Hypoallergenic skincare products are designed to reduce the likelihood of reactions, but such products are by no means a panacea for sensitive skin.
Sensitive skin can be profoundly frustrating. A product formulated to improve acne might result in a peeling, painful rash. The product you use to treat the rash may irritate your skin too, initiating a cycle of reaction after reaction. Never mind the prospect of makeup, which is a challenge unto itself.
Many people turn to hypoallergenic products to combat sensitive skin. These products aren't altogether free of allergens. Instead, they simply contain fewer common allergens. Some manufacturers also minimise the number of ingredients in each product to reduce the likelihood of allergic reactions.
Whether a hypoallergenic formula works for you is largely dependent on the underlying cause of your skin's sensitivity.
What Does 'Hypoallergenic' Really Mean?
'Hypoallergenic' literally means 'low in allergens'. It's not a guarantee that a product won't irritate your skin. Nor is it a promise that a product contains no allergens at all.
No official standards govern what is and is not considered hypoallergenic. Every skincare company sets its own standards. The hypoallergenic offerings of one manufacturer might inflame your skin, but hypoallergenic products from another company won't necessarily have the same effect.
Why the Cause of Sensitivity Matters
It's easy to dismiss your skin's reactions as generalised sensitivity. Yet you'll be better equipped to care for your skin if you know why your skin reacts the way it does. Some common causes of skin sensitivity include:
- Allergies to specific ingredients in personal care products (including haircare)
- Excessive dryness
- Excessive sun exposure
- Skin conditions such as rosacea and acne
- General medical conditions
- Food and environmental sensitivities
What If It's Something Else?
Redness and inflammation aren't necessarily signs of inherently sensitive skin. The problem could be overuse of harsh ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide, excessive dryness, or a systemic condition such as diabetes or polycystic ovarian syndrome.
If switching to hypoallergenic products doesn't help, check in with your doctor. He or she can test you for common medical issues that cause sensitive skin. Your skin is like a window into your body's overall health, so don't ignore skin problems—particularly if they appear suddenly or seem triggered by nothing at all.
Choosing and Using Hypoallergenic Products
To minimise your risk of a reaction when you use hypoallergenic products, try one new product at a time. This helps you identify which product is the source of the problem. You'll also have an easier time determining which ingredients are most irritating for your skin.
If your skin is extremely sensitive, or if you have a big event coming up and can't afford to turn your skin into a peeling, irritated mess, patch-test a new product under your chin, next to your ear, or in another concealed region before applying it to your entire face.