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Sensitive Skin Solutions

By: Lydia Sarfati
Posted: August 26, 2009, from the September 2009 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

The term “sensitive skin” has become very common—approximately 57% of people say that they have skin sensitivity, yet few are actually born with it.1 Only 2% of adults in America actually have sensitive skin.1 Sensitive skin is characterized by excessive dryness, stinging, burning, redness and tightness, and is often a reaction to certain skin care products or other products that come in contact with the skin. It has a tendency to blush and flush easily because it has more reactive blood vessels than normal skin. This type of skin may also react with pustules, skin bumps and skin erosion.

Sensitive skin can be genetic and inherent, according to race, age and gender, but the majority of people affected by sensitive skin have become so due to environmental or lifestyle factors. The skin’s main function is to protect; however, exposure to the factors that cause sensitivity can compromise its ability to function optimally. The first step toward conquering skin sensitivity is education.

If your skin is sensitive, chances are that it has a thinner strateum corneum, a weaker natural defense barrier of lipids and may have more dermal appendages, such as hair follicles, and sebaceous and sweat glands. These characteristics of the skin’s structure result in heightened permeability and less protection against irritating ingredients or pollutants, as well as an increase in moisture loss.


As mentioned, external factors, such as environmental aggressors and exposure to irritating ingredients and chemicals, are known to bring on skin sensitivity. With these factors, the skin may often return to its normal state after exposure to the irritants has ceased. Throughout time, however, these factors compromise the integrity of the epidermis. Harsh cleansing, overexfoliating and exposure to pollutants and irritants can allow for minute cracks—invisible to the naked eye, but large enough to allow the penetration of the epidermis—causing inflammation. Skin can become more sensitive as natural secretions diminish and the subcutaneous fat layer thins. Harsh ingredients should be avoided in order to keep the barrier intact, including strong acids and alkalis, chemical sunscreens, surfactants, penetration enhancers, benzoyl peroxide and hydrogen peroxide. Hormonal changes that come with puberty, pregnancy and menopause may also trigger sensitivity.

Caring for sensitive skin

The goal in caring for sensitive skin is to smooth, calm and hydrate. Sensitive skin can be treated using calming ingredients, such as seaweed, olive oil, olive leaf extracts, green and white tea and allantoin. Natural antioxidants help to prevent the free-radical damage that triggers sensitivity. Boosting the skin’s own protective lipids by adding essential fatty acids, gamma linoleic acid and hyaluronic acid can provide the raw materials needed by epidermal cells to generate lipids.