Gaynor Farmer-Katics
15 Apr

Sensitive skin is classed as a skin type if you are born with it. You’re genetically predisposed to reactivity, redness, burning and stinging, itchiness and irritation as well as thin skin. You’ll be more prone to the atopic triad; asthma, eczema and allergies such as hay fever.   

Historically, we think of English, Scottish, Scandinavian and the northern European countries as having this classic fair complexion that is red, thin and easily aggravated skin. However, with the blending of nationalities over the centuries this is no longer the case and sensitive skin can and does occur in all types of skin. 

Then, we have sensitized skin that is classed as a skin condition which can affect any skin type. Sensitized skin is be caused by triggers. These triggers may be internal factors such as food, hormonal changes, intense emotions and medications. Skin can also be sensitized by external factors such as temperature changes, air pollution, the sun, cosmetic ingredients and laundry detergent to name but a few. 

If the skin is sensitized then removing or changing the trigger will eliminate the symptoms, not an easy task in reality. 

For the rest of this blog, I will refer to sensitive and sensitized skin as simply sensitive skin for the sake of simplicity.

Being armed with this knowledge can better prepare us for the best type of massage technique to use on this type of skin. 

A popular facial rule when dealing with easily irritated skin is "The Less Rule". Following these simple guidelines will help you reduce skin reactions in our clients with the most vulnerable skin. 

  • less product - reduce the number of products used within a facial to minimize the chance of skin reactions. Whenever possible avoid fragrances, especially synthetic ones.
  • less heat* - avoid steam, hot towels, thermal masks, or indirect high frequency. Consider turning off the heat pad. Internal body heat can transfer to the face especially in menopausal clients.
  • less friction - fewer extractions, physical exfoliants such as scrubs, highly stimulating massage movements.
  • less time - spend 45 minutes maximum, especially if a first-time client.

 *I would also like to add a side note regarding the Less Heat rule. I believe it is more appropriate to say less extremes of temperature; hot or cold. It is preferable to keep temperatures more even and on the cooler side.

In order to avoid any unpleasant sensations a client with sensitive skin may experience during face massage, let’s take these 4 factors into account. 

1. Type of movement (less friction)  Sensitive skin is more reactive and reacts quickly to external factors. This could be the heat generated by stimulating movements such as fast frictions, deep pressure with strong petrissage. 

Whole hand effleurage movements can also generate a lot of heat, especially if your hands run hot. 

Observe the skin as you’re working with it. If you were taught a massage sequence that requires a certain number of reps to be given, be aware that these are guidelines and you must customize the sequence as needed by the skin in front of you. So, if the cheeks are flaring up like a red stop sign, move on to another movement and allow them to calm down.  

USE: Lighter pressure or techniques that use fingertips only.

Facial acupressure is an example of fingertip massage technique. While deeply relaxing, it gently stimulates the entire energy of the body and local blood flow. Having a holistic effect on clients’ entire body, mind and spirit, this useful technique can help when intense emotions are a known trigger.

European Aromatherapy Face massage techniques use primarily the fingertips for sinus pressurerelief which is often experienced by someone with seasonal allergies or hay fever. It also helps to improve lymph drainage for detox, soothes nerve endings for a deeply relaxing effect without stimulating the skin. 

Don’t be fooled by the name, this technique does not need aromatherapy or essential oils to be effective.

Lymph drainage massage techniques are featherlight and work superficially on the lymphatic capillaries found just below the epidermis. 

Alternatively, you may choose to omit face massage but instead select an area such as the scalp, upper body or even the hands and arms to massage instead. Still giving all the benefits of increasing well-being and rejuvenation without potentially flaring up the facial skin.

Please leave a comment below if you found this useful and consider sharing it with a fellow esthetician. If you have anything to add from your experience of working with sensitive skin, we'd love to hear that too!

* The email will not be published on the website.