1. What is sensitive skin?
Many people say they have sensitive skin because skin care products, or household products that contact their skin, cause stinging, burning, redness, or tightness. Or they say they have it because even though they have no visible effects after contact with a product, it always makes their skin feel uncomfortable.
But here is what dermatologists look for when diagnosing sensitive skin:
- Skin reactions such as pustules, skin bumps, or skin erosion
- Very dry skin which doesn't properly protect nerve endings in the skin
- A tendency toward blushing and skin flushing
2. How do I know if I have sensitive skin?
Have a dermatologist check your skin. That’s the best way to find out if you have sensitive skin or whether something else is causing your skin condition.
3. What causes sensitive skin reactions?
Causes of sensitive skin reactions include:
- Skin disorders or allergic skin reactions such as eczema, rosacea, or allergic contact dermatitis
- Overly dry or injured skin that can no longer protect nerve endings, leading to skin reactions
- Excessive exposure to skin-damaging environmental factors such as sun and wind or excessive heat or cold
Genetic factors, age, gender, and race differences in skin sensitivity are less well-defined but still may play a role in causing skin reactions.
4. Are there medical tests for sensitive skin?
Patch testing may identify signs of allergies that are causing or contributing to sensitive skin. Otherwise, it's difficult for doctors to test for sensitive skin because so many factors can cause it.
5. Should men be concerned about sensitive skin?
Yes. The look of healthy skin is just as important for men as it is for women.
6. What are some tips for caring for my sensitive skin, especially on my face?
Cleansing. From one person to the next, sensitive skin responds differently to different cleansing methods. But most dermatologists agree that “deodorant” soap or highly fragranced soap contains strong detergents and shouldn't be used on the face. Soap-free cleansers such as mild cleansing bars and sensitive-skin bars along with most liquid facial cleansers have less potential for facial skin irritation than soaps. The same is true for cleansing creams and disposable facial washcloths.
Moisturizing. Moisturizing products help skin hold on to moisture so it resists drying and abrasion. See guidelines to choosing skin care products below.
Cosmetics. See guidelines below.
7. What should I look for in skin care products that will make them less irritating to sensitive skin?
Specific guidelines are lacking. But more “skin-friendly” products contain:
- Only a few ingredients
- Little or no fragrance
If you have sensitive skin, avoid products containing:
- Antibacterial or deodorant ingredients
- Retinoids or alpha-hydroxy acids
8. What types of cosmetics are less irritating to sensitive skin?
If you have sensitive skin, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends the following:
- Use face powder, which has few preservatives and minimal risk of skin irritation.
- Use a silicone-based foundation for minimal skin irritation.
- Do not use waterproof cosmetics. You need a special cleanser to remove them.
- Use products with fewer than 10 ingredients.
- Use black eyeliner and mascara that appear to be least allergenic.
- Use pencil eyeliner and eyebrow fillers. Liquid eyeliners contain latex and may cause an allergic reaction.
- Use earth-toned eye shadows, which are generally less irritating to upper-eyelid skin than darker colors such as navy blue.
- Throw out old cosmetics. They can spoil or become contaminated.
- Do not use nail polish if there’s any chance you’ll touch your eyes or face with it before it dries.