irritated Skin
I recently read in a trade publication that an estimated 50%-80% of the US population has some sort of sensitive skin condition. While "sensitive skin" is not an actual medical condition, it is how most people who have it would describe their troubled, irritated or problem skin. Symptoms of sensitive skin usually may include any combination of the following: redness, itching, burning, dryness, pain, stinging, flakiness, inflammation or rash. If you suffer with sensitive skin, chances are you have been looking for ways to treat it because it can cause a lot of discomfort. The natural, protective barrier of the skin has been disrupted and needs to be repaired and restored to health.
The troubling thing for a lot of people can be trying to figure out the cause of their sensitive skin. There are so many factors that come into play such as diet, allergies, the climate and even our daily skincare practices. Often times our skin health is a reflection of what is going on our body and in our body. So how do we address this holistically?
Figuring out the cause
Holistic treatment addresses the root of the problem. It does not put a bandage on the symptoms. When you are able to determine the cause of an issue, you can begin to work effectively to eliminate it. Skin conditions can have both internal and/or external causes. For example, eczema can appear after we have eaten dairy or it can show up after we have been swimming in a chlorinated pool. One trigger is internal (dietary) and one is external (environment). If we know eating dairy causes us to break out in a rash, then avoiding dairy would allow our symptoms to improve. It can be difficult to give up something in our diet that we enjoy, but sometimes it may be the best thing for us to do, at least for a while.
Weather can wreak havoc on our skin. In Arizona, where I live, summers can get as hot as 117+ degrees with super intense sun and extremely low humidity. My environment can literally suck the moisture out of my body. If I am not actively doing something to protect or shield my skin from my external environment, it will become chronically dehydrated, wrinkled and sun damaged. In this state people can age very quickly if they are not careful. But I have also lived in cold northern climates where I have had to run my heat all through the long winter season. Where the temperatures got below zero and the wind was bitter cold. My skin would get red and chapped and crack from the harsh, dry winter air.
Our skin needs different things in different seasons and in different climates, so we may need to switch up our skincare routine at different times of the year. During the humid rainy months we may opt to use lighter moisturizers on our face and body. During the drier season, we may find need something more intense to protect and nourish our skin.
As we age, our skin changes, often becoming drier and more sensitive, so we may notice that our life long skincare practices are no longer working for us. Our cleansers may leave our skin feeling dry, pulled and irritated. Our lotions may feel like they are no longer getting the job done. Aging skin needs to be cared for appropriately or we can end up with sensitivities that we never had before. Since most of us would prefer to delay the effects of aging on our skin, anti-aging skincare ingredients and treatments are incredibly popular. But when we physically or chemically disrupt the outer layer of our skin we can cause some serious irritation. Sometimes this disruption is intentional (microdermabrasion) and sometimes it is an unintended consequence of layering on too many anti-aging ingredients.
With over 80,000 chemical ingredients being used in our personal care products, it can be difficult to decipher which one(s) may be problematic. Our skin barrier generally functions well under normal conditions,but our skin can get really angry when we slather it in products that contain irritating ingredients. Our skin is our largest organ, so if we value our health, we need to make sure we are careful about selecting products that support and nourish the skin.
Seven years ago, I purchased a new "shea butter" body lotion from a fragrant shopping mall store. Within minutes of slathering my skin with this lotion, it was red, bumpy, stinging, burning and itching all at the same time. I'd never had sensitive skin, so I was alarmed by this reaction.
In a panic, I grabbed the tube of moisturizer and looked at the back to see what ingredient I might be reacting to. I was shocked to discover that there were 42 mostly foreign sounding ingredients in my "shea" lotion and shea was pretty far down the list (#14). My reaction had nothing to do with shea, but everything else on the list was questionable. This was the experience that made me re-evaluate every personal care product that we were using as a family. I didn't want to expose my children to harmful, potentially irritating ingredients, so I threw a lot of stuff in the garbage that day, and I began doing a lot of research.
Many of us, including myself, have brands that we have used on ourselves and our children for years without question. Brands like Johnson & Johnson, which makes products that have been staples in our lives for generations. But, when you really start to pay attention, read labels and question the function and necessity of all these chemical ingredients, it's easy to come to the conclusion that no one is looking out for our health but us . We have just been trusting consumers, who for years have believed that someone out there was regulating the safety of these ingredients, when in fact, they are not.
Many ingredients are not dangerous, but they can be irritating to our skin. Ingredients like benzoyl peroxide, AHAs, retinoids, skin peels, products with alcohol, sulfates, fragrances and even alkaline soaps and cleansers can all disrupt the skin barrier and cause irritation and imbalance. Overuse of products containing these kinds of ingredients can cause redness, peeling, dryness, and irritation. Physical exfoliation can be irritating as well. In fact, being overzealous in our determination to achieve clear, smooth, ageless, radiant skin is likely to backfire.
If we or our children suffer from a skin condition, it can be a frustrating thing to manage. Holistically addressing factors such as food sensitivities, allergens and stress can certainly be beneficial, and avoiding allergens and triggers can go a long way with improving symptoms. Generally speaking, it is a good idea to avoid irritating fragrances and harsh chemical ingredients and opt instead for high-quality, pure ingredients that are not irritating to skin. Ingredients like shea butter have been used in indigenous cultures for many years with no ill side effects. Do we know the same to be true for the other 80,000 ingredients going into our personal care products?
Restoring the Skin Barrier Naturally
Restoring the skin barrier will help to alleviate a lot of discomfort, so how can that be done? Well, the first step is to avoid using products that cause irritation. Instead apply emollients (soften) & occlusives (seal in moisture) to moisturize and protect the skin. While you could just slather on Vaseline (it's occlusive), the problem with petroleum based products is that they don't allow your skin to breathe and they are not going to nourish the skin. I think a good general rule is that if you are going to coat your largest organ in something, choose something nourishing.
Natural, nourishing fatty acids, available in plant oils such as Borage and Tamanu contain phytonutrients that our skin barrier can use to restore itself. Oils like these are softening, nourishing, protective and healing. In fact, studies have shown that oils high in GLA (gamma linolenic acid) are highly effective at skin barrier repair. We have fatty acids in every cell of our body and they exist naturally in the barrier of the skin. These are biologically familiar ingredients that our skin can use to nourish and repair itself.
As a clinical herbalist, I see people every day that are suffering with some form of skin issue. My approach is to talk them through addressing the issue holistically, taking many lifestyle factors into consideration. What most people are seeking is relief from symptoms while they pursue other lifestyle changes, so I wanted to create a product that would address this issue and provide soothing relief from discomfort while also restoring the damaged barrier.
Restore Me is a highly concentrated, nourishing botanical skin cream that supports repair of the skin barrier. It is rich in a variety super nutrient oils, butters and herbal extracts, to help soothe, protect, nourish and repair the skin from the outside in. Above you can see some Before & After photos of a Restore Me user who was suffering from a burning, itchy eczema rash on her face. Click on the link above if you'd like to see more incredible Before & After photos. If you would like to try Restore Me, use promo code: RESTORE20 to save 20% off your first order of Restore Me through August 19, 2018.