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What’s the definition of intolerant and sensitive skin?

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Although there is no official difference, intolerant skin is generally vulnerable to allergens, while sensitive skin is prone to irritation without an allergic reaction. Here’s how to find out whether you have intolerant or sensitive skin…

Intolerant and sensitive skin have symptoms in common. They can both feel uncomfortable on contact with irritants, such as chemicals in skincare or washing powders. They can both be susceptible to redness and blemishes. There is no official definition of the difference between them, however there are some recognisable differences between the two.

What's the difference?

Intolerant or allergy-prone skin suffers from allergic reactions as well as sensitivities. Sensitive skin is generally less severe, and reacts when nerve endings just below your skin’s surface become irritated.

Knowing what kind of skin you have will help you choose the best way to care for it.

Symptoms of intolerant skin

If you have intolerant, allergy-prone skin, you’re more vulnerable to external irritants. Your skin’s reactions can be fast and extreme, often with itching, tingling, burning sensations and redness developing within a few minutes of contact with an irritant. You might experience daily discomfort and find that you’re unable to wear many kinds of cosmetics.

Symptoms of sensitive skin

In general, sensitive skin is less severe and reacts less frequently than intolerant skin. You might suffer from redness and blemishes, flush easily in hot and cold weather, after eating spicy food or consuming alcohol. Sensitive skin can also feel tight and itchy after exposure to wind, very hot water and sometimes air pollution.

Caring for intolerant skin

Look for hypoallergenic skincare and make-up. Your skincare should have relatively few ingredients and be formulated for delicate, intolerant skin. Avoid contaminating your products with bacteria by washing your hands before applying. Pay attention to the packaging: toiletries in sealed pump dispensers are less vulnerable to air contamination than those in jars. Use a liquid dermo-cleanser to remove make-up and dirt in the evening. Moisturise twice daily, too, to hydrate your skin, soothing any irritation. If you suspect you might be allergic to something, ask your dermatologist to do a patch test.

Caring for sensitive skin

Your skincare should be right for your skin’s sensitivities, whether your skin is redness-prone, dry or sensitive to irritants. Always look for products designed especially for sensitive skin. Cleanse and moisturise daily, and add a nourishing serum to your routine when your skin feels dry. Avoid washing in hard water or very hot water, which can leave your skin feeling dry and itchy.

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