Your Sensitive Skin: Causes and Signs
If you have sensitive skin, symptoms can include redness, burning and stinging4 caused by contact with specific ingredients found in skincare and other products. In addition environmental factors or a skin condition, such as eczema, may cause symptoms. But regardless of the trigger, one of the causes of sensitive skin can be a weakened skin barrier that allows moisture to escape and irritants to enter your skin.2
What you need to know
Approximately 70% of people report having sensitive skin1 that reacts when it comes in contact with a skincare product, chemicals or environmental conditions, like extreme hot or cold. Skin disorders like eczema and psoriasis can lead to sensitive skin, and cause symptoms like stinging and burning. In some, sensitive skin can be prone to developing bumps or an acne breakout.2 Skincare for sensitive skin needs to be especially gentle, and it’s important to avoid over-exfoliating.3 Sensitive skin is not limited to the face, and symptoms can affect the body as well.2
What to avoid when you have sensitive skin
- Highly fragranced skincare products
- Excessive sun exposure
- Long, hot showers or baths
- Rough and synthetic fabrics
- Harsh cleansers and soaps5
- Abrasive exfoliators and chemical peels5
What is sensitive skin?
Sensitive skin is characterized by an increased tendency to react to environmental factors,4 and it can be due to genetic factors6 or due to a variety of skin conditions. If you have sensitive skin, your symptoms can also be triggered by contact with specific products or ingredients.2 A common underlying factor in most sensitive skin can be a weakened skin barrier. Ceramides are an important component of your skin’s barrier, and although they are produced naturally by the skin, their levels can be depleted by a variety of internal and external factors.6
How to know if you have sensitive skin
If you experience skin redness, itching, burning and stinging—especially when you apply skincare products—it’s possible you have sensitive skin.2 Other sensitive skin symptoms include frequent rashes, itching, dry patches, facial redness, reactions to extreme weather conditions and more.2 If you experience skin irritation and are unable to identify the source, it’s best to schedule an appointment with your dermatologist.
What causes sensitive skin?
Sensitive skin on the face and body can react to a wide array of irritants. A skin reaction to detergent is among the most common, which is why it’s best to use laundry products that are free of fragrances and dyes. Other frequent causes of sensitive skin include harsh soaps (especially those used for washing dishes), household cleaners, rough fabrics (such as wool), heat, latex and more. Certain ingredients found in skincare and makeup products can cause reactions as well.7
- Berardesca, E., Farage, M. and Maibach, H. (2013), Sensitive skin: an overview. Int J Cosmet Sci, 35: 2-8.
- Baumann, L. (2009) Cosmetic Dermatology: Principles and Practice (pp.94-97). New York: McGraw-Hill Medical
- Coderch, L., López, rel="noopener noreferrer" O., de la Maza, A. et al. Am J Clin Dermatol (2003) 4: 107.