Sensitive Skin Guide

What is Sensitive Skin


Your skin is the largest organ in the body and plays a major role in protecting the body from injury and infections. Studies report a steady rise in sensitive skin since 2004. National Institute of Health estimates 70 percent of women report having some type of sensitive skin.

Sensitive skin is a common condition and means your skin easily responds and reacts either immediately or over time to an irritant. In other words, your skin's tolerance to certain triggers is reduced. As a result, your skin may flare-up with conditions such as rosacea, eczema, or psoriasis. Understanding what the triggers are and what type of reaction they may result in, can help you develop a plan for relief of flare-ups.

What Can Cause Sensitive Skin

When the skin's protective barrier, (epidermal barrier), is damaged, the nerve endings of your skin react easily to irritants with burning, stinging, and itching. External factors may easily cause a reaction to sensitive skin.

 Sensitive skin causes can be listed into four main categories. Any one or combination may be a trigger to cause symptoms. These include:

Genetic causes of sensitive skin: If a family member has dermatitis, psoriasis, and eczema, you may inherit sensitive skin. These inflammatory skin conditions may be passed on through genes.

Environmental and other factors: Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology reported in a study that besides what's listed below, sleep disorders and hormone levels may be triggers for sensitive skin:

  • Sun exposure - Skin may become sensitized to over exposure
  • Wind - May cause drying of the skin
  • Cold - Air conditioning indoor or outdoor cold weather
  • Heat - Over heating indoor or hot outdoor climate
  • Pollution - Exposure to toxins in air or water
  • Age - The skin barrier naturally weakens
  • Stress and psychological factors
  • Tobacco smoke or consumption (dip)

Irritating ingredients in daily used products:  Most people base their product buying on what the label or advertisement says about the product. Many products may indeed include irritating ingredients, listed or not listed on the label that you're unaware of. If you have sensitive skin, you may be prone to react with certain ingredients that change the skin pH. These common irritants may be in:

  • Lotions
  • Soaps
  • Moisturizers
  • Detergents
  • Cosmetics
  • Fragrances 

Foods:  Food allergies may be a cause of sensitive skin. Eating or touching a food may be a source of skin reaction for some.  Symptoms may include redness, swelling, rash or itchiness. Some food allergies can be life threatening. Common foods that may cause allergies include:

  • Spicy foods
  • Artificial colors, flavors
  • Processed canned foods or deli meats
  • Tannins in wine
  • Tomatoes
  • Citrus fruits
  • Gluten
  • Sugar
  • Dairy
  • Alcohol

Signs of Sensitive Skin

There is a protective barrier on the outermost layer of the skin. Its function is to not allow essential moisture and other important factors of the skin from evaporating. It also helps protect your skin's immunity and prevent inflammation. When the protective skin barrier is healthy, your skin appears even toned, radiant and clear. As the protective barrier breaks down from environmental factors, illness, allergies, irritating ingredients in personal care products, or food, your skin's nerve endings may react easily causing certain signs, including:

  • Peeling, scaling 
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Rough patches
  • Sores
  • Rashes

These signs may appear with symptoms such as itching, burning, and pain.

Sensitive Skin Diagnosis & Treatment

Diagnosis of sensitive skin by a dermatologists begins with a thorough medical history (personal and family) of your condition. Your daily habits and the products you use will also be a determining factor. Based on the type of reaction and a physical examination, your doctor may diagnose your skin condition. A patch test may also be performed to get to the root of the ingredients that may be the culprit. The following are some questions your doctor may ask to determine if you have sensitive skin.

Do You Have Sensitive Skin?

  1. Do you think you have sensitive skin and is your skin prone to irritation?
  2. Where on your body do you get signs of sensitivity?
  3. Do you experience stinging, itching, redness or burning on your skin?
  4. How long have you noticed skin sensitivity?
  5. Does your skin react quickly to certain skincare or cosmetic products?
  6. Is your skin sensitive to temperature changes?
  7. Does being in windy weather make your skin sting, itch or burn?
  8. Does air pollution cause a reaction on your face?
  9. Do your eyes tear with cosmetics or eye makeup?

Sensitive skin care tips 

It's important to first determine the cause and the triggers that bring about the symptoms of sensitive skin. From there and a visit to a dermatologist, you can determine how to manage your daily skincare routine to help with flare-ups. Below are practical tips for managing sensitive skin.

Daily Sensitive Skin Care Routine:

Care of sensitive skin begins with hygiene. If you use products with irritating ingredients, you may exacerbate symptoms. It's important to use products with the pH in the 5.5-6.0 level. Avoid products that have a high pH or contain harsh detergents such as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). Other skin irritants include benzoic acid, bronopol (a pesticide), plant extracts, essential oils, salicylates, propylene glycol, parabens, urea and balsam of Peru.

  1. Choose gentle skin care products that are fragrance-free, alcohol-free, dye-free and void of other common irritants. 
  2. Use SLS-free cleansers and soaps. 
  3.  Look for products with ingredients such as sodium hyaluronate to hydrate your skin. Unless you have a nut allergy, shea butter is soothing for sensitive skin.
  4. Always wash with lukewarm water, not hot.
  5. Avoid aggressive cleansing, washing too often, and mechanical brushes. Also avoid hard water, if possible.
  6. Dry gently without rubbing, using a soft towel.
  7. Use dermatologist recommended, not dermatologist tested or clinically tested products.

Protect your skin when outdoors by using hats, sunglasses and broad spectrum UVA/UVB sunscreens.

A self skin patch test may help determine if a product may be the cause of irritation. Of course, a dermatologist can better determine this with patch testing.

Sensitive Skin Treatment

Your doctor may recommend medicated creams, either over-the-counter or by prescription, to help with symptoms. Your dermatologist may recommend not using any cosmetics for two weeks and then adding each product back one at a time to determine which is causing irritation.

Sensitive Skin Recommended Products

Cleure sensitive skin, hair, body and oral care products are recommended by dermatologists for a reason. They are void of the common irritants listed by the American Contact Dermatitis Society. The products are formulated for those with sensitive skin or who want to help prevent it.

With patience and learning what works for your skin, it is possible to help prevent or minimize sensitive skin flare-ups. The reward will be happy skin which was well worth the time and effort.