Caring for Sensitive Skin

A woman with sensitive, peeling skin on her forehead

What is Sensitive Skin?

Sensitive skin is a common condition. People call their skin “sensitive” when it responds to certain external stimuli that rarely affect others.

Causes of sensitive skin include:

  • Dry Skin
  • Exposure to an outside stimulus that damages the protective layer of your skin (contact dermatitis)
  • Allergy to an outside stimulus
  • Eczema
  • Rosacea
  • Medication
  • Underlying medical condition

Having sensitive skin can be frustrating, annoying, and even painful. Most skincare products only leave your skin reddened and tight. A new favorite eye shadow might make your eyelids puffy and itchy.

Dr. Miranda A. Farage, a Ph.D. in medical sciences and well-known skin expert, stated in NIH Natural Library of Medicine that, “Overall, [about] 60–70% of women and 50–60% of men report having some degree of sensitive skin.”

Two reasons women are more prone to sensitive skin may include:

  • Hormones found in women
  • Women generally have thinner skin

However, more research needs to be done in this area.

Signs of Sensitive Skin

Signs of sensitive skin include:

  • Itching
  • Flaking
  • Tightness
  • Burning
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Tingling
  • Stinging
  • Dryness/cracks
  • Rashes/bumps/hives
  • Acne
  • Pain

A doctor can observe some signs of sensitive skin. But other problems are purely subjective—such as itching or tightness. These symptoms cannot be quantitatively measured or visually observed. For this reason, a doctor initially may have trouble determining the full extent of your skin’s sensitivity as well as providing the best treatment.

Sensitive skin can be on any part of your body, but it is most often found on your face.

Common Causes of Sensitive Skin

Happily, having sensitive skin is not usually a reason for concern, and there is help available.

Most often, sensitive skin symptoms develop when the skin’s protective barrier breaks down. Skin irritation or inflammation are more likely to occur.

Sensitive Skin Triggers

The following items and environmental factors can affect the outer layer of the skin and cause skin sensitivity:

  • Exposure to heat, sun, and wind
  • Exposure to hot water
  • Some soaps, hand sanitizers
  • Beauty products
  • Laundry detergents
  • Astringents and exfoliants
  • Many household cleaning products

Take the time to try new products one at a time to determine which trigger a skin reaction.  If your skin reacts, be extra gentle to your skin and give it a chance to heal before trying another product.

Additional Causes of Sensitive Skin

Dry Skin

When a person has dry skin, their top layer of skin doesn’t have enough moisture.

Silhouette of woman washing hair in the shower

Factors that contribute to dry skin include:

  • Lengthy exposure to hot or cold temperatures or wind
  • Using harsh soaps that strip moisture from skin
  • Frequent hand washing

Dry skin is usually not a cause for medical concern, but it often adds to skin sensitivity since the skin has less moisture to help protect from irritants.


Some common skin triggers for allergy (allergic contact dermatitis) include:

  • Soaps, beauty products with certain fragrance or preservatives
  • Poison ivy, poison oak, or other plants
  • Jewelry metals such as nickel or gold
  • Latex or rubber

Medical Conditions

These are a few of the medical conditions that can cause sensitive skin:

  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • HIV
  • Skin cancer

Sensitive Skin and Exposure to Other Stimuli

Sun Exposure

People with sensitive skin should take precautions in the sun. Sensitive skin is more prone to sun damage since it is weaker than other skin and cannot as easily protect against sunlight.

Photosensitivity is a specific immune system reaction to sunlight or other ultraviolet light rays. Skin will get itchy areas of redness and inflammation when exposed to the sun. It will also burn easily.

Prescription or non-prescription medicines, a genetic disorder, or a medical condition can all cause photosensitivity. Certain skin care products can also cause it.

Insect Bites and Allergies

A woman with a strong skin reaction to insect bites on her arm

Sensitivity or an allergy can cause a skin reaction to an insect sting or bite. An allergy includes an immune system reaction, but a pure sensitivity reaction (non-allergic) does not.

If an insect bites you, sensitive skin may get itchy or painful small bumps. An over-the-counter antihistamine or cream can help resolve this problem.

An allergic reaction to an insect bite also includes skin rashes and hives. Swelling of the lips or throat, trouble breathing, dizziness, vomiting, and stomach pain can also be present.

In this case, get immediate medical attention.

Sensitive Skin and Acne

People with sensitive skin may get breakouts of red bumps and pustules. However, treatment with acne products often worsens these symptoms.

In you have acne and sensitive skin:

  • Introduce new skin products slowly, one at a time
  • Avoid harsh skin scrubs
  • Avoid treatments you leave on your skin
  • Visit a skin doctor

Skin Treatments for Sensitive Skin


Facials can benefit sensitive skin, but they must be the right kind. Always tell your aesthetician that you have sensitive skin. This way, they can select the proper treatment and watch for any signs of irritation.

The right facial will hydrate, cleanse, and calm your sensitive skin. It can boost your skin’s immunity, reduce inflammation, and help prevent future skin problems.

Be sure to request hypoallergenic products. Some helpful, calming facials may contain green tea or seaweed.

If you have sensitive skin, aestheticians may advise you to have only one facial every two months.

Skin Peels

If you have sensitive skin, you can still benefit from chemical peels. There are peels that will be both gentle and effective, offering the results you need. Again, your aesthetician will need to determine which treatment will be best for you.

If you or a family member have a history of developing keloids (excess scar tissue) it’s probably best to avoid skin peels.

Help for Sensitive Skin

If you have sensitive skin, there are things you can do to help your skin look and feel better.

Proper facial treatments can reduce redness, itching, and burning.

If you do not know the cause of your sensitive skin, visit a board-certified dermatologist for a proper diagnosis. They will help determine the cause for your sensitive skin and help create a treatment plan.

Close-up of hand reaching for bottled drinking water in store

Some general tips on caring for sensitive skin include:

  • Use skin care products, such as face cleansers and moisturizers for sensitive skin
  • Use fragrance-free products
  • Avoid wearing perfumes
  • Use unscented beauty products
  • Use unscented laundry detergents
  • Avoid lengthy hot showers
  • Frequently use moisturizer
  • Stay hydrated – drink lots of water

At Vibrance MedSpa, we can help your skin look and feel better. Our experienced aestheticians often work with patients who have sensitive skin. Contact us today for an appointment.

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