How to Protect Sensitive Skin From the Sun

1. What is sensitive skin?

a. What’s the difference between sensitive and sensitized skin?

2. What causes skin sensitivity?

a. UV exposure

b. Certain skincare ingredients

3. What can you do to protect your sensitive skin from the sun?

a. Try a mineral sunscreen

b. Cover up and find shade

c. Add vitamin C to your sun protection



When it comes to skincare, sun protection is non-negotiable. While UVB rays are the sunburn culprits, UVA rays are a major player in premature skin aging and skin cancers—and they penetrate your skin year-round, even on cloudy days. But anyone dealing with eczema or dryness knows that sensitive skin is easily irritated by what can feel like everything under the sun—including the sun.

“The best sunscreen is the one you are going to wear,” says Dr. Nour Dayeh, medical development expert at Vichy Laboratoires, Canada. But finding the right sun-care product when you’re also trying to address other skin concerns like skin sensitivity can be a journey. Certain ingredients in sunscreens and some filters can trigger itching, tingling and inflammatory red rashes on sensitive skin. But that doesn’t mean it’s worth giving up and skipping sunscreen entirely. Fortunately, innovations in formulations are now catering to those of us with sensitive skin, which means it’s easier than ever to find a sunscreen that will suit your skin type and protect it.

If you’ve spent time shopping the beauty aisles, you would have noticed that many products claim to be for “sensitive skin”. However, not all sensitive skin is the same. In fact, there are two types: sensitive skin and sensitized skin. Here, we explain the difference between sensitive and sensitized skin, share the factors that can trigger skin sensitivity and give expert sun-care tips, including the best sunscreen for sun-sensitive skin.



1. What is sensitive skin?


There are a few skin types we often talk about: oily, dry, acne-prone, combination and sensitive. Just like there are varying degrees of severity for oiliness, dryness and acne, there are also different levels of sensitive skin. Sensitive is among the most common, but this is partly because sensitive skin is a self-reported condition defined by uncomfortable symptoms like tightness, dryness, itching, burning and, in some cases, redness. Since there are varying degrees and causes of sensitive skin, everyone is different.


But having sensitive skin is not the same thing as having a complexion that’s sometimes triggered by skincare ingredients. The true origin of sensitive skin lies in genetics. This means that anyone with sensitive skin has a predisposition for extra vulnerability to skin irritation. Inflammatory skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis and rosacea are physical manifestations of a genetic predisposition to skin sensitivity.


a. What’s the difference between sensitive and sensitized skin?


Symptom-wise—tightness, itchiness, redness and inflammation—there’s pretty much no difference between the two. What it comes down to is genetic versus external factors. Sensitive skin is a predisposition to irritation whereas sensitized skin is caused by external exposom [link to exposom article] factors including, but not limited to, pollution, certain skincare ingredients, food, the weather and UV rays .

Sensitized skin is not a skin type; it’s a condition. The epidermis acts as a barrier to maintain moisture (lipids and water) to keep out pollutants, allergens and pathogens. The outermost layer of the epidermis is called the skin barrier. Once compromised, this is the first step toward developing sensitized skin, which manifests the same symptoms of sensitive skin. On the positive side, since it’s not a skin type, sensitized skin can be repaired.



2. What causes skin sensitivity?


Dr Nour Dayeh

While the root cause of sensitivity isn’t always clear-cut, potential triggers include common ingredients in skincare (such as retinol, alcohol and parabens) the wind, the sun and heat and cold. When it comes to skin sensitivity everyone’s different, but here are some of the most common factors that spark skin to burn, sting, turn red or otherwise feel very uncomfortable.

If you’re asking yourself what type of sunscreen is best and most effective at sun protection, you should know that it’s not about whether it’s physical or chemical; it’s about compliance. “The best sunscreen is the one you are going to wear,” says Dayeh. What she means is that you need to find a formula that you like and that you’re going to want to apply daily. She also recommends using an SPF of at least 30, which blocks about 97% of UVB rays.


a. UV exposure


All skin types have a sensitivity to the sun; however, some are more affected than others. For example, your skin can be more sensitive to the sun during pregnancy. In extreme cases, the sun sensitivity can cause hives or heat rash. But sun sensitivity, also known as photosensitivity, is an extreme sensitivity to ultraviolet rays from the sun. People who are photosensitive may develop skin rashes or burns, even after limited exposure to the sun.


b. Certain skincare ingredients


When it comes to skincare ingredients in products, steer clear of fragrances, dyes, sulphates and exfoliants like glycolic acid, salicylic acid and retinoids at high concentrations. A common myth is that ingredients such as hyaluronic acid and vitamin C can cause sun sensitivity, but there’s no truth to it. In fact, adding vitamin C or other antioxidants to your daily sunscreen routine has been proven to be a second line of defence against harmful UVA rays while also helping to bolster skin’s antioxidant defences.



3. What can you do to protect your sensitive skin from the sun?


a. Try a mineral sunscreen


Dermatologists recommend that those with sensitive skin use sunscreens with physical (not chemical) filters because they tend to be less irritating. “Physical sunscreens typically contain either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, or a combination of both for UVA and UVB protection,” says Dayeh. The best mineral sunscreens for the face are ones that have a slight tint to them, which helps to minimize and camouflage the white cast that mineral lotions can leave behind. Vichy Ultra-Fluid Mineral Tinted Sunscreen SPF 60 is formulated with 100% mineral filters, is fragrance-free and has a lightweight texture that melts into the skin.


b. Cover up and find shade


It takes more than reapplying your sun protection to shield sensitive skin, or any skin type, from the sun. You also should be covering up, especially with a hat. For double protection, you can look for a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) hat. Also, avoid being outside in peak sun hours: between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. and especially around midday. If that’s not an option, try to stay in the shade (under an umbrella) as much as possible.


c. Add vitamin C to your sun protection


Vitamin C works well with broad-spectrum sunscreens to prevent damage. A few drops of vitamin C serum under sunscreen protects skin even further by helping to neutralize the free radical damage that can occur from UV light penetration.

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