This article was written by Brigitte Roy, dermatologist.
How do you recognise hypersensitive skin?
What are the trigger factors?
Why does cutaneous hypersensitivity occur?
Are complementary examinations necessary?
How is it cared for?
Appropriate skin care & basic principles
The importance of prevention
Hypersensitive skin in children - Key Points
Hypersensitive or hyperreactive skin has long been described in adults. It is a frequent occurrence, with over half of women stating that they have sensitive skin, and requires specific care.
Children’s skin, which is thinner and more fragile than adults’ skin, presents a certain immaturity in the physiological state, in particular associated with a deficiency in the protective hydrolipid film and heightened permeability of the cutaneous barrier, making it more vulnerable to harsh external agents.
However, paediatricians note that the skin of certain newborns or young children appears even more vulnerable and more sensitive. It reacts in an exaggerated manner to certain factors that are triggered naturally and are usually well tolerated, as the tolerance threshold seems lowered, as in adults. The irritating cutaneous symptoms of these intolerant skin types require specific care.
Hypersensitive skin is defined as skin that is hyperreactive to different factors of varying harshness that are generally well tolerated and withstood by normal skin.
Skin that appears normal…
The symptoms are transient and the child’s skin appears normal apart from during the flare-ups provoked by the triggering agent.
The signs of cutaneous discomfort become apparent on exposure to the trigger factors. These skin disorders are reflected in sensations of stinging and pulling and/or sensations of warmth…or even itching. Although benign, these symptoms are a source of annoyance for children.
These signs of discomfort are combined with redness and even slight dryness of the skin.
There are many factors responsible…
The onset of symptoms is triggered by several types of factors.
These may be:
• Sharp temperature changes
• Atmospheric pollution…
• Such as pressure on the skin
• Certain cleansing products (especially soaps)
• Unsuitable detergents
• Excessively calcareous “hard” water
• Baths, showers, swimming pool…
• Intense emotion
• Stress: school, family tensions…
Impairment of the skin’s barrier function and a lowered tolerance threshold.
The impairment of the cutaneous barrier plays a decisive role in the onset of skin hypersensitivity. A reduction in the cohesion of the cells of the stratum corneum and the fragility of the junction area between the epidermis and the dermis are responsible for an increase in the heightened permeability of the skin.
Weakened and more permeable, it allows itself to be more easily penetrated by potentially irritant substances, encourages contact with potential harsh factors and no longer fulfils its protective barrier role effectively.
The other parameter that influences cutaneous hyperreactivity is a lowering of the skin tolerance threshold. In the context of hypersensitive skin, an irritative reaction will be triggered in an exacerbated manner in response to harsh factors that are normally well tolerated.
The appearance of sensations of cutaneous discomfort, associated or otherwise with transitory redness, which arise under particular conditions, and the absence of symptoms between flare-ups are sufficiently characteristic to give rise to a diagnosis.
The frequency and the onset conditions make it possible to determine the degree of severity of the hypersensitivity. In the event of permanent symptoms of cutaneous discomfort and if there are cutaneous signs other than those described above, the doctor may be led to investigate an allergic cause for the skin disorders. In this case, an allergological investigation may be discussed.
To summarise, in the vast majority of cases, it is not necessary to carry out complementary examinations.
Specific dermo-cosmetic skin care
The hypersensitive skin of children requires the selection and use of specific tailored skin care that acts on the symptoms and causes of skin disorders. Preference will be given to cosmetic products formulated with a minimum of ingredients tailored to the particular nature of the skin of very young children and selected for their high tolerance. The absence of fragrance, preservatives – especially paraben – and artificial colourings in the composition should be a priority.
Reducing redness, soothing the irritative reaction, restoring the cutaneous barrier function and reinforcing the skin tolerance threshold are the indispensable tasks of dermo-cosmetic skin care designed for hypersensitive skin to calm cutaneous discomfort while moisturising and protecting the epidermis.
Bathe or shower your child in lukewarm water (36°C).
Use suitable products to cleanse their face and body: extremely gentle soap-free cleansing products formulated with a minimum of ingredients and of course free from fragrance and preservatives. During the day, combine these with a no-rinse cleansing fluid that has the same characteristics.
<>Every day, apply a moisturising and soothing skin care product that is tailored to hypersensitive skin to restore the impaired cutaneous barrier and reinforce skin tolerance. Minimising skin sensitivity involves optimal hydration. Soothing active ingredients can supplement and reinforce the action of the moisturising agents.
It is essential to adapt your child’s environment in order to prevent or limit contact with the factors that trigger hyperreactivity.
Protect their skin from the cold and wind with a suitable cream or lotion in addition to protective clothing.
As far as possible, avoid exposing them to sharp temperature changes.
As is true for all children, avoid exposure to the sun and, in the event of unavoidable exposure, remember to systematically apply suitable sun protection, combined with protective clothing (T-shirt, hat or baseball cap, sunglasses, etc.).
The essential points with regard to care
Give preference to dermo-cosmetic cleansing and skin care products specifically formulated to correspond to the characteristics of children’s skin.
For their cleansing routine, use products free from soap, preservatives, fragrance and artificial colourings that contain a minimum of ingredients.
Follow the same rule for face and body care, in other words products formulated with a minimum of ingredients and free from preservatives, fragrance and artificial colourings.
These precautions require you to be vigilant and to carefully check the composition of your child’s hygiene and skin care products.