Dermatologists’ Facts About Sensitive Skin


Sensitive skin is a term that we hear many people say when describing my skin. Maybe you’ve heard people say: “Yeah, I can’t use that exfoliator because my skin is sensitive.” “I cannot stand near cigarette smoke because my skin is super sensitive to it.” “These sunburn levels are bad especially for my sensitive skin.” Or you’ve seen skincare products formulated just for “sensitive skin”. 

But what is sensitive skin really? Is it allergies? Rashes? Eczema? Or even chronic pain? There’s so much we don’t know about sensitive skin! But if there is anyone who is familiar with the topic, it’s the people who are medically trained and certified in skin science. Also known as — dermatologists. 

Dermatologists hear the phrase “sensitive skin” from many patients, most of whom don’t actually know what sensitive skin means. So in this article, we are going to talk about some facts about sensitive skin from dermatologists to clear up the misconceptions we have about it!

Sensitive skin is not a medical diagnosis

We often talk about sensitive skin as if it’s a skin type the way oily and dry skin is. However, sensitive skin means something quite different for a dermatologist. If you tell your dermatologist that you have sensitive skin, their assumption is that your skin is just more reactive than an average person’s. Skin that is sensitive is basically skin that is easily irritated by environmental factors like the climate and weather or ingredients in beauty products such as fragrances and sulfates.

Skin irritation occurs as the skin reacts to this irritant in the form of itchiness, redness, a burning or stinging sensation, and sometimes even flaking or peeling. There are many different things that you can be sensitive to and the triggers are very much dependent on an individual.

A dermatologists’ job – aside from giving you information on “what does a whitehead look like,” is on coming up with a skin care routine, how to reduce pain and facial redness, and address other skincare concerns you may have. They also would be able to conduct a medical advice diagnosis to figure out what disease or skin condition is causing the irritation so they can accurately advise what to avoid and what products to treat it.

Skin sensitivity is related to the skin barrier

Imagine your skin barrier is like a brick wall. The skin cells are like the bricks themselves, and the mortar that holds them together is a “glue” made of lipids known as ceramides. This barrier needs to be strong and held together for the wall to stand up.

Similarly, when this skin barrier is strong it can properly protect us. This lipid barrier (also known as a fatty barrier) has two main functions: to retain water in the skin and to prevent damaging irritants such as the wind, UV rays, and harsh chemicals.

When your skin is sensitive, it means that the lipid barrier is very weak and thin, making it more vulnerable to penetration from irritants that can cause inflammation and heightened sensitivity. Sensitive skin often lacks the lipid glue in certain parts, making the barrier permeable, and hence the skin a lot more susceptible to damage and to pain signals. It is the compromised skin barrier that results in reactivity. If you’re wondering why dry skin is often associated with sensitivity, it’s because moisture escapes faster from the skin when the barrier is weak.

The immune system plays a role in hypersensitive skin

So we know how irritants get into the skin. The next is understanding how the redness and inflammation occurs. When an irritant penetrates the skin barrier, your body’s immune system produces a reaction that results in redness and inflammation. The manifestation of irritation is your body responding to the irritant.

The immune system becomes overactive in response to the irritant which is perceived as a threat. All the physical symptoms of redness, allergic reactions like contact dermatitis, swelling, itchiness, and flaking are the products of the immune system’s reaction to the irritant.

Aging often exacerbates your skin’s sensitivity

Your skin’s sensitivity can increase with age. When we age, the skin begins to lose its structure and elasticity. Collagen production stops in our forties, and it is usually decreasing throughout our twenties and thirties. The loss of collagen often results in the thinning of the skin, as well as increased dryness and moisture begin to escape.

The lipid barrier also starts to weaken as we age, because it renews itself less frequently, resulting in a barrier that can easily be compromised. This also explains why we need to change up our skincare routines as we age because products that once worked with our young, supple skin will likely no longer be effective in giving our skin the extra moisture and hydration boost that is needed.

As we age, the skin functions begin to deteriorate and perform less effectively, hence our skincare products have to make up for this decrease in performance by working extra hard. And while you’re prompted to look for the best alternative to botox as you age, you might want to prioritize sensitivity first.

Don’t over-cleanse your sensitive skin or use overly harsh cleansers

Overcleaning your skin is one of the worst things you can do to sensitive skin. Even if you’re troubled with how to get rid of white heads, cleansing too often is a no-no. Too much cleansing can further strip your already weak and thin lipid barrier. Get a super gentle cleanser and pick one with no sulfates. Sulfates are usually found in cleansers that can foam up and lather, so try to steer clear of them.

Micellar water is another good option for removing makeup gently. Don’t use hot water on your skin either as this can “melt” the lipid barrier. Lukewarm water is the best temperature. Also, don’t wash your face more than once a day. Keep the cleansing for at night when you need to remove all the build-up on your face.

Make patch tests a habit whenever adding new skin care products to your skin care routine to avoid skin irritation

This might be a hassle in the beginning but your skin will thank you later. This is also particularly useful when trying to learn how to get rid of wrinkles on forehead using new products that might trigger sensitivity. Whenever you get a new product, test a little bit on the inner part of your arm for a few weeks first to gauge how your skin will react to active ingredients in the product.

If your inner arm is not red and irritated after a week of trying it, you can test it on the side of your neck. Should there be some irritation and redness, stop using the product as it is a sign that you are allergic to it. You will be able to figure out what formulations cause you irritation through patch tests.

If you are not sure or don’t want to go through the long process of testing out every single new product, go to a dermatologist who can prescribe you the most suitable products for your skin. They will be able to identify what ingredients might be too harsh for your skin to handle. This will save you lots of time and money trying out new stuff.


Taking extra care with your sensitive skin is the most important thing to do. It may be more inconvenient, but you will not regret these extra precautions when you don’t experience itchiness, chronic pain and redness on a daily basis.

If you’re worried that your hypersensitive skin may be caused by underlying skin conditions or health conditions, definitely consult a healthcare provider or dermatologist who can provide advice diagnosis or treatment such as topical creams or even physical therapy to ease allodynia, a severe kind of hypersensitivity. Alternatively, your sensitive skin may also be caused by lifestyle factors such as diet or smoking. In such cases, lifestyle changes will be required to treat and reduce your skin sensitivity and skin irritation.

Check back with us for more skincare tips, such as how to reduce puffy eyes from crying, how to get rid of wrinkles around the mouth, and more.

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