Do you live in fear that any little thing — a “gentle” new moisturizer, a hotel pillow, your hair — could set off your skin? Some discipline and lots of love keep “problem skin” happy and healthy. Practiced diligently, and combined with with good nutrition and exercise (the building blocks of health), these three to-do’s can even enable problem skin to “glow” out of its “terrible tantrum” stage entirely.

1) Get Your Problem Skin’s Support System In Place

Like many multifactorial health concerns, successfully managing problem skin (very sensitive, allergic, or reactive skin, atopic skin, contact dermatitis, psoriasis, cystic acne, rosacea, skin cancer, etc.) requires juggling several things, and the right support system of specialists is important.

Your team of caregivers should consist of the following:

1. Dermatologist who is a specialist in your condition.

Many physicians provide excellent care but might specialize in aesthetic services or dermatologic surgery. Seeing a specialist in your problem skin’s exact condition increases your chances of success.

Not every dermatologist is an expert in contact dermatitis. We’ve had fragrance-allergic clients who were given products labeled “fragrance-free” by their doctors even though the products contained ingredients closely related to fragrance. Contact dermatitis specialists are more updated on allergens, cross reactions, ingredient names, and relationships between different chemicals and ingredients. Allergic skin specialists tend to take very detailed histories to factor in what you might be exposed to in foods, at work, in your hobbies, etc. and help you identify triggers you might otherwise miss. Prevention is one of the most powerful, effective, and safest tools at your disposal, and it’s within your control. For it to work for your problem skin, make sure that you know exactly what to avoid.

A specialist will also be able to order the right diagnostic tests such as a biopsy or patch test. The latter is helpful for several problem skin conditions as it helps you identify which particular substances you need to look out for in everything from cosmetics to clothing, electronic equipment, and more. To find a doctor near you who offers patch tests, visit or ask your country’s dermatological society.

2. Allergist, if you also have food allergies.

Food allergies and skin allergies are not the same (different cells are involved). But if you also have food, bronchial or other allergies (determined by a prick test, not a patch test), you need an allergist on your team.

3. Make sure your doctors “play well together.”

If you have other health concerns, it is a good idea to put your specialists in touch with each other so that they work as a team, seeing your skin as part of a whole. For example, your allergist may have prescribed you an inhaler that has steroids or is another drug that is known to cause allergic or photo-allergic reactions. This is key information for your dermatologist. If you are taking neurological drugs and cystic acne is a concern, your dermatologist may want to ask your physician for possible alternatives.

4. Nutritionist, Trainer, Health App.

This may seem like an odd addition but proper diet and exercise are so important at reducing inflammation (a big factor in many skin problems) that it needs to be a priority. A nutritionist or gym trainer can help you with food choices in addition to exercise and motivation, but there are loads of free health apps that you can use on your phone to explore healthy recipes, to use as a food diary, and even for guided workouts at home.


2) Avoid “Instant Gratification” (Steroids)

Steroids are serious drugs that, while necessary for emergency cases and quick relief, are not meant for long-term use. Sustained steroid application can result in thinning of the skin (which increases sensitivity and other problems), decreasing efficacy of the steroid (so you apply more of it, more frequently, which compounds the problem), severe rebounds when you’re finally taken off of them (which may require hospitalization), and, in some years-long cases, Cushing’s disease or even death. Yes, we’re talking “just” from topical steroid creams.

No matter how severe your skin condition seems, there’s a good chance it can be managed by an accurate diagnosis (this isn’t as easy as it sounds — dermatology has a staggering number of conditions), accurate identification of allergens, and consistent, conscientious allergen avoidance (which also can be difficult because allergens can be listed under names you’re not familiar with).

Try to avoid the “instant gratification” of a steroid by using alternatives like virgin coconut oil, monolaurin, or a steroid-free anti-inflammatory for milder reactions. and tell your team of specialists that one of your goals is to manage your problem skin without the (regular) need for steroids.

3) Be Disciplined About Avoiding Triggers.

Don’t be guided by claims of “natural” or “for sensitive skin”: be guided by your patch test results and be disciplined in your product selection. While it might be tempting to try new things with fabulous-sounding promises of safety, carefully study ingredients (and jewelry, clothing, electronics cases, etc.) for your particular allergens. It might be a challenge at first but this strictness is the most important foundation you can give your skin so it can “glow up” into self-maintaining health and calm.

Establish a strict sleep schedule: studies show that 7-8 hours of sleep is ideal. This not only goes a long way towards preventing inflammation (a major trigger of skin problems), but can mean profound changes in other aspects of your life, too, from increased efficiency to more peace and happiness.

Speaking of happiness, be disciplined about stress management: now, not some day. Like sleep deprivation, stress is closely linked to inflammation. And it’s not just mental or emotional stress: anything that stresses your skin or body (like allergens and junk food) count, too. Set “quiet time” each day to recenter. Keep a gratitude journal. Even a facial can have surprising de-stressing benefits! And see a professional (add her or him to your support system team) if you feel you need additional help.

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