What is sensitive skin?
Sensitive skin is skin which consistently reacts to certain (often many) products or ingredients by becoming irritated—meaning it becomes red, dry, painful, and may feel ‘tight’. The term ‘sensitive skin’ almost always refers to some form of irritant contact dermatitis (ICD) – i.e. your skin being predisposed to become irritated when exposed to a certain ingredient or product. However, ‘sensitive skin’ also encompasses certain skin conditions such as rosacea, eczema, or polymorphous light eruption (PLE). Head over to the factsheet about rosacea for more information if you think that might apply.
Sensitive skin ultimately results from the nerve endings in the top layer of the skin becoming irritated, and this happens when the skin’s innate barrier function has been compromised by some trigger. Such triggers are listed below, but can include environmental factors, hormonal changes, and certain foods, drinks and products that have come into contact with your skin, causing ICD.
The irritation reaction that you experience with sensitive skin is less extreme than an allergic reaction. Allergic reactions will also always be repeated with the same trigger, whereas it’s less hard and fast with irritation reactions. A less severe allergic reaction means a rash, itching or burning sensation, a more severe one could extend to vomiting and difficulty breathing.