If your skin tingles, burns, goes red or just generally feels irritated after using products with acids, then it could mean that your skin barrier function (also know as the acid mantle) isn’t strong enough and using products targeted at acne such as AHA and BHA acids on your face could be making things worse.
Is your acne prone skin too sensitive for acids?
Our skin is generally slightly acidic with a pH of between 4.5 and 5.5. At this level, its barrier function is most effective, harmful bacteria are inhibited, and beneficial bacteria are encouraged. This means that using skin care products with similar levels of acidity maintains this optimum pH level and helps to keep the skin balanced and healthy.
Do you need to cleanse, tone and moisturise?
Traditionally, toners were used to rebalance the skin pH after cleansing. Our grandparents would have likely used bar soap to cleanse their skin which would have been highly alkaline so a slightly acidic toner was introduced to bring the pH of the skin back into balance.
Nowadays, skin care formulations are much more intelligent and are generally already pH balanced so adding harsh, highly acidic toners without looking after your skin properly (I’m talking to all your girls who are still using cleansing wipes to remove your make up!) can make the skin too acidic, damage the skin barrier and make you much more prone to irritation and breakouts.
So…are acids bad for your skin then?
Not at all! As you’ll find out in my next post, acids can be extremely beneficial for a whole range on skin problems, including acne, pigmentation and minor scarring. When used as part of a responsible skin care routine, acids dissolve the protein bonds that “glue” dead skin cells to our face. When it comes to acne, keeping the surface of our skin free from a build up of dead skin is essential for preventing clogged pores and congestion. Acids are also great for prepping the skin for better absorption of other products in your routine, so if you’re using a vitamin C serum then using an exfoliating acid can help your serums work harder. Problems arise when acids are overused and start to break down the skin barrier function. There is a very fine line between skin rejuvenation and causing further damage to the skin. To best results, it’s vital that you don’t overuse acids and stick to a skin care routine that hydrates and repairs the skin alongside your acid use.
Sensitive skin and acne? How to repair your skin barrier
Quite often we can overlook a damaged skin barrier. We’re so busy putting tonnes of products on our skin in a bid to clear up a breakout…or we sit out in the sun longer than we should as our skin ‘looks clearer with a tan’ that we don’t often that about the actually structure of our skin and how it could be making our acne even worse. Below are just a few things that can damage your skin barrier function:
- Over washing your face
- Weather changes (dry/cold/hot/wind)
- Stagnant lifestyle (no exercise)
- Not enough sleep
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Poor diet
- Sun damage
- Overuse of acidic skin care products
- Using hot water on your skin
As you can see, there are many things that can damage the skin barrier function but if you struggle with any of the below (source), then you may have a compromised skin barrier without even realising it yet:
- Sensitive skin
- Scaly skin
- Dry skin
- Itchy skin
- Premature ageing
How do I repair my skin barrier function?
So, your sensitive skin can’t tolerate acids very well and you’re pretty sure you’re struggling with some sort of skin barrier damage, what do you do next?
The first steps you want to take are things like lowering stress, making sure you’re getting plenty of good quality sleep each night, exercising regularly to increase circulation and oxygen to the skin, drinking enough filtered, fluoride-free water daily, and eating a clean healthy diet rich in healing, healthy fats. However, while these lifestyle changes are going to benefit your overall health, you will also need to tweak your current skin care routine for maximum results. The following skin care tips can help speed up skin barrier repair:
- Keep it simple and don’t be rough with your skin. Common skin care ingredients such as Alcohol and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) strip the skin and weaken your skin barrier while harsh exfoliators and spot treatments cause surface micro tears and remove healthy layers of skin which can make a compromised skin barrier even worse.
- Avoid using hot water on your skin when you cleanse.
- Switch to unfragranced/scent free skin care – even cut out products with natural essential oils as these can be problematic too!
- Look for skin care products that contain Hyaluronic Acid, Niacinamide, Ceramides and Peptides as these can help retain skin moisture and repair the skin barrier.
- Always apply your SPF! Sun damage is the most COMMON cause of a weakened skin barrier so apply your acne-friendly sunscreen every day!
How long will it take to heal my sensitive skin?
Unfortunately that’s not a straightforward answer…! It totally depends on how damaged your skin barrier was/is in the first place. However, I recommend implementing the skin care AND lifestyle changes for a minimum of 3 months before you start experimenting with more potent products, acids or heavy duty spot treatments. Remember to start slowly too! If you’re looking to add acids to your routine, stick to very gentle acids to start with, like lactic acid or PHAs/Polyhydroxy acids (lactobionic acid and gluconolactone), and perhaps even stick to just an acid cleanser to begin with as these are washed off so you’re not leaving acids on your skin for long periods of time.
Do you think your acne and sensitive skin is caused by a weakened skin barrier? Let me know your sensitive skin tips for acne in the comments below!
Peace, Love & Clear Skin,