Make This The Year You Overcome Your Sensitive Side

30th December 2016

When you suffer with a skin condition, being able to ‘put your face on’ is far harder than for most. Claire Moulds brings you the low-down on avoiding unpleasant flare-ups...

Whether you want to wear makeup only occasionally – for a wedding, special night out or job interview – or you’re a regular user, if you have a sensitive skin or a diagnosed skin condition you’ll know already that this presents a number of specific challenges that can be difficult to overcome.

One of the hardest of these is the vast number of substances to which you will be exposing your skin. Cosmetic companies draw on a wide range of ingredients to create different colours, textures and effects – and there’s a real risk of discovering that one or more of these will irritate your complexion.

And the longer the list of ingredients, the harder it can be to track down exactly what you’ve reacted to, in order to avoid it again in the future; similarly, the terminology that manufacturers use can also be confusing. In fact, choosing items for your new make-up bag can sometimes feel as though you’ve taken a trip back in time to your school’s science laboratory.

However… knowledge is power. As your teacher no doubt told you, playing with chemicals when you don’t know what they are or what they do is a recipe for disaster. That’s why research is crucial. Before you apply anything, anywhere, you need to understand what your skin is about to come into contact with and eliminate any obvious risks.

Begin by making a list of ingredients to avoid, starting with substances that you already know that you react to. Those with food allergies should also take into account that many food-based ingredients in cosmetic products go under their Latin name, so it may not be immediately obvious that the two are linked and that any risk is involved. Common examples are: peanut oil (arachis oil), sweet almond oil (prunus amygdalus dulcis oil) and sesame seed oil (sesamum indicum oil).  

Do not necessarily rely on the sales assistant to guide you when it comes to an ingredient query. While some will be trained on everything that a product contains, others are solely there to offer colour and application advice, and ultimately, of course, to make a sale. Time-consuming as it is, it’s advisable to make direct contact with the company’s head office instead, to ensure you get an accurate answer.

Crucially, you should also check a product’s ingredients every time you buy it, regardless of whether you have used it safely in the past. The manufacturer could very well have changed the formulation since you last bought it and added something that isn’t compatible with your skin.

It’s also very important to get to grips with the phraseology. There are many common misconceptions surrounding the way products are marketed, which can lead to mistakes that are costly both in terms of your skin’s health and the money you’ve spent.

Misleading phrases include:

‘Products made from natural ingredients are safer to use on your skin’ – as it happens, your skin doesn’t recognise the difference between a natural and a synthetic substance and can react to either.

‘Fragrance-free/unscented/unperfumed’ – check carefully, as even unscented/unperfumed products sometimes include a small amount of fragrance to mask the natural smell of the ingredients they use; all cosmetics that contain any fragrance will have the word ‘parfum’ listed in their ingredients.

‘For sensitive skin’ – accept this catch-all phrase at your peril: while cosmetics displaying this claim will have taken steps to minimise the risk of irritation, these alone do not guarantee the product is safe for you to use.

‘Hypoallergenic’ – it’s impossible to guarantee that a cosmetic product will never cause an allergic reaction; this term actually means no more than that the item in question has been designed to be less likely to cause a reaction.

Finally, remember that the phrase ‘dermatologically tested’ is highly vague – as there is no agreed standard set for this, the meaning can vary considerably in terms of how the product was tested, on how many people and by whom.

Bearing all this in mind, it should go without saying that you should never apply multiple new cosmetics at once, especially to the same area of skin, as it will then be impossible to determine which has caused any subsequent reaction.

Trialling a new product needs to be a systematic process, so that you can minimise risk and obtain a clear-cut result. Ideally explain your situation to the shop assistant/manufacturer and see if they will give you a free sample to test – as, unfortunately, the trial and error process can not only be time-consuming and frustrating but expensive as well. If a free sample is not forthcoming, then you may be able to purchase a small tester pot instead.

Before using any makeup product on your face, apply a tiny amount to an area of your body not affected by your skin condition, such as the crease of your elbow, daily for five days. If there is no reaction after this time, try applying a small amount to your face on three consecutive days. If there is still no reaction, then it is likely that you can continue using it.

Hygiene is vital when it comes to your makeup, plus the containers it is kept in and the tools you use to apply it. Wash your brushers and applicators regularly, as these transfer bacteria and germs from your skin to your makeup, and back again. A hot wash once a week (ideally with soap, detergent or a mild shampoo) will help to minimise the risk of infection and ensure you aren’t introducing unwanted guests into your makeup bag. Equally, always apply your makeup with clean hands and never share it (or your applicators) with anybody.

Be aware that the shelf-life of cosmetic products can be as little as three months. Check the packaging or ask the manufacturer and, to make it easier to remember when something needs to be thrown out, mark the date it was opened on the bottle or jar.

Anecdotal evidence has shown that mineral make-up is generally less irritating for people with problematic skin and is therefore one option you may wish to pursue. Launched in the 1970s, it has taken the cosmetic world by storm in recent years, with people attracted by the limited number of ingredients used and the elimination of many of the additives found in traditional makeup that aggravate sensitive skin.

In its purest form, mineral makeup is a fine loose powder comprised only of mineral ingredients, combined to produce a range of colours that can then be used as a foundation, concealer, blusher, bronzer or eye shadow.

Lightweight in texture and non-pore-blocking, mineral makeup allows your skin to breathe, while providing sufficient coverage to even out skin tone and hide minor blemishes. Its rising popularity has also meant that brands have expanded their shade range to complement skin tones across the spectrum.

The success of mineral makeup has also, however, led to some companies using the word ‘mineral’ on their packaging even though the actual minerals comprise a very small part of the finished product. Again, by checking the ingredients you can see which makeup the majority of a product; as with food, they are listed in descending order with the greatest constituent named first.

The most common ingredients found in mineral cosmetics include titanium dioxide, a manufactured oxide of titanium most commonly found in the mineral rutile (beach sand), and approved as a physical sunscreen. Zinc oxide, manufactured from the mineral zincite, is also an approved physical sunscreen and known for both its anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties. Mica occurs naturally, but in cosmetics is a manufactured mineral providing shimmer. Lastly, iron oxides are primarily used as colorants and are synthesized under strict laboratory processes.

One ingredient to avoid is talc. Although a mineral, talc has a drying effect on the skin. Unfortunately, a number of the high street brands do include it in their mineral makeup products, so – you know what I’m going to say, dont’ you? – check the contents. Steer clear of bismuth oxychloride, too. Although found in many mineral cosmetics, bismuth oxychloride is widely recognised as a potential skin irritant that can cause itching, rashes and even trigger acne breakouts.

It’s a challenge; no-one can deny that –but following these simple tips may help you avoid a potentially distressing reaction and ensure your beauty routine is a less frustrating and more enjoyable experience.

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