How to Treat a Client with Sensitive Skin

As a skincare professional, your clients trust you to help them resolve skin concerns. More than simply recommending a course of treatment, however, it is also your job to help the client understand their skin and what they can do to improve its health and appearance.

Though your client may have their own ideas, your knowledge of skin types and treatments will be valuable in educating your client about their issues and helping them choose the most appropriate products and treatments. This can be particularly tricky for clients with sensitive skin. Sensitive skin is not so much a skin type as a skin condition. Some clients react to high or low temperatures while others experience irritation from environmental factors and specific products.

You’ll need to work together with your client to find the right combination of products and treatments to resolve their concerns. Here’s what you need to know to treat a client with sensitive skin.

How to Identify Sensitive Skin

The skin is the body’s largest organ and it can be just as complex as others like the heart and lungs. Anything you put into or onto your body has the potential to affect your skin, and some skin tends to react poorly to certain triggers. This is a hallmark of sensitive skin.

Here are some of the most common signs of sensitive skin:

  • Skin is prone to rashes and red bumps
  • The skin flushes easily
  • Products applied to the skin sting or burn
  • Skin exhibits patches of dryness
  • The skin feels taut and may be itchy, even painful at times
  • Capillaries are visible on the nose and cheeks
  • Cold and wind triggers inflammation
  • Skin may be oily and prone to breakouts

Managing sensitive skin can be challenging, especially if the client hasn’t already identified their triggers. Before choosing a treatment or making product recommendations, it’s important to communicate with your client to help both of you come to a better understanding of their skin.

Communicating with Your Client

During your initial consult, you can ask questions about the symptoms of sensitivity the client experiences and what circumstances precede those symptoms. If you’re able to link symptoms of reactivity to specific products, you may be able to make more appropriate recommendations for professional treatments as well as at-home products. For clients who are unable to identify a specific cause for sensitivity, you may want to stick with gentle, fragrance-free formulas designed for sensitive skin to minimize the risk for itching and redness.

As you talk to your client, take any opportunity you get to educate them about their skin. The more your client understands their skin, the better equipped they will be to care for it.

Every client wants to see results and earning a repeat client depends on your ability to make a connection with the client and to deliver satisfaction. By no means should you lead the client to expect their skin issues will be resolved with a single treatment, but you can explain the treatment options and give them some idea what to expect. It’s important to establish trust – to demonstrate your knowledge and to work alongside your client to achieve the desired solution.

Sensitive Versus Reactive Skin

When treating a client with sensitive skin, the first step is to confirm that they do in fact have sensitive skin. Many people whose skin becomes irritated easily assume they have sensitive skin when in reality their skin has simply become sensitized.

Sensitive skin tends to react predictably to certain triggers like extreme cold, exposure to UV rays, and certain ingredients in skincare products. Redness – particularly tiny red bumps on the surface of the skin – is a common sign of sensitive skin. Skin sensitivity, on the other hand is more of a reaction which tends to appear dry and irritated. If your skin becomes red and inflamed with exposure to certain triggers (especially certain topical products), it could be a sign of reactive skin rather than sensitive skin.

Before treating your client, it’s important to confirm their skin type and to assess the skin’s current condition. Talk about the things that trigger your client’s sensitivity to get a better understanding of their skin and adjust your treatment according.

The Basics of Treating Sensitive Skin

The golden rule of treating sensitive skin is to repair, hydrate, and strengthen the skin to reduce reactivity. Though moisturization is a must-have element in any facial treatment, it’s particularly important in sensitive skin treatments to hydrate the skin, then lock in that moisture to reinforce skin’s barrier.

Here are some additional tips for treating sensitive skin:

  • Consider performing a patch test when introducing a new product if you aren’t sure how your client’s skin will react. It’s also a good idea to leave products on for a shorter period of time.
  • Avoid products that contain artificial fragrance and other ingredients that might irritate the skin – don’t use anything with alcohol either, as it can be harsh and drying.
  • Be gentle with the skin, both in the products you choose and the techniques you utilize. Avoid high heat, heavy pressure, enzyme treatments, and excessive extractions.
  • Choose a gentle chemical exfoliator (like one that contains lactic or salicylic acids) to speed cell turnover without damaging or irritating the skin.
  • Always rinse with warm water and lightly pat the face dry rather than rubbing it. Remember that some products absorb better when the skin is just slightly damp.
  • Finish your treatments with products to support hydration and protect the skin – never send a client away from a daytime appointment without SPF.

With sensitive skin, it is important to be gentle and to focus on healing and fortifying the skin. Avoid the temptation to layer on too many different products and stick to the basics – cleansing, toning, non-abrasive exfoliation, and moisturizing. If the client has other skin concerns, you may want to recommend they return for treatment at a later date once their sensitivity is under control.

Change is the only constant in life, so make sure your client understands the importance of updating their skincare routine from time to time. This is particularly important with sensitive skin, as new sensitivities may develop. Create a timeline with your client for regular facials and check in at each appointment to make sure they have the at-home products they need.