10 Things About...Sensitized Skin

Written by Patricia Faley

Skin sensitivity is on the rise. In fact, it is estimated that up to half of the world's population perceive their skin to be sensitive. It is important, however, to note that there is a marked difference between skin that is genetically sensitive and skin that has been affected by internal or external factors that can accelerate nerve responses and increase permeability of the stratum corneum, resulting in the skin becoming sensitized.

It is the skin care professional's responsibility to educate clients on the triggers and tripwires that can cause sensitization and inform them about the best ways to treat and protect the skin for optimal skin health. Although sensitive skin cannot be eliminated, through correct product choices and an awareness of lifestyle factors and sensitizers, it can certainly be managed.


1.  Pollution. Sensitized skin can be triggered in any person regardless of racial background or skin color. Excessive exposure to skin-damaging environmental factors, such as chemical pollutants, can sensitize the skin. For example, approximately 36 percent of the Chinese populace has declared themselves as sensitive, a condition that may in fact be attributed to the high level of pollution in both rural and urban parts of this region.


2.  Lifestyle. This factor is a very important example of how people can inadvertently sensitize their skin. Long periods of time outdoors, playing sports, or at work expose the skin to more ultraviolet damage. Alcohol is another trigger as it dilates blood vessels, making a red face look even redder.


33.  Diet. Eating spicy foods has been linked to increased skin sensitivity, possibly due to nerve activity in the skin. Smoking also has many adverse effects, one of which is skin dehydration. A person's lifestyle may be putting them more at risk for having sensitized skin, making the skin more susceptible to reacting to cosmetic and skin care products.


4.  Incorrect product use. Some cosmetic and skin care ingredients may also be sensitizing the skin. Depending on the formulation, less is better. Similarly, overprocessing the skin, such as over-exfoliating, can also strip the protective barrier and lead to skin sensitivity.4


55.  Dehydration. This condition reflects a loss of barrier lipids that keep the skin hydrated. Overly dry skin cannot protect nerve endings in the skin, leading to skin reactions. Dehydrated skin means a disruption of the barrier integrity has occurred, which may also result in ingredients and microorganisms penetrating the skin, causing adverse effects.


66.  Climate. Exposure to skin-damaging factors, such as sun, wind, and excessive heat or cold, are common triggers of sensitized skin. Low humidity is also a trigger of sensitivity.


7.  Stress. Hormones, like cortisol, can trigger oil production, initiating or worsening acne. It can also exacerbate a number of inflammatory skin conditions, such as rosacea, psoriasis, and eczema. In a professional skin care treatment, professionals often see sensitivity coupled with another skin condition, making it a tricky scenario to correctly diagnose and prescribe a product.7


88.  Microclimate. The skin is exposed to different factors in the home, car, and office on a daily basis, resulting in varying levels of sensitivity. For instance, a person may be inadvertently sensitizing their skin on a typical winter day when they move from cold, dry winds outside to dry, forced air heating inside.


9.  Hydration. Several factors can affect the integrity of the epidermal barrier. Stress, removing surface lipids by washing with soap and water, over-exfoliation, using alcohol-laden 9products, and temperature can all lead to skin dehydration. Much like the cracked earth of the desert, the skin can form microcracks, allowing microbes and chemicals to penetrate and trigger inflammation. Maintaining the integrity of the epidermal barrier with essential fatty acids, such as evening primrose oil, borage seed oil, and oat kernal oil, can reduce irritation and reinforce the epidermal bilipid layers.


1010. Remove pollutants. Skin care professionals often recommended the double cleanse to thoroughly remove makeup, but it also, more importantly, removes pollution and ozone. New research shows that stinging, redness, and dehydration have a direct correlation to skin pollution and can even promote premature aging and hyperpigmentation. Begin with a pre-cleanse oil to dissolve makeup and dirt and then use a second cleanser geared to a specific skin type or condition. Clients should also include antioxidants and use ingredients such as red hogweed, ginger, and sunflower seed extract, which restrict the adherence of pollutants. Activated charcoal is a great anti-pollution remedy. A weekly mask with charcoal will detoxify the skin by adsorbing pollutants from the skin and trapping them in the micropores.


1 De Lacharrière, O. (2006). Sensitive Skin: a neurological perspective. 24th IFSCC, Osaka.

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