What is sensitive skin And Why does it happen?

By Dr Rosmy B.  
June 28, 2021

We've all heard about the four basic skin types: normal, dry, oily, and combination skin type. 

All of them have both positive and negative traits. For example, oily skin can be prone to acne but will likely show fewer signs of aging than dry skin.

However, your skin can be sensitive regardless of the type. 

What is sensitive skin?

Sensitive skin is not a medical condition. It is not a skin type either. But, it is a common skin issue that affects millions of people around the world.

Your skin is "sensitive" if it is prone to adverse reactions to cosmetic products, sunlight, or other environmental factors. Such skin is easily irritated and shows signs of inflammation even after mild stimulation, such as clothing friction.

Redness, swelling, itchiness, and rashes are common on sensitive skin. It is not uncommon for sensitive skin to be a tell-tale sign of an underlying condition.

In many cases, people can identify the triggers and manage their skin sensitivity with success.  

Why does it happen?

Sensitive skin is rarely a serious health problem. Even when it is a result of another skin condition, it is usually a minor issue. However, knowing the cause can help you to manage the symptoms and improve your quality of life.

The common causes of sensitive skin include:

1. Dry skin
Dry skin is more likely to be sensitive because it lacks protective natural oils and moisture. The symptoms of dry skin sensitivity are apparent in parts of the body with more exposure to environmental factors such as the hands, arms, and face.

There are other skin conditions associated with dry and sensitive skin. These are eczema (atopic dermatitis) and contact dermatitis.

Both can cause the skin to become locally itchy, red, swollen, dry, and cracked. Maintaining proper skin moisture level is crucial for controlling the symptoms.

2. Allergic reaction
Your skin can show signs of sensitivity after exposure to certain chemicals or materials. This type of reaction is known as "allergic contact dermatitis." Common triggers include:

  • Fragrances
  • Dyes
  • Latex
  • Nickel
  • Chemicals from plants (stinging nettle, poison ivy, etc.)

3. Natural proneness - your skin does not require a reason to be sensitive. That means no underlying condition is necessary. The skin is simply prone to inflammation.

Various factors may contribute to this. These include: 

  • Sunlight exposure
  • Low or high temperatures
  • Heavy winds
  • Sunlight exposure

4. Photodermatoses 
this is a skin condition in which sunlight triggers the immune system. Symptoms include a skin reaction that involves blisters, scaly patches, redness, and rash.

The Final Word

The skin of some people is naturally more sensitive. It cannot tolerate fragrances or other chemicals commonly found in skincare products. In such cases, the best way to control sensitivity is to avoid exposure to harsh cosmetics.

However, there are cases in which sensitive skin is a symptom of an underlying skin condition or an allergy. That's why it's always best to see a dermatologist and get an accurate diagnosis.  

References:

1. Egawa G, Kabashima K. Multifactorial skin barrier deficiency and atopic dermatitis: Essential topics to prevent the atopic march. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2016 Aug;138(2):350-358.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2016.06.002. Epub 2016 Jun 22. PMID: 27497277.

2. Inamadar AC, Palit A. Sensitive skin: an overview. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol. 2013 Jan-Feb;79(1):9-16. doi: 10.4103/0378-6323.104664. PMID: 23254724.

3. Goleva E, Berdyshev E, Leung DY. Epithelial barrier repair and prevention of allergy. J Clin Invest. 2019 Apr 1;129(4):1463-1474. doi: 10.1172/JCI124608. Epub 2019 Feb 18. PMID: 30776025; PMCID: PMC6436854.

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