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Causes of Skin Irritation and How to Soothe it

Skin irritation is a common concern and it's closely linked to skin barrier function. Keep reading to learn what our experts have to say about soothing your irritated skin.

As a skincare brand, we talk a lot about our skin: what it is, how it works and how to take care of it. Today, we’re talking about skin irritation. I sat down with our skin experts to get a better understanding of why our skin becomes irritated, and what we can do to help it.

Meet our experts

Ingrid Herbert is a Holistic Skin Coach and the CEO of her own private holistic health practice, Wellness to Go. She specializes in helping people achieve their healthiest skin through a combination of lifestyle, skincare, mindset and nutrition. 

Ivy Phung is a Cosmetic Chemist and Consultant, specializing in the formulation of organic and green beauty products. She is also Graydon Skincare’s Senior Manager of Product Development / R&D / Operations.

The relationship between skin barrier function and skin irritation

Essentially, our skin becomes irritated because the skin barrier function is impaired.

I’ve talked about the skin barrier before, but just to recap, it’s the outermost layer of your skin (AKA: the stratum corneum). It’s made up of dead skin cells (corneocytes) held together by a glue-like mixture of cholesterol, free fatty acids and ceramides. The main purpose of the skin barrier is to block out foreign substances and environmental stressors, protect against mechanical injuries, regulate water loss and fight off oxidative stress.

When your skin barrier is impaired, you’ll notice symptoms of irritation such as inflammation, itchiness, rough patches and overly reactive skin. 

Reasons why your skin is irritated

The truth is, there are a plethora of reasons and we don’t always know the exact one. Since it may be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of poor skin barrier function, finding a fix for skin irritation can be complicated. But don’t worry, there are five common causes of skin irritation. Let’s discuss!

You were born with it

Unfortunately, you may just be more prone to skin irritation.

People with the sensitive skin type have skin that is less tolerant of stressors than all the other skin types. Here at Graydon Skincare, we like to refer to it as “skin that reacts to just about everything.” This skin type has a naturally weak skin barrier function.

In reaction to the environment, ingredients in personal care products and even diet changes, people with sensitive skin may feel stinging, burning, itching, redness and may even experience dryness, scaling, peeling, bumps and hives.

In this situation, Ivy, our chemist, recommends using ingredients that are hydrating, calming and reinforce your skin barrier function.

“One ingredient that I’d highly suggest adding to your routine is ceramide. Since ceramide is what makes up the majority of the glue that holds our skin barrier together, you’ll be able to strengthen it over time if you utilize this ingredient.” Explains Ivy.

Some other ingredients to consider adding to your routine are hyaluronic acid, glycerin and niacinamide. Since sensitive skin has a hard time holding onto water, you need to replenish the water loss by adding more moisturizing ingredients like hyaluronic acid and glycerin. Niacinamide is also great because it can “help your skin produce its own collagen and ceramides so that it can strengthen and moisturize itself.” Says Ivy.

You can find niacinamide in our Aloe Milk Cleanser, vegan hyaluronic acid in our Fullmoon Serum, ceramide in our Skin Stuff Face + Eye Cream and glycerin in pretty much all of our products.

Aloe Milk, Fullmoon Serum, Skin Stuff on marble background

It’s your microbiome

Sometimes referred to as the skin flora, our skin microbiome is a complex ecosystem of thousands of microorganisms, with over 1,000 different types of bacteria and up to 80 different types of fungi. The microbiome aids in the wound healing process, guards against potentially harmful pathogens, minimizes oxidative damage and keeps the skin plump and moist

More and more, we’re beginning to understand just how important the microbiome is to our skin health. If your microbiome is in disarray, your skin can get irritated.

I have three words when it comes to keeping your skin microbiome happy: microbiome friendly skincare.

These products can help to nourish, restore and maintain the bacteria colonies on your skin microbiome. These are skincare products that are infused with prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics. 

Our Berry Rich Face + Eye Cream is formulated with vegan probiotics that help to replenish the good bacteria in your skin’s microbiome and reinforce your skin barrier function.

Bright blue Berry Rich being applied to finger

Your skin has become sensitized

Not to be confused with sensitive skin, which is a skin type that you’re born with, sensitized skin is the result of skin damage (usually from incorrect use of harsh active ingredients).

In case you aren’t aware, active ingredients (or actives) are skincare ingredients that address specific skin concerns. These ingredients have concrete scientific studies and research behind them, proving that they are able to alter the skin’s appearance in positive, meaningful ways. 

Some examples include pro-aging retinoids, exfoliating acids like glycolic acid or salicylic acid, antioxidants like vitamin C and brighteners like azelaic acid.

The thing is, with active ingredients, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Unfortunately, many people tend to overuse or misuse them, which eventually tips the naturally balanced state of your skin. This results in overly reactive and sensitized skin. 

So what’s the solution?

Well, the first step is to immediately stop whatever it is you’re using!

Once you’ve stopped the aggravators from sensitizing your skin, you can start to nurse it back to normal again. I recommend taking your skincare routine back to the basics. Start with a gentle pH-balanced cleanser that won’t strip your skin, such as Aloe Milk Cleanser. After that, while your skin is still damp, apply a skin barrier strengthening moisturizer, such as Skin Stuff Face + Eye Cream. Then top it all off with your favourite non-nano, reef-safe SPF to prevent UV rays from damaging your skin even further.

You have an inflammatory skin disorder

If you’re someone who’s suffering from eczema, rosacea or psoriasis, I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about. These skin conditions are generally characterized by redness, rashes, bumps, swelling, itchiness and an overall hypersensitivity. So basically, these inflammatory conditions are the poster children of an impaired skin barrier function and an overactive immune system. And no matter what you do, your skin just always seems to be irritated. 

Unfortunately, there are no cures for these skin disorders.

That doesn’t mean that there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. The very first thing you should do is visit a dermatologist to understand your condition. Then, depending on how severe it is, you might need to use topical, oral or systemic full-body treatments.

If a dermatologist appointment isn’t in the cards for you, there are certain ingredients you can use at home to alleviate the symptoms of these conditions.

A big one is colloidal oatmeal that is usually seen in rosacea creams,” explains Ivy, “particularly, the oat oil that we use has been shown to contain ceramides to help moisturize the skin and improve skin barrier function. It also  softens and soothes the skin.” 

On top of that, Ivy recommends using sea buckthorn, which is rich in vitamin E. Not only is it a great source of antioxidants, it can also draw in moisture to really help “heal” the skin that's red and inflamed. And finally, she suggests “chamomile, blue tansy, and aloe vera for their soothing, anti-inflammatory properties.” 

You can find colloidal oatmeal in Putty, which acts as a great skin protectant that helps to reduce transepidermal water loss in the skin and is also known to soothe sensitive, itching, tightness and other stubborn irritation. You can find blue tansy in our Fullmoon Serum and Intimacy Oil. And finally, you can find aloe vera in our Aloe Milk Cleanser.  

Putty with product smear on the cap

Something is going on internally

Sometimes, your skin becomes irritated because it’s trying to say “Hey, something is wrong on the inside. Please fix it!”

“For one, the digestive system may not be functioning optimally,” explains Ingrid, our Holistic Skin Coach, “it might be due to poor absorption of nutrients, not enough good bacteria, too much of the bad, not enough nutrients from food or the inability of the body to start the digestive process because of stress and possibly high levels of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.”

Even though there’s a debate about whether or not your diet has a role in the appearance of your skin, I choose to believe that it does. Our body is one giant machine, with all the parts playing an interconnective role. And if you nourish your machine properly through a well-balanced diet, then your skin will look good as well! 

Ingrid mentions that the nervous system might also be a big trigger. “When you feel anxious, nervous and even stressed over a period of time, these internal stressors could cause the skin to flare up with rashes, acne and excessive dryness.” Says Ingrid. The skin starts to mirror this internal imbalance externally.

As a Holistic Skin Coach specializing in balancing the internal with the external, Ingrid has a wealth of knowledge to offer on this topic.

“My personal take on food and nutrients is to loosely follow the eating for your blood type.” Explains Ingrid. “I've recommended this for years because the portions of protein, veggies, fruits and carbs all vary between each blood type.” 

In addition, no matter who you are, you should alkaline the blood, liver, stomach and muscles by drinking lots of water, as well as including electrolytes for deeper hydration. I recommend consuming more aloe juice. Ingrid and I love it because it helps to heal your body from the inside out. You can't go wrong with it!

Final words

There are many reasons why your skin becomes irritated. However, what they all have in common is an impaired skin barrier function that does a poor job of blocking out harmful pathogens and preventing water loss. You need to figure out the reason behind it and come up with a solution accordingly. 

I hope that the reasons we covered in this article help you to determine the cause of your skin irritation so that you can work towards a solution and improve your skin health. 

In severe cases of skin irritation, I highly recommend seeking the expert advice of a dermatologist. 

Image Credits Main image by: Jenna Hamra
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