Sensitive skin is a symptom, not a diagnosis, but recognising that you have sensitive skin can help you determine the cause.
Sensitive skin isn't a medical diagnosis, and it doesn't necessarily mean there's anything wrong with you. Instead, 'sensitivity' refers to a range of skin issues that manifest in different ways, from minor irritations to severe rashes.
Knowing you have sensitive skin won't help you determine the cause of your sensitivity, but it can alert you to a problem warranting further investigation. Here are some common indicators of skin sensitivity.
How do I know if I have sensitive skin?
It's important to differentiate between sensitive skin and sensitised skin.
Sensitive skin is a genetic predisposition (generally a Northern European background). The skin burns easily in sunlight and can react to triggers, such as food. This is because the complexion tends to have a lower amount of pigment and a thinner epidermal (top) skin layer.
Sensitised skin can target any skin type regardless of age or race. In fact, it affects over 50% of people! This temporary condition is when the skin becomes over-reactive from external factors, resulting in irritation, redness, itchiness, stinging or tingling sensations and product intolerance.
Signs and Symptoms of Sensitive Skin
A history of allergies or eczema makes you more likely to experience skin sensitivity. If you regularly experience three or more of the following, you probably have sensitive skin:
Delicate skin is also more prone to broken capillaries and may bruise easily.
You can be sensitive not only to chemicals but also to materials. You might, for example, find that certain socks irritate your feet, or that you can only wear clothing made of natural fibres.
If you experience frequent reactions, consider switching to products designed for sensitive skin. If skin reactions continue, talk to your doctor to determine whether a health problem is responsible for your skin sensitivity.
Skin sensitivity can be the result of, or exacerbated by, a wide variety of factors such as seasonal change and temperature, astringent or harsh ingredients, over exfoliation, allergies, stress, hormonal changes and medications. Even coffee and alcohol can be a cause!
The skin has a protective layer, called the Acid Mantle, which is a defence mechanism against foreign bacteria and moisture loss. Over-use of products or excessive treatments like peels and microdermabrasion, will damage the acid mantle, leaving the complexion irritated and fragile.
Other Causes of Skin Sensitivity
Not all skin reactions indicate sensitive skin. Indeed, misdiagnosing yourself with generally sensitive skin can actually cause you to ignore a specific problem with the products you use. Some other common causes of skin sensitivity include:
- Using too many products at once, and not using too many new products at once.
- Exfoliating too frequently, particularly if you use chemical peels that tend to irritate skin.
- Not using moisturiser every day.
Excessive sun exposure, particularly if you use a product such as retinol that increases skin sensitivity to UV rays.
- Combining or layering products that aren't safe to use together.
- Infections, bug bites, and other forms of irritation.