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An Aesop guide to soothing sensitive skin

TextAlex Peters

The luxury skincare brand’s founding associate, Suzanne Santos explains the science behind its new calming Seeking Silence Facial Hydrator and how best to help aggravated skin

Having sensitive skin can often feel like navigating a minefield, never knowing what or when you’ll do something to set it off.

“The precise causes of sensitivity are not well understood,” says Suzanne Santos, founding associate of Aesop who’s impossibly chic lotions and potions have long been favourites of beauty devotees everywhere. “In essence, sensitive skin is skin in a state of hyper-reactivity. You may notice redness, rashes, stinging or burning after using certain products or upon encountering a particular ingredient, or skin can react readily to changes in climate.”

When Aesop began noticing that more and more of its customers, particularly those in urban areas, were reporting signs of sensitivity, it set out to create its first product specifically formulated for sensitive skin. The result is the Seeking Silence Facial Hydrator (£40) which aims to calm the visible and invisible sensations associated with sensitive skin. 

To find out more, we spoke to Santos about the product, the epidemiology of sensitive skin and her best recommendations for alleviating the symptoms.

 “Those with sensitive skin have been shown to have thinner stratum corneum (the uppermost layer of the skin) with greatly decreased corneocyte (skin cell) area”

When we talk about ‘sensitive’ skin what does that actually mean? What is going on beneath the surface that makes sensitive skin react differently to products or environments than other ‘normal’ skin

Suzanne Santos: The precise causes of sensitivity are not well understood. That said, we do know that those with sensitive skin are more susceptible to environmental factors, and often experience pronounced reactions to certain substances, such as soap, cosmetics or sunscreens. This reactivity may also occur after contact with plants, animals or fabrics; in response to insect bites; or in particular climatic conditions – in fact, it is often reported to be aggravated by extremes of temperature. 

In terms of epidemiology, those with sensitive skin have been shown to have thinner stratum corneum (the uppermost layer of the skin) with greatly decreased corneocyte (skin cell) area. The consequence of this is overall compromise to the barrier function of the skin, which may lead to irritation and reactivity in this population. 

Where did the journey of the Seeking Silence Facial Hydrator start? What was the idea you had in mind when you set out to formulate the product?

Suzanne Santos: We have, from the outset, formulated products to respond to sensitives for a global audience, however, we were yet to create a specifically formulated product for sensitive skin. Over the past decade, we have noticed an increase of urban consumers who are reporting visible and non-visible characteristics associated with sensitive skin. Through our customers, we understand the changing needs of sensitivities and this coupled with advances in science, helped to deepen our understanding of sensitive skin and the need to cater specifically to this audience. 

Following three years of development, we have achieved this ambition with Seeking Silence Facial Hydrator, containing a unique blend of ingredients to soothe and hydrate, bringing a sense of calm comfort to sensitive skin. 

The formula for Seeking Silence says it will actively address the complexities associated with sensitive skin. Does this mean it works to improve the sensitivity of the skin?

Suzanne Santos: It is well-documented that sensitive skin tends to be more susceptible to exhibiting exaggerated reaction to both environmental factors (extreme weather changes, sun and seasonal activity) and substances (from sunscreen, soap and fabric to plants) that would not necessarily be expected to cause an irritant response in non-sensitive skin. 

Skin reactivity can present with visible signs such as skin redness or flaking, and/or there are non-visible characteristics and sensations such as itching, stinging or burning. There are four key ways we address the needs of sensitive skin, and this has helped form the direction for this formulation:

  • Soothe – assuage the inherent reactivity or irritability of this skin type.
  • Calm – reduce the redness associated with sensitive skin. This often also helps reduce the sensorial aspects that go hand in hand with sensitive skin; the itching, burning and tight sensations.
  • Fortify – improve skin barrier performance to reduce tendency to irritation and reactivity and increase the skin’s robustness.
  • Hydrate – improve overall hydration level and nourish the skin.

What is the science behind it?

Suzanne Santos: Seeking Silence Facial Hydrator is unique in containing two carefully selected, synergistic blends of ingredients, each with superb skin-soothing properties. Complementing the skin-calming properties of ginger root extract and bisabolol, a blend used to great effect in a number of Aesop products, is a blend of two botanicals; dunaliella salina extract and narcissus tazetta bulb extract. These remarkable extracts work together to address the underlying causes and bring a sense of calm comfort by soothing uncomfortable sensations associated with reactive and challenged skin. 

Dunaliella salina extract, an extract from green microalgae, also helps to address the visible redness associated with aggravated skin. While narcissus tazetta flowers have long been used to obtain essential oil for use in perfumery, other parts of this familiar plant also have relevance for cosmetic use. The extract used within Seeking Silence Facial Hydrator is obtained from narcissus bulbs in their dormant stage. During dormant periods plants produce substances (in horticulture commonly known as ‘dormins’) which slow down cell proliferation and growth processes, in essence offering the plant protection during unfavourable growing conditions. 

Rich in these dormins, the dormant bulb extract used here, for the first time in an Aesop product, works to reduce the skin from its heightened, sensitive state, bringing calm comfort and equilibrium.

“When the skin barrier is weakened it can make the skin more prone to sensitivity and redness” 

Why is it so important to protect the skin barrier?

Suzanne Santos: The skin barrier refers to the outermost layer of the skin. This barrier serves two purposes: to modulate the loss of moisture from within the skin and also to protect the skin from external aggressors. When the barrier has been weakened, which can occur from internal or external factors, it can make the skin more prone to sensitivity and redness. 

To support and reinforce the barrier function, we have included both emollient and humectants in Seeking Silence Facial Hydrator. The humectants help to bind water in the skin and the emollients help to reduce water loss. Once the barrier is supported, sensitive skin is better able to regulate moisture loss and improve protection against external aggressors, thereby reducing reactivity, such as itching, burning or stinging.

What advice would you give to people with sensitive skin? 

Suzanne Santos: Sensitive skin must be approached with caution and cared for at each step of your daily skin care routine. We advocate the use of gentle, non- or low-foaming cleansing formulations – with tepid water – to lift grime, sebum and makeup without causing irritation or dryness. Gentle Facial Cleansing Milk or Parsley Seed Facial Cleansing Oil are ideal for delicate skin. 

When selecting a toner for sensitive skin, alcohol-free formulations are a gentler option yet should still be astringent enough to balance and refresh skin following cleansing. We recommend B & Tea Balancing Toner or Parsley Seed Anti-Oxidant Facial Toner for this step. 

Aesop offers a range of hydrating preparations for sensitive skin and selecting a product to suit your individual needs will depend on your underlying skin type, textural preferences and environment. Where soothing reactive skin is of paramount importance, we recommend Seeking Silence Facial Hydrator for all skin types and climates. 

In hot, humid climates or where skin is particularly oily, Lightweight Facial Hydrating Serum provides an appealing alternative to heavier creams or lotions, with a soothing base of Aloe Vera and matte finish. In cold, wintry conditions or for very dry skin, Elemental Facial Barrier Cream provides nourishing hydration with a sustained finish. Keep Damascan Rose Facial Treatment to tailor hydration levels as needed. This product may be blended with our serums, lotions or creams to boost nourishment.

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