Sensitive Skin Guide is a guide written for our community. The author of this guide is not a medical doctor. As a result, the information contained herein is for informational purposes only. Consult your doctor.
Sensitive skin affects a lot of people.
Just how many?
A lot more than you think.
Dr. Olivier de Lacharriere is a researcher at the L’Oreal Group’s L’Oreal Recherche in Clichy Cedex, a suburb of Paris.
His team had done extensive research on the subject.
So, the research, which was conducted in the San Francisco Bay Area, was not just from a small group.
For example, it was focused on diverse ethnic groups.
As a result, the researchers gathered 800 participants.
They had four ethnic groups: African American, European American, Asian American, and Hispanic American.
So, they had 200 from each group.
Meanwhile, the researchers determined that 52% of people in the United States believe they suffer from sensitive skin.
Nevertheless, despite all of the research, there is no real consensus on what sensitive skin is or really means.
Therefore, this article is meant to dispel myths and share cohesive information on the subject.
Table of Contents
Thomas B. Fitzpatrick was a well-respected dermatologist from Harvard.
His career spanned from 1959 to 1987, and he is generally considered the most important dermatologist of the past century.
One of the many things he had done is to create an easy-to-understand typing of the human skin.
The Fitzpatrick Scale divides the skin into six groups.
The typing is based on the amount of melanin present in each group.
Consequently, those melanin-rich are more resistant to the sun’s ultraviolet rays and, therefore, less prone to skin cancer.
As such, Fitzpatrick determined that those who have Dark Skin, from dark brown to black, have the most melanin.
The people who have this skin type, when exposed to the sun in the usual way, never burn and always get darker.
On the other hand, the people on the opposite of this group are very different.
Fitzpatrick proposed that those with Pale Skin, who tend to have blue or green eyes and blonde or red hair, always burn and never tan.
In the meantime, Fitzpatrick had four other groups in the middle, which ranged from fair skin to brown skin.
As you would expect, their reaction to the sun ranged from burning quickly and tanning poorly to rarely burning and turning darker quickly.
Although common sense would hold that the folks who are Pale or Fair would be the ones to suffer from sensitive skin the most, that is not precisely what happens.
According to de Lacharriere and his team, sensitivity affects all.
This is because sensitive skin is a skin condition that can occur in any skin type group.
Sure, a pale woman will be more reactive to the sun than a dark-skinned woman. However, they could both be sensitive to fragrance.
Sensitive Skin Meaning
The biggest issue with this condition is that there is really no one definition.
Marlys Fassett, a dermatologist at the University of California in San Francisco, says that “sensitive skin” is not a clinical term.
That is, this is not a term used by dermatologists.
For dermatologists, sensitive skin is really just a layperson’s description of various skin complaints.
It is not just “one” thing.
This is frustrating because those of us who suffer from sensitive skin know what it is and feel like the rest of the world doesn’t hear us!
Sadly, it is not easily defined because it affects us all differently.
However, this is how we define it:
As a result, doctors, unfortunately, still don’t have a real definition.
Nevertheless, doctors treat this because there are some specific symptoms.
Meanwhile, you could say it is a type of skin that has an adverse reaction to things.
“Sometimes even the wind makes my skin hurt,” says Amanda, a New Yorker. “I will often make up if it’s going to be windy, sort of to clothe my face,” she adds.
Similarly, Jennifer, from Minnesota, has difficulty with soaps.
“Any kind of soap will make my skin tingle or itch or just be a pain,” she says. “Even gentle cleansers are not gentle enough for me,” she says.
Dermatologists across the country have patients similar to Amanda and Jennifer.
Sensitive Skin Symptoms
So, while doctors don’t have a definition, they are aware of many kinds of conditions.
“Sensitive skin is reactive to skincare product ingredients, chemicals, and environmental conditions,” explains Dr. Cynthia Bailey, a dermatologist in Sebastopol, California.
In other words, sensitive skin may mean encounters with a skincare product can make you yell out, “Aah!”
There are many reasons for this.
For example, the product might include an ingredient that the skin reacts to very negatively.
For instance, fragrance.
“Sometimes I feel like my skin is detective,” says Sarah. “If there’s any kind of fragrance in the product, I will feel it,” she adds.
Sarah, who lives in California, says she avoids most products on the market.
Meanwhile, Sarah reports that fragrances can appear on the label under so many different names.
She is right.
Meanwhile, there are many ingredients labeled as a fragrance.
The Environmental Working Group says there are over 3,000 ingredients!
“My skin is okay with some types of fragrances,” says Lateesha, from Georgia. “Now I understand why because some of those ingredients are so bad for me,” she adds.
So, you can imagine, therefore, why there might be so many different symptoms with one “ingredient.”
Dermatologists like Bailey say there are many types of symptoms, and some people have multiples of them.
Brenda, a woman who lives in Texas, says she deals with redness and acne.
On the other hand, Kelly in Vermont says she has itchy skin all summer long.
“It really sucks,” says Kelly. “I have to apply ointment on everywhere, every single day.”
So, the symptoms are diverse.
Sensitive Skin Test
Do you think you have sensitive skin?
Put your skin to the test.
Of course, the face is a lot more sensitive than the area we will ask you to test.
However, any of us who have sensitive skin will tell you that our entire skin is sensitive.
So, here it goes.
This test requires that you use the inner part of your forearm.
Place your index finger against the area. Apply medium pressure to the skin area. Finally, rub your finger sideways across a medium-sized space, not rubbing too fast or too slow, and count to five.
Now, remove your finger.
Is the area red?
If so, you have super sensitive skin.
If it was somewhat red, then you have normal sensitive skin.
If not red at all, then you probably don’t have sensitive skin.
This test requires that you use the inner part of your forearm.
Puff a small amount of fragrance to your arm.
Did it sting?
You have sensitive skin.
Did it sting and turn red?
You have super sensitive skin.
Did it not sting nor turn red?
Maybe you do not have sensitive skin.
Likewise, your dermatologist can help you figure out.
Sensitive Skin Causes
Although no one can define sensitive skin accurately, and the symptoms may not affect everyone the same way, there are some causes for some.
As a result, sometimes these causes can be avoided.
However, sometimes it’s not possible.
For example, for so many people, a significant cause is the environment, as previously noted.
For instance, exposure to wind, cold, hot, and sun are all environmental situations that can be difficult to avoid.
After all, if you live in the Windy City, known as Chicago, and it is winter, what can anyone do?
“It is excruciating,” says Rachel, in Chicago. “I tend to be indoors from early fall to late spring,” she adds.
On the other hand, some causes can be avoided.
For example, dry skin.
So, dry skin can lead to cracked and injured skin.
Consequently, a host of other skin issues can come out of that.
However, one can avoid dry skin by making sure the surface is consistently hydrated.
Meanwhile, there are also known skin disorders such as eczema, rosacea, or dermatitis that can cause sensitive skin.
Although dermatologists don’t have a definition and typically don’t diagnose it with that term, they diagnose underlying skin disorders.
So, to keep those disorders from flaring up, dermatologists prescribe medications.
Finally, there is a significant cause known as food.
Eating certain foods can cause sensitive skin.
For example, de Lacharriere and his research note that Asian Americans know spicy food causes sensitivity for their skin.
“I love mapo doufu (tofu dish), but it’s too spicy for me,” says Li Xiu Ying, one of our authors. “I will break out with redness,” she adds. “I tend to avoid Sichuan dishes, even though I really love them.”
So, watch out.
Sensitive Skin Treatments
So, part of the problem of having sensitive skin is that most treatments require a medical doctor and prescription.
Nevertheless, we divide treatments for this condition into three areas.
There is medical, natural, and cultural.
For this, you need to visit your dermatologist and get a prescription.
Medications tend to be issue-specific.
For example, there are medications for rosacea.
There are as many as 100 prescription-only medications for rosacea alone!
Also, one may end up having laser therapy as part of their rosacea treatment.
So, the doctor will determine what medical treatment should be.
Meanwhile, there are also over-the-counter medications and other products that a person might be able to use.
For example, an anti-itch cream that contains 1% hydrocortisone cream is perfect for itches, rashes, et cetera.
Likewise, antihistamine diphenhydramine is also great for many things. For example, rashes, itches, etc.
In other words, medication is diverse.
Natural and Cultural
So, these are the tried and true culturally prescribed treatments for sensitive skin.
More often than not, these tend to be edible items.
For example, aloe vera.
Aloe vera is famous for its antibacterial properties.
However, it also has antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and emollient properties.
That makes it a top product to soothe your sensitive skin.
There are also a lot of other edible remedies such as apple cider vinegar, tomato juice, olive oil, et cetera.
So, understand that the treatments are diverse.
Therefore, choose the one that works for you.
Sensitive Skin Products
So, just because it says it is hypoallergenic, it doesn’t mean it is!
Skincare companies can literally say whatever they want.
It is not regulated.
So, if you have sensitive skin, opt for skincare products that clearly say what they have or don’t have.
For example, only buy products that say they are fragrance-free, soap-free, dye-free, and paraben-free.
Once those are met, then they can say they’re hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic.
Go with a well-known brand rather than a small, new brand.
The named brands have a reputation to protect.
Sensitive Skin Face Wash
A face wash is a product you must watch out for when you live with sensitive skin.
Usually, it is one of the main culprits of flaring up our skin.
So, pay extra attention when it comes to your face wash.
There are literally tons of different products on the market.
What do we recommend?
Neutrogena Ultra Gentle Daily Facial Cleanser for Sensitive Skin
It is “Oil-Free, Soap-Free, Hypoallergenic & Non-Comedogenic Foaming Face Wash.”
You get it for less than $10 for a 12 fl. oz bottle.
What we love about this product is that not only is it gentle on your skin, but it doesn’t leave any residue!
It also does the job by efficiently removing excess oil, dirt, and makeup.
Sensitive Skin Moisturizer
Now that your face is nice and clean, you want to get the right moisturizer for your sensitive skin.
A moisturizer stays on your skin the longest at night.
So, it pays to make sure you’re not keeping close something that will irk, irritate, or harm your skin.
What do we recommend?
Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel-Cream (Extra Dry Skin).
This does several things.
First of all, it’s like the face wash in that it really is very gentle. It doesn’t have fragrance, dyes, oils, or even non-comedogenic.
At the same time, it hydrates your skin!
Remember that dry skin is one of the underlying issues of flaring up sensitive skin.
Sometimes, you don’t even think you’re dealing with dry skin!
“Hyaluronic acid, which is naturally found in the skin, acts as a sponge for dry skin cells,” says Neutrogena, “and can absorb up to 1,000 times its weight in water!”
For less than $20, you will get 1.7 oz of the stuff.
Sensitive Skin Sunscreen
Sunscreen can protect sensitive skin from harmful sun rays.
As you know, it is really not easy to find the right sunscreen product for sensitive skin.
After all, half the ingredients typically found in sunscreen are too harsh for our delicate skin!
So, what do we recommend?
Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Sunscreen Lotion (with Broad Spectrum SPF 60+).
So many things to talk about with this one.
First of all, it has a broad spectrum, which means it protects from both kinds of sun rays.
Second, it is over SPF 50.
That is really plenty!
While you can find those in many products, we bet you it is not easy to find a hypoallergenic one!
Water-resistant one at that!
For less than $10, you will get a 3 fl. oz tube.
Sensitive Skin Makeup
Makeup for sensitive skin?
We usually don’t like makeup, but if we had to recommend an accessible brand, we would say Bare Minerals.
IQ Natural Mineral Makeup Set – 12 Piece Starter Set with Brush [Fair, Medium, or Dark].
They use certified organic ingredients in their products.
The starter set comes with a primer, concealer, face brush, bronzer, blush, 2 shades of foundations to match, setting veil, 3 neutral eyeshadows, and setting spray.
It is more than enough.
For less than $40, you get a 12-piece set.
Sensitive Skin Deodorant
When purchasing deodorant, it is essential to see double-check how it will work with your sensitive skin.
Some deodorants are just not on at all!
They make our armpits feel like they are on fire.
Who wants that kind of stuff on their bodies?
Fortunately, many products in the market do not do that.
So, which product do we recommend?
Almay Sensitive Skin (Gel).
It is as simple as it sounds.
This clear gel comes without any fragrance.
Yet, it will cover body odor quickly!
Its 2.5-oz size makes it handbag friendly.
Plus, it’s really inexpensive.
For less than $20, you get a pack of 6!
Sensitive Skin Bath Products
After face wash, you want to watch out for products you wash with your body or hair.
These products typically have to be a bit tougher because the skin on the rest of the body is more hardened.
As such, you want to opt for calm products to begin with.
Because these products are a bit harsher, we would recommend not using too much in the morning.
It is better to have your cleansing shower in the evening.
Nevertheless, there are a lot of products on the market for this.
What do we recommend?
Tom’s Of Maine Moisturizing Body Wash.
It is really gentle.
Their products don’t have parabens, sulfates, or artificial stuff.
That means no artificial fragrance, foaming things, or preservatives.
This particular one comes in two variations.
You could get a lavender/shea combination or an orange blossom.
And it is reasonably inexpensive.
For less than $7, you get a 16 oz bottle.
Sensitive Skin Hair Products
Even though we don’t think about it, hair products can harm our sensitive skin.
“But I’m not using it on the skin!” you might protest.
However, the scalp is skin, and these products do end up on the rest of the skin anyway!
So, yeah, hair products.
Although hair products are all the things you need for your hair, we are going to focus on shampoo and conditioner at this time.
So, what products do we recommend?
We love Puracy. Their products are lovely.
Natural Shampoo and Conditioner Set (Vegan).
This set features plant-based ingredients that will keep your hair beautiful and healthy without flaring up your sensitive skin.
For about $30, you get the set. Each bottle is 16 oz.
Sensitive Skin Laundry Products
Outside of the body, products that have the most harmful influence on our sensitive skin are laundry products.
Think about it, if your detergent is full of chemicals, chances are your skin is going to end up absorbing some of it.
This is even truer with our sleeping clothes and bedding.
That is because we sweat a lot in the night, which means those chemicals will make it to your skin.
So, you definitely want a detergent that does not have so much stuff.
At the same time, you want your clothes clean.
As such, you do need to put up with some chemicals.
So, which detergent do we recommend?
Seventh Generation Concentrated Laundry Detergent (Free & Clear Unscented).
This product doesn’t have fragrances, dyes, or brighteners.
For less than $30, you get 2 packs, each 40 fl. oz.
Sensitive Skin Household Cleaners
Once you get the laundry out of the way, it is time to make sure your household cleaners are not creating havoc for your sensitive skin.
After all, we are washing dishes, washing our hands, cleaning counters, and are simply around chemicals all day.
Unfortunately, you do need some chemicals.
But only a little!
As such, invest in as chemical-free as you can possibly get with these types of products.
Good thing companies like Puracy have that covered.
Puracy Natural Home Cleaning Set.
These are organic and hypoallergenic!
Set includes dish soap, hand soap, detergent, stain remover, and multi-surface cleaner.
Although we recommend getting the detergent separately (Puracy’s is small), we still love the rest!
Literally, everything you need for your home.
For about $50, you get the entire thing!
Of course, we could tell you more, but you can do your own research.
So, sensitive skin is a real condition that many of us know.
However, unfortunately, there is no medical definition for it just it.
Meanwhile, we say it is a type of skin that is reactive to some things.
Of course, it is a diverse host of things!
So, the doctors, knowing the problem is real, treat the symptoms.
Likewise, they treat underlying causes.
As a result, there are a ton of medications in the market for this.
So, visit your local dermatologist and find out if you have it and what to do about it.
Meanwhile, you can read the research of Olivier de Lacharrierre.
Likewise, you can look into Thomas B. Fitzpatrick’s skin types.
Similarly, visit the website of dermatologist Cynthia Bailey.
Keep your skin healthy!
Lena Wilson is a fashion writer for Caravanzers.