They say your skin can take on a personality of its own. Boy, that's true for me. My complexion's character could be compared to that of a 13-year-old: moody, unpredictable and decidedly sensitive.
Turns out, I'm not alone. "Only 30 percent of people in the 1980s said they had sensitive skin. Now that number has grown to 70 percent," says Jessica Wu, MD, a dermatologist in Los Angeles and author of Feed Your Face.
While there's no official definition for a sensitive complexion, most derms agree that the term refers to four main issues: breakouts, redness, rashes and extreme dryness. But you don't fill the bill just because you've had symptoms once. "Sensitive skin means you're frequently irritated by many common ingredients," says Neal Schultz, MD, a dermatologist in New York City and founder of Dermtv.com. Sound like you? Try these no-fuss strategies for calming your complexion.
face-redness . When it comes to food, skip spicy dishes, but pile your plate with omega-3 fatty acids: Research shows they help fight redness and irritation, notes Dr. Baumann. Flaxseed and salmon are two smart sources.
Treat a flare-up: For a step beyond your gentle cleansing and moisturizing, go with treatments that ease inflammation. One potent depuffer: green tea. Find it in Paula's Choice Clinical Instant Calm Advanced Redness Relief ($18; paulaschoice.com). For more stubborn or persistent rosacea, talk to your derm about prescription options, such as metronidazole (an antibiotic) or sulfacetamide (an inflammation fighter).
face-acne Dove DermaSeries Ultra Caring Gentle cream face cleanser ($16; dove.com for information) and Yes to Carrots Intense Hydration night cream ($13; yestocarrots.com).
Treat a flare-up: Start with the gentle soap-free cleanser, and don't try to scrub away flakes: Harsh exfoliants can worsen the problem. Then opt for a super hydrating cream. "Look for ingredients like hyaluronic acid and glycerin, which hold in moisture," says Dr. Wu. Shea butter is another hydrator. Find it in Boots No7 Dry Skin Rescue ($15; target.com). And be generous, advises Dr. Kim: "I tell my patients with this type of dryness to apply emollients two to three times a day."
4 more ways to baby your sensitive skin
1. Spot key terms
Two to look out for: "Hypoallergenic" (it means the ingredients typically cause fewer allergies and less irritation than others) and "fragrance-free" (it tells you there's no added scent).
2. Mind your makeup
Certain cosmetics are kinder to your skin: Powders, pencils and silicone-based foundations are often free of irritants. When in doubt, go for black: Ebony mascara and eyeliner tend to be the least allergenic.
3. Lose scented laundry detergent
Many people are allergic to perfumes in detergents, notes Dr. Kim. Choose soaps labeled fragrance-free.
4. Diminish dairy
Sensitive skin is inflamed, so avoid inflammatory foods, like dairy, which can be hidden in whey protein," says Dr. Wu. Research has linked dairy to acne, too—another reason to lighten your milk intake.