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How to treat allergy-prone skin during hay fever season

The dos and dont's of handling sensitive skin

Koto Bolofo for Harper's Bazaar
Koto Bolofo for Harper's Bazaar

It's now estimated that 44 per cent of all British adults are impacted by allergies, with 45 per cent of sufferers affected by more than one, according to Mintel. Hay fever is one of the most common, reportedly affecting up to 49 per cent of the UK population, with symptoms such as itchy, watery eyes and a runny, red nose not only negatively affecting your mood and lifestyle, but also your skin.

To help those struggling with a sore and sensitive complexion, we spoke to the experts to discover how to identity and treat your symptoms, whether you are coping with reactions to high pollen count or other allergies.

What causes hay fever?

"Hay fever is a common allergic reaction that is caused when the body makes allergic antibodies (IgE) to certain substances," explains Allergy UK. "Grass pollen is the most common allergen (May to July), but tree (February to June) and weed (June to September) pollens can also cause the allergic reaction we know as hay fever." According to the charity up to 37 per cent of people have developed symptoms for the first time in the last five years.

How can allergies affect your skin?

"When an allergen enters your system, the immune system overreacts, attacking it as it would bacteria or a virus," explains Pamela Friedman, CEO of CV Skinlabs. "This prompts the release of histamine, which leads to symptoms like sneezing, itchy eyes, and sometimes, breathing difficulties."

"But, that reaction inside your body can affect your skin, too, even if you didn’t actually touch something that you’re allergic to," continues Friedman. "In fact, skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and hives are likely to flare up right when your allergies do, as they are connected to the immune system."

That's why allergens like pollen can lead to dryness, redness, irritation and puffiness around the eyes. It can also affect your skin's protective barrier, making your ultra-sensitive to your regular skincare.

"The skin on the face is much more delicate than anywhere else on the body and so it’s extremely important to take good care of your skin if you are suffering with allergies," says the skin specialist and founder of London Premier Laser and Skin Clinics, Lucy Xu.

"Typically skin will become dry and irritated which could cause it to become dehydrated and feel rough to the touch, this sort of irritation long term could cause breakouts as well as promoting wrinkles and fine lines." Skin allergies can even affect your scalp, causing it to itch or become dryer than usual.

How to allergy-proof your skin:

Do more than take antihistamines

“Although antihistamines can reduce the sensation of itch, topical treatments are usually needed also,” reveals the consultant dermatologist Dr Justine Hextall. “The more the skin is scratched, the itchier the skin becomes as scratching tends to release more histamine. It’s therefore important to adapt your skincare regime too, to calm the skin and reduce ongoing irritation and itching.”

Hydrate your skin

"I would recommend cleansing your skin thoroughly morning and evening to rid of any pollen particles on your face," says Xu. "Then, follow with a hydrating serum and at night use a hydrating cream or overnight mask to ensure your skin is well moisturised." Try Medik8's CalmWise Serum and the Dr.Jart+ Cicapair Sleepair Intensive Mask.

Look after your eyes

"It is important to look after the delicate skin of the eyelids and to avoid harsh cleansers and make-up removers as skin is extra sensitive," says Hextall. Bazaar recommends Bioderma's Sensibio H20 for removing your eye make-up, and a light cream, like La Roche-Posay's Toleriane Ultra Eyes to soothe the sensitive skin around your eyes. Eye drops or mists can stop additional dryness too, so try Optrex’s Itchy Eye Drops, if you are struggling.

Check your skincare labels

According to the sensitive-skin skincare brand Green People, "fragrance is the number one cause of adverse skin reactions to cosmetics" – something many skincare experts agree on. So if you have skin sensitivities check the label and avoid both synthetic and natural fragrances if you can.

Alcohol in your products can play havoc with your skin too, as it dissolves the skin’s fatty protective layer, while essential oils, colourants and lanolin may also make your skin more reactive.

The above might seem to make life complicated, but nowadays a lot of sensitive-skincare brands will announce their 'free-from' claims on their bottles. If not, check the ingredients list and search for any terms you don’t understand to make sure your current regime isn’t causing your skin more problems.

For a step-by-step routine without the hassle, try one of the below sensitive skin 'starter kits':

Repair your skin barrier

"Dry, sensitive skin often has a ‘leaky’ barrier that cannot hold on to moisture nor offer full protection against bacteria and potential allergens," explains the Johnson & Johnson skincare expert Rebecca Bennett."Looking after the skin barrier is very important as irritated skin is more vulnerable to irritation and allergy."

CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser

"To keep the skin barrier as healthy as possible, I strongly recommend using the most gentle cleansers, such as CeraVe's Hydrating Cleanser, or Cetaphil's Gentle Cleanser. Another option is La Roche-Posay’s Toleriane Dermo-Cleanser, which is part of the first facial-skincare regime to be awarded the Seal of Approval by Allergy UK," says Hextall. "All of the above will clean the skin without disrupting the skin barrier and causing further water loss.”

For your body, try Sanex's Zero% shower gels which work to support and protect your skin's natural pH barrier as you wash. They are free from parabens, colourants and fragrance, so are a good choice for anyone with sensitive skin too.

Wear sun protection

While you should be wearing sunscreen consistently to protect yourself from sunburn and the premature skin ageing sun damage can cause, the sun can also exacerbate skin allergy symptoms, so there's even more reason to stay protected.

Focus on hydrating your skin

“Choose hydrating products to help any dry skin caused by irritation, especially around the nose area,” suggests the make-up artist Anchal Seda.

When fighting allergies, try Avène's Skin Recovery Cream, which was specifically designed for sensitive skin, or Aveeno’s Dermexa Daily Emollient Cream, as recommended by Bennett.

In general, look for products that contain soothing ingredients like aloe vera, chamomile and madecassoside, as well as those specifically known for hydration such as ceramides, humectants and shea butter.

Decrease puffiness

Vichy Mineral 89 Instant Recovery Sheet Mask

Your face can feel swollen after a day of suffering with allergy symptoms, so use a cooling sheet mask to calm any irritations, such as Vichy's Mineral 89 Instant Recovery Sheet Mask. A jade roller or a cryo facial tool, such as Herbivore's Jade Facial Roller or Oxygen Boutique's Ice Globes, can also be used to eliminate puffiness by cooling the skin and encouraging better circulation – just ensure not to apply too much pressure, especially if you are already struggling with some inflammation.

Be prepared

Not being equipped can cause unnecessary discomfort around your nose as toilet tissue can be rough on skin that’s been made sensitive by overblowing. Always pack tissues with you, preferably ones that contain alleviating aloe vera, to stop your nose getting especially sore, and try using a spray, like Benadryl’s Nasal Spray to help fight inflammation and congestion.

Invest in an air purifier

Purifier Cool™ purifying fan
Dyson boots.com

You can also avoid allergens following you into your home by changing your clothes at the end of the day and by showering before bed so you're sleep is less disturbed.

You may also want to invest in an air purifier, for example Dyson's Purifier Cool purifying fan, which captures pollutants and allergens from the air. That way you limit the amount of indoor pollution your skin and immune system have to fight each day, leading to a better complexion, more restful sleep and a healthier body.

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