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Sensitive Skin: Answers to the 10 Most Common Questions

By: Christina Davies
Updated on: April 05, 2024

Do you know what’s incredibly frustrating? Dealing with our skin sensitivity.

It can become a never-ending mental tug-of-war, as if a million tiny insects are skittering along the surface of your skin, causing you an uncontrollable itch. You try to resist the urge to scratch, desperately hoping, it will go away.

Truth be told? You could be allergic to practically anything under the sun, and the craziest part is you might not even be aware of it!

But hold on, there’s good news! Having sensitive skin does not mean you are trapped in a world of misery forever. So don’t wrinkle up your forehead in worry any longer – we’ve got some answers for you.

What exactly is sensitive skin?

Before we jump into the 10 most common questions, you must know where is the term “Sensitive Skin” coming from!!

Dr. Purvisha Patel, a board-certified dermatologist in Tennessee notes that “Sensitive skin is not a medical diagnosis, but more of a finding or complaint”. For this reason, she reassures us that yes, “it can sometimes be difficult to know if you have sensitive skin or not.”

She simplifies this by stating that sensitive skin may be “characterized by skin that is not able to tolerate harsh conditions, chemicals, environments or even some diets.”

Adding to this, another certified dermatologist, Dr. Jessie Cheung emphasizes that sensitive and dry skin can be “easily irritated by the elements- wind, sun, heat, or cold -or by topical products.”

Additional causes of sensitive and dry skin can include insomnia, dry winter air, hormones, and believe it or not, even genetic predisposition.

That’s right- it’s entirely possible to be born with sensitive skin, as some people inherently possess a heightened skin sensitivity to external factors.

So, if you’ve ever wondered why your skin seems to react strongly to different conditions or products, it could very well be due to the unique nature of your skin, which is sensitive and requires some extra care and attention.

Oh! And since you’ve made it this far, welcome to the sensitive skin club! Embrace it with open arms, as we embark on a journey of understanding and providing the special care your skin deserves.

What is sensitive skin syndrome?

According to a research study published by the National Library of Medicine defines Sensitive skin syndrome as a “self-diagnosed condition” which is “difficult to quantify” and characterized by a heightened sensitivity to environmental factors and certain substances. (Howard)

As outlined in the study, people with sensitive skin may experience “burning or stinging after application of cosmetic products and toiletries”, itching, or redness even with the use of suncreens.

There is no definitive test for sensitive skin syndrome, but doctors can often diagnose it based on symptoms and a patient’s history.

What are some major sensitive skin symptoms?

Ah, the world of sensitive skin symptoms!

Get ready, because there are a lot of them, each with its own set of causes.

Imagine you’ve spent a little too much time basking under the warm sun, and suddenly your skin starts protesting. Or perhaps you excitedly tried out that new cosmetic foundation you bought from that trendy store, only to be met with an unexpected reaction.

These are just a couple of examples of how sensitive skin can manifest its discontent.

Some subjective symptoms are:

  • Redness, itchiness
  • tightness and dryness
  • swelling or hives
  • easy bruising and scaly patches
  • Dry and flaky skin is usually caused by facial creams
  • Bleeding or blistering can also occur due to weakened skin

What are some common causes of skin sensitivity?

Our skin has a voice, and it speaks to us in its own way. Sometimes it even screams out to show us all the red flags.

Yes, there are a number of “red flags” in the form of recognized medical causes of sensitive skin like Irritant contact dermatitis, Allergic contact dermatitis, Physical urticaria, and contact dermatitis with urticaria, and Eczema. Normally, sensitive skin is caused by irritation of nerve endings in the top layer of the skin.

These are, however, medical allergic causes of sensitive skin conditions that will be discussed in detail later.

There are some common causes as well such as excessive heat and humidity, air pollution and laundry detergents, dietary habits, and even a skin care routine such as using the wrong pair of skin care products.

When it comes to reactive skin, we often forget that some of the things we do most routinely can also be a big part of the problem.

Things like using soap bars and not switching to gentler cleansers, forgetting your sunscreen or  moisturizer, scratching too hard when exfoliating, or aggravating blemishes with harsh rubbing or scrubbing – all these are simple but important factors for people with sensitive skin types.

These small everyday actions could have serious skin reactions or even skin diseases if repeated regularly!

Sensitive skin VS. Allergic reactions: Do you have skin allergies or just sensitive skin?

Sorry to break it to you but let’s get real here – it’s NOT a battle of sensitive skin versus allergic reactions. In fact, sensitive skin can actually be a contributing factor to certain allergic reactions.

You see, sensitive skin is always more alert and responsive, making it more likely to experience allergic response, skin irritation and severe allergic reaction. However, it is important to note that not all reactions experienced by sensitive skin can be considered an allergic reaction.

An allergic reaction, on the other hand, occurs when your immune system responds inappropriately to specific substances or allergens.

These reactions can manifest as burning skin, itching, swelling, and even more life-threatening allergic reaction like difficulty in breathing that required emergency medical attention.

Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis occurs when you come in contact with a skin irritant such as a chemical substance, allergen, or even extreme temperatures. There are several types of contact dermatitis:

Irritant contact dermatitis

Irritant contact dermatitis is caused by skin contact with irritants such as solvents, laundry detergents, soaps, and even exposure to heat and hot water.

It usually appears within an hour after exposure of skin barrier to the irritant. Symptoms include redness, dry skin, itching, swelling, and burning.

To manage symptoms, the process includes removing the irritant, let’s say laundry detergent from your skin with soap and water, and apply moisturizer.

Also, after exposure to sunlight, the skin is often irritated by contact dermatitis caused by photoallergic contact dermatitis. The wrong Sunscreen or moisturizing lotion is usually the culprit for skin irritation.

It is also normal for us to wear masks to protect ourselves from the Ultraviolet rays of the sun, however, you must know the effects of wearing face mask and using moisturizers on sensitive skin consistently.

Allergic contact dermatitis

Allergic contact dermatitis is an immune reaction to common allergens like latex gloves, poison ivy, cosmetics, etc. Treating sensitive skin typically involves avoiding further exposure to the allergen and using numbing creams to relieve itching, prescription steroid creams, and topical steroids medications to control symptoms.

Atopic Dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis is a chronic skin condition! AD starts when the skin’s barrier is unable to protect against irritants, allergens, and other environmental factors.

This allows moisture to escape and harmful bacteria to enter thin skin, leading to irritated skin inflammation.

There are multiple triggers of Atopic Dermatitis such as laundry detergents, extremely hot or cold weather, eggs, nuts, and even fragrances in soap.

Can dry skin be considered sensitive skin?

In addition to being sensitive, you can have dry skin as well, but there’s a difference between the two. Dry skin, also called xerosis, occurs when your skin’s top layer dries out for lack of moisture.

Dry skin is usually itchy, has scaly patches or tight, and may crack easily. Often people with dry skin are deficient in natural moisturizing factors such as ceramides due to genetic predisposition.

The best way to care for dry skin is to find the right moisturizer and use it regularly.

How to Test for Skin Sensitivity?

Sensitive skin can be a tricky thing to manage. If you’re struggling with sensitivity, it’s important to get a handle on what might be causing it. One way to do that is to test for sensitivity.

There are a few ways to test for sensitive skin. One is the patch test, which involves applying a small amount of a potential irritant to a small area of skin and waiting to see if there is a reaction.

Moreover, there are also other treatments like over the counter, anti itch creams, prescription creams, oral medications for relieving dry skin, etc.

Another way to test for sensitivity is the use of topical steroids such as hydrocortisone cream. This method involves applying the cream to a small area of the skin and waiting twenty-four hours to see if there is any redness, swelling, or itching.

However, before you decide on anything, talk to your dermatologist. They can help you figure out the best way to test for sensitive skin and get you on the road to Relief!

What are some Diet & Lifestyle Tips for Managing Sensitive Skin?

Let’s be straightforward about this one! The wrong ingredients in our diet can lead to irritation, redness, and breakouts, while the right ingredients can help soothe and calm the skin.

Here are some diet and lifestyle tips to help you manage your sensitive skin

Avoid inflammatory foods

Things like sugar, dairy, and gluten can all trigger inflammation in the body, which can lead to sensitive skin. Instead, focus on eating anti-inflammatory foods like omega-3 rich fish, turmeric, green leafy vegetables, and berries.

Manage stress

Stress is a huge trigger for inflammation in the body, which can make sensitive skin worse. Try to find ways to manage your stress levels or even just taking some time for yourself every day.

Get enough sleep

Yes! Scrolling through Reels late at night will only give you dark circles. Sleep is crucial for overall health and well-being, and it’s also important for keeping sensitive skin under control.

When you’re tired, your body isn’t able to fight off inflammation as well. aim for 7-8 hours of sleep every night.

Use gentle and natural products

Do not feel pressured to jump over the bandwagon of fancy products your favorite influencers are endorsing. Remember, simple and natural is often the way to go.

Many companies try to slip unwanted ingredients into their products such as parabens and sulfates that can cause irritation and disruption of the natural balance of your skin’s protective barrier.

Know what works best for you Not all skin types are created equal – some have dryness issues while other’s sensitive skin may experience oily patches more frequently than usual.

Understand which category you fit in before selecting any product off the store shelves as it is very important that your skincare regimen caters specifically to your needs.

How is sensitive skin treated?

Sensitive skin symptoms can be quite a drama as you know even the most innocent-looking products can cause a major flare-up.

And let’s be honest, with our busy schedule, it becomes quite impossible to see a dermatologist sometimes. Here are some handy tips that might help you go through your sensitive skin journey.

The first thing you need to do is create a skincare routine that is gentle, fragrance-free, and specifically formulated for sensitive skin. To avoid getting your skin dry, and stay hydrated, use soap free cleanser and a hypoallergenic moisturizer like hyaluronic acid serums, and shea butter as recommended by dermatologists worldwide.

Preventative measures are key. According to a study published in The Gerontologist, “excessive exposure to Ultraviolet radiation is a major risk factor for most skin cancer”. To mitigate these risks the study emphasizes that adopting sun protection measures can effectively “prevent sunburn and reduce future skin cancer risk”.

Protect your skin with a broad spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) preferably SPF 30 and more. Cover up with clothing, hats, and sunglasses; the more you cover up the better. Look for UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) clothing that offers maximum skin barrier.

As we age, the skin naturally becomes thinner, and thinner skin gets easily irritated. So, keep your skin’s barrier strong, and healthy by limiting long hot showers, apply a natural face moisturizer as well as a body one. Pat dry instead of rubbing, this helps keep the moisture in the skin barrier.

What are some products that can help with sensitive skin?

There are a number of products available that can help with sensitive skin. A good cleanser is important, as is a moisturizer that won’t clog pores. Look for products that are labeled “non-comedogenic” or “oil-free”.

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) can also be helpful in gently exfoliating the skin. Be sure to use sunscreen as discussed earlier, as sensitive skin is more prone to sun damage.

What to Look for in Skincare Products for Sensitive Skin?

As outlined by the American Academy of Dermatology Association, Dermatologists recommend certain guidelines when choosing skin care products:

When it comes to skin care, less is more

As already discussed, Dermatologists emphasize on the basics, such as a gentle soap free cleanser, sunscreen, and moisturizers. Using too many products, especially multiple anti-aging products, can lead to skin irritation or skin inflammation.

It is best for you to establish a morning and nighttime skin care routine that works for your skin, and stick to it.

Treat your Lips

Whenever you go outdoors, use lip balm or lipstick containing sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 30 or higher. SPF 50 is highly preferrable. If your lips feel chapped or dry, apply petroleum jelly to add moisture.

In a Nutshell

Your Sensitive skin is as unique as you are!

Skin sensitivity is a journey of trial and error, and you never know what can become your skin’s new best friend in the long run. So, isn’t it best to trust the process? Oh! and remember, when in doubt, seek the wisdom of your trusted dermatologist.


What is sensitive skin a symptom of?

Sensitive skin is a symptom of various conditions such as allergies, rosacea, eczema and contact dermatitis. It can be caused by many environmental factors including air pollution, fragrances in products and harsh cleansers.

Why is my skin suddenly so sensitive?

Your skin may become suddenly sensitive due to changes in your environment or lifestyle.

What are the 4 types of sensitive skin?

The four types of sensitive skin are acne-prone skin, redness-prone (rosacea) skin, dry/dehydrated and or combination/problematic skin.

What is it when your skin is sensitive to touch?

When your skin is overly sensitive to touch it’s usually a sign of an underlying condition such as eczema or even Psoriasis – this often requires specialised treatment from doctors or health professionals.


Works Cited

Lev-Tov, Hadar, and Howard I Maibach. “The sensitive skin syndrome.” Indian Journal of Dermatology vol. 57,6 (2012): 419-23. doi:10.4103/0019-5154.103059

Eggermont, Laura H.P., Swaab, Dick F., Hol, Elly M.” Association Between Sun Protection Behaviors and Sunburn Among U.S. Older Adults.” The Gerontologist. Volume: 59. 2019: 17-25.


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