How to Deal When Your Skin Is Freaking Out

No two people are alike, especially when it comes to our skin. But no matter your current skin status, we all want one thing in the end: to have our skin feel healthy, nourished, and hydrated. 

However, when your skin barrier is disrupted, we’ve all had the feeling of our skin not feeling right — an compromised skin barrier that can make skin feel tight, dry or very oily, and sometimes even painful. It can also include “inflammation and patchy, flaky, or itchy skin, which also can lead to other skin issues since the skin’s defense mechanism is now compromised,” says Nikoleta Brankov, M.D., board-certified dermatologist in Houston.

A tell-tale sign that your skin is feeling “off” is if your regular skincare routine is no longer working for you; basically, you’re doing your thing and not seeing any improvements. (Yet another reason why we recommend that you Take It Day by Day, Skin by Skin™.)

A disrupted skin barrier can also exacerbate existing symptoms. For instance, if you have eczema, you might experience increased dryness. For people with dry scalp, you might see an increase in dandruff and flakiness. If you usually deal with acne, it could feel more tender or painful than usual. Simply put, your skin’s throwing a tantrum. 

What could cause uncomfortable skin

Your skin may be hardworking, but it’s also extremely delicate. These are some of the top culprits that can disturb its balance, so you can then identify how to best take care of your skin:

Pollution

Research shows that daily exposure to pollution impacts the health of our skin. “Dirt and dust within our environment may impact our skin cells via small nanoparticles. Gases such as ozone, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide can also damage our skin. Ozone, being a highly unstable molecule exclusively targets the skin surface — and it readily oxidizes with molecules in [your skin barrier],” says Brankov. “Studies have shown that ozone exposure results in signs of oxidative stress including vitamin C and E depletion, suggesting that pollution may induce skin barrier dysfunction.”

Think you have sensitive skin? It might actually be a case of self-sabotage — here’s why.

Dry air

Many of us might still be recovering from winter’s dry, cold air — and some of us live in regions with dry air year-round. “Dry air means that the air lacks humidity, and when that happens, it can cause your skin to dry out if you do not have a great consistent skincare routine. This can then lead to itching, flaking, and tightness on your skin,” says Brankov. Not only that, but, she adds, “overly dry air can cause flare-ups of existing skin conditions, such as eczema and acne.”

UV rays

Bad news: A sunburn isn’t a one-and-done situation. “You may think that getting a sunburn is a temporary condition, however, a sunburn is a result of your skin receiving excessive exposure from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, which can cause long-lasting damage to the skin,” says Brankov. “This increases your risk for getting skin cancer, making it important to protect your skin from the sun.” And, even if you never get sunburned, the exposure to UV rays can still damage your skin cells. 

New skincare products

It’s hard to pinpoint a reaction to a certain product if you’re introducing too many new ones at the same time. “I would always suggest not introducing a new product unless you have tried one for a couple weeks. It’s important to have patience with your skincare products and not try a new one every day or even every week,” says Brankov. Many people don’t realize that patch testing skincare products can take a few days to determine whether you’re sensitive to an ingredient or product. 

Excessive exfoliation

“If you scrub too often and make your skin feel ‘squeaky clean,’ you’re likely using alkaline-based soaps that are prone to weakening the barrier function,” says Brankov. And, if you’re using a physical exfoliator, it’s easy to over-scrub, which is why we’re fans of gentle chemical exfoliants.

Hormones

Since your hormones dictate a ton of bodily function, it’s no surprise that they can impact skin, too. “Hormone levels fluctuate during menopause, menstrual cycle, pregnancy or sometimes from an underlying medical condition, and these hormonal changes can take a toll on the skin,” says Brankov. “Fluctuating androgen and testosterone hormones results in excess oil and bacterial production, which can lead to inflammation and breakouts.”

Understanding the role your hormones play can help you better treat your skin. Here’s how they work in your teens20s, 30s, and 40s.

Diet

For a long time, experts thought there wasn’t a strong relationship between your diet and your skin, but now, there’s “evidence that does indicate that a diet supporting overall health supports good skin health,” says Brankov. Too much sugar has been linked to acne breakouts, while high-sodium foods might make your skin retain too much fluid (causing puffiness). 

Lack of sleep

If you don’t get a good night’s sleep, you’re not just missing out on some pretty major benefits. It could also actively damage your skin — so much so that without regular high-quality sleep, you may start to notice an increase in fine lines and reduced elasticity in your skin. “Inadequate sleep raises your cortisol levels, which is a hormone that can trigger inflammation, which can make your skin more prone to acne and more sensitive to allergic reactions,” says Brankov. Plus, she says, “lack of sleep leads to your blood vessels dilating which can cause the dark circles and puffiness below the eyes.”

When you snooze, your skin gets to work — which is why nighttime is the best time to treat skin.

How to bring balance to skin

With so many factors that could contribute to skin discomfort, you should always chat with your dermatologist to help narrow down what could be the root of the issue. 

In terms of lifestyle and environmental factors, a good place to start is to sleep for a minimum of seven hours a night, since skin naturally repairs while you sleep, says Brankov. “Drink plenty of water during the day: at least half your body weight in ounces,” she adds. “A healthy diet should include nutrient-rich whole foods — fruits, vegetables — whole grains, and healthy fats.”

When it comes to your skincare, “always wash your face with a gentle cleanser to remove oils, dirt, and makeup before bedtime,” says Brankov. Look for products that focus on adding and maintaining moisture, since it’s easy to lose hydration when your skin barrier is compromised. When your skin is in repair mode, you’ll want to stick with ingredients like ceramides, the star of our Avocado Ceramide Recovery Serum; these mimic the lipids already present in your skin’s lipid barrier to support its function.

If you want to exfoliate your skin, pare back to once a week if your skin is feeling sensitive, and use chemical exfoliators that are super gentle — like fruit enzymes in the Papaya Sorbet Enzyme Cleansing Balm — so you don’t worsen symptoms. And, as always, slather on your broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 every day to give your skin barrier its best form of defense from future discomfort and damage. 

Keep reading about caring for stressed-out skin:

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