By Rachel Reiff Ellis
Showering can often leave sensitive skin itchy, tight, red, or dry. But a few tweaks to your routine could make it a more skin-friendly experience.
Close the door. It’s a simple tip, but a good one: Shutting yourself in when you shower helps build up steam in the bathroom. Pump up the humidity and give your skin a chance to soak in that extra moisture.
Keep it quick. A shower can feel great while you’re in it, but spending too much time under the jets can trigger skin troubles later. “Staying in too long washes the oils away from your skin,” says Carolyn Goh, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
This means the protective layer that keeps moisture locked in is gone. Water leaves your skin more easily once you’re dry. Goh suggests you limit shower sessions to less than 10 minutes. The same goes for baths, even though they’re a soak and not a spray. “The amount of time you spend in the water is more important than how the water touches your skin,” she says.
Be soap savvy. Sensitive skin and soap aren’t great friends, so the less you lather up, the better. If you can’t see dirt, water will do for cleaning most of your body. “Keep the soap to the dirty areas -- armpits and groin,” says Suzan Obagi, MD, director of the Cosmetic Surgery & Skin Health Center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “Harsh soaps can dry your skin out more and make sensitive skin worse.”
Cool it down. Hot water also strips away your skin’s natural oils. There’s no ideal temperature to shoot for, Obagi says. Lukewarm -- not too hot and not too cold -- is the most soothing. Find the coolest temperature you can stand and leave it there. Speedy showers help here too, she says, because people tend to turn the temperature up the longer they’re in.
Pick the right products. Watch out for harsh soaps or body washes that have fragrance, dyes, or are deodorizing. Avoid alcohol-based and antibacterial options. All these are more likely to irritate your skin and leave it itchy, tight, and dry. Instead, go for gentle cleansers or shower gels with added oils or fats. “Look for soaps and cleansers that say ‘moisturizing,’ ‘hypoallergenic,’ or ‘made for sensitive skin,’ ” Obagi says.
Skip the scrubs. There’s no shortage of products designed to help remove the top layer of dead skin cells while you wash. But Obagi says products that exfoliate will only make already sensitive skin worse. Washcloths are OK as long as they aren’t too rough. Choose one made from a soft fabric. Toss it in the laundry after every use to be sure it isn’t housing bacteria or mold.
Dry off gently. When it comes to toweling off sensitive skin, gentle motions are key. “Patting dry is recommended over air drying or rubbing,” Goh says. Too rough, and you’re at risk of irritating skin. But don’t ditch the towel altogether or water will leave your skin too quickly. “Air-drying skin allows the body to lose the water moisture to the environment,” Obagi says. Blot your skin carefully, and keep ointment or cream on hand to seal in moisture.
Finish off with moisturizer. Right after a shower or bath, your skin is full of water. You can lock it in by slathering on cream or ointment right away. “As soon as you pat dry, apply a thick moisturizer to skin that is still moist,” Goh says. “This helps keep some of the moisture on the skin and helps replace the natural oils in the skin.”
When it comes to products, think thick. Ointments like petroleum jelly work best, followed by creams or shea butter with moisturizing ingredients like jojoba oil or olive oil.