What Is Sensitive Skin?

Sensitive Skin Care Questions
What Are The Signs Of Sensitive Skin?

If you have sensitive skin it means you find more products that come into contact with your skin produce a reaction than the average person. About 50 percent of women surveyed in two large studies considered themselves to have sensitive skin and 78 percent of consumers avoid using certain products because of previous reactions to them. There are no set medical criteria for diagnosing sensitive skin, it is largely subjective. Basically, those with sensitive skin typically experience:

• A faster and more intense response to irritating substances than others.
• Stinging or burning reaction in response to irritants.
• Dry flaky patches of skin and broken capillaries.

Other Signs Of Sensitive Skin:

• Fine lines appear around the eyes in your mid to late 20s.
• Skin feels tight after washing.
• Skin has a translucent appearance.
• Sensitive skin care products are easier to use.


Tip
: Not sure what your skin type is? See, what is my skin type?

Celebrities With Sensitive Skin

celebreties with skin problems

• Kate Middleton suffers from sensitive skin and eczema.
• Kim Kardashian was diagnosed with psoriasis in 2011.
• LeeAnn Rimes, country music singer has battled with psoriasis all her life.
• Renee Zellweger suffers from rosacea, a condition that causes flushing and redness (as does William Shatner, aka Captain Kirk from Star Trek).

What Causes Sensitive Skin?

When You Are Born With It
More and more women are reporting skin sensitivity problems. Yet, a true sensitive skin condition is caused by genetics - in other words, you are born with it. Those that are born with it tend to be prone to blushing, allergies and asthma. Their skin is more delicate, the top layer (epidermis) is thinner so blood vessels are closer to the surface (so the skin looks flushed) and they have less melanin (the pigment that colors the skin) so they appear paler. The epidermal lipid barrier - the outer layer of the skin’s protection - is weaker, which allows allergens, microbes and irritants to penetrate the skin and cause reactions. This weakness also makes those with truly sensitive skin more prone to psoriasis, rosacea, eczema and atopic dermatitis. Scientists and dermatologists spend a lot of time researching skin care problems (skin creams are a billion dollar industry after all!). What they have also discovered is that women with sensitive skin release more neuroactive chemicals (chemicals that trigger fast responses) into the deep layers of the skin (dermis) than those with ‘normal’ skin. It is this that triggers the immediate burning and itching sensation when they use a product that irritates their skin. Additionally, researchers have also discovered that atopic (sensitive) skin has a higher density of cutaneous nerves than normal skin.

When You Become Sensitive
More than 50 percent of women say they have sensitive skin, and these numbers are rising. In most cases, it is not a genetic predisposition but rather have become sensitized by a new product or change in environmental conditions. There are a number of theories as to why these numbers are rising - from an increase in allergies, to the popularity of harsh treatments like microdermabrasion and skin peels to environmental pollution. Common triggers include:
1. Cosmetic products with added fragrance, those listed as ‘parfum’ are the worst offenders.
2. Cosmetics with alcohol, lanolin and cosmetic colorants.
3. Soaps with added fragrances. Always look for products that are fragrance free.
4. Sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), a foaming agent found in bubble baths, shampoos and toothpastes.
5. Excess use of skin exfoliants that break down the skin’s protection barrier and robs natural oils.
6. Artificial food colors and artificial sweeteners.

Was I Born With Sensitive Skin Or Have I Become Sensitive?

It is difficult to tell the difference between those born with sensitive skin, and those that have become sensitized due to triggers. Sensitive skin is more common in whites with Northern European ancestry. This might be because their epidermal layer is naturally thinner which exposes them to more irritants. Sensitized skin on the other hand can affect anyone of any race, age or skin condition if they have been exposed to an irritant, chemical or environmental trigger.

Why Is My Skin Suddenly Sensitive?

1. Have you recently started using new skin care or make up products? If so, check to see if they contain fragrances or colors known to cause skin problems. Read also, what are the ingredients in skin creams?
2. Have you had more exposure to sun or cold temperatures?
3. Are you using new household cleaning products? Some contain strong chemicals that can irritate and dry out the skin. Dry skin is a precursor to sensitive skin because it means you are producing less skin oil which acts as a natural barrier against allergens.
4. Have you been dieting? Low fat and no-fat diets starve the skin of essential fatty acids which help to keep the skin cells hydrated and moist.
5. Could it be age related? As we age the skin naturally produces less oil making it more prone to dryness.

• Need more information about skin care? See: Skin structure and function.
• Got another question? See: Skin Care Questions

Related Questions
What is oily skin? Signs, acne and spots.
What is dry skin? Signs and triggers for skin dryness, plus: what is the best treatment for dry skin?

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