How Sensitive Skin is Different in Women and Men
There’s a lot we don’t yet know about sensitive skin. We don’t know why certain triggers affect some people and not others, or why reactions differ from person to person. We do know, however, that sensitive skin affects men and women in different ways, and understanding these distinctions can help everyone care for their sensitive skin effectively.
A man’s skin is naturally thicker than a woman’s, thanks to androgen (testosterone) stimulation, which also creates a tougher texture. But tougher is not necessarily better. Though men’s skin is thicker, it’s actually more sensitive to ultraviolet radiation and environmental conditions. Men may be more prone to photosensitivity, a condition in which ultraviolet light transforms proteins in the skin, which damages skin cells and causes redness and stinging. In fact, men have a higher incidence of nonmelanoma and melanoma skin cancers than women, and they are more susceptible to aging due to sun exposure. This may be due to the fact that men are exposed greater cumulative lifetime sun exposure and they tend to be less vigilant than women when it comes to consistently using sunscreen to protect their skin.
Dryness and Flaking
A man’s skin may be thicker and tougher, but it’s also naturally drier than a woman’s. That’s why men with skin that’s sensitive to environmental factors like chilly, dry air, gusty winds, and low humidity need to moisturize more to avoid cracking and flaking.
On the other hand, women may experience more dryness due to their use of skin products and cosmetics that contain harsh ingredients. Scented products, makeup containing chemicals, and anti-aging products with strong exfoliants are some of the main culprits causing irritation. Cleansers can also wreak havoc on sensitive skin. Sodium lauryl sulfate is a harsh emulsifier found in body washes, facial cleansers and soap. It may do the job on dirt and oil, but it also strips the skin of lipids, which help bind cells together and protect from dryness and damage.
Redness, Stinging and Itching
Hormonal changes that occur during menstruation, pregnancy and menopause affect women’s skin. When a woman is on her period, her skin is likely to be more sensitive and dry. During pregnancy, some women experience itchy skin or may find that an itchy skin condition, such as dermatitis, becomes worse. While going through menopause, women’s skin becomes sensitized because the top level of the skin, called the epidermis, thins and is less protective.
Because of their grooming habits, men are more prone to bacterial and viral infections of the skin. Repetitive shaving can leave the skin inflamed and irritated, which can lead to infection. Men also produce about four times as much sebum (an oily or waxy matter) as women, so they are more susceptible to large pores and longer-lasting acne.
Here’s the bottom line: though men and women are different in many ways—including epidermally—both can suffer from sensitive skin. So what can they do to help?
- Keep it gentle. Harsh soaps and detergents can strip the oil from your skin, so choose mild cleaning products for house chores and gentle face and body cleansers formulated for sensitive or dry skin. Also, steer clear of soaps containing drying antibacterial agents, such as tetrasodium EDTA and triclosan.
- Keep it short. Hot water and long showers or baths can also dry out your skin. Limit your time in the bath or shower, and be sure to use warm (not hot) water.
- Shave and protect. Shaving can dry out and damage the skin, so use a clean, sharp razor and shaving cream, lotion or gel for lubrication. Shave in the direction the hair grows (not against it).
- Lay, then spray. It’s best to avoid any fragrances, including perfume. But if you must use your favorite scent, avoid direct contact with your skin. Lay your clothing on your bed and lightly mist it with fragrance a few minutes before getting dressed.
- Moisturize. If your skin is dry, use a daily facial moisturizer that fits your skin type with an SPF of 30 or higher. Also, apply a body moisturizer after your shower or bath while your skin is still damp (pat or blot skin dry with a towel first) to seal in moisture. If you have a problem with stinging or redness, try a soothing moisturizer with chamomile or aloe. Avoid products with acids, fragrances or dyes. A dermatologist can recommend the best products for you.
- Modify your diet. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains can keep skin looking and feeling healthy—even younger. Avoid fats and processed or refined carbohydrates, which can often cause inflammation and allergic reactions.
- De-stress. Stress has a big impact on the skin, triggering breakouts, irritation and other problems. For a healthier look—and outlook—take steps to manage the stress in your life. Scale back on your to-do list and commitments, and schedule in more down time and activities you enjoy. You’ll feel better and calmer, and your skin will show it.