Your Guide to Sensitive Skin

Sensitive Skin Guide

Sensitive skin is estimated to affect 60-70% of women and 50-60% of men worldwide. If you’re experiencing sensitive skin or your skin feels sensitive, the best solution is to understand the main causes, signs, and how to effectively manage it.

What is Sensitive Skin?

While sensitive skin is a very common issue, it isn’t a medical diagnosis in itself. According to the International Forum for the Study of Itch (IFSI) the definition of sensitive skin is “a syndrome defined by the occurrence of unpleasant sensations (stinging, burning, pain, pruritus, and tingling

sensations) in response to stimuli that normally should not provoke such sensations. These

unpleasant sensations cannot be explained by lesions attributable to any skin disease. The skin can appear normal or be accompanied by erythema.”(1)

Usually, people with sensitive skin react badly to the chemicals, fragrances, and dyes often found in many skincare products (or other products that come into contact with their skin, such as detergents). Redness, dryness, and a weakened skin barrier as a result of these reactions typically

indicate signs of skin sensitivity. Clothing itself can also be a cause; friction or certain fabrics can create irritation. Likewise, a person’s allergies to other substances, such as laundry detergents, could also be a cause of sensitive skin.

However, an alternative reason for sensitive skin could be due to the person’s health — Sensitive skin could be a symptom of an underlying medical or health condition.

Five Common Signs of Skin Sensitivity

Below are common signs of skin sensitivity which can point you in the right direction:

Dry skin can feel rough, tight or itchy. Visible signs include flakes or skin having a raw texture.

Can look like redness, rash and inflammation. Non-visible signs include itching and discomfort.

When flaky, dull and patchy skin is visible and skin generally feels dry.

Similar sensations to dryness, where skin feels quite taut and stiff.

If any stinging or burning occurs, you may have a damaged skin barrier.

To find out more about the signs of sensitive skin, read The 5 signs of Sensitive Skin.

Factors That Contribute To Sensitive Skin

Although the exact cause of sensitive skin is not fully understood by the scientific community, several characteristics have been attributed to an increased likelihood of sensitive skin.

Different genders have different hormone levels and use the body in different ways, so the skin’s integrity can be affected by differences in sweat, blood flow, and pH levels.

As we age, the outer layer of our skin naturally becomes thinner, this is due to a reduction in collagen and elastin in the dermis. This leads to skin that is more prone to bruising and easier to irritate.

Fairer skin is paler and has less melatonin, a natural chemical that stimulates antioxidant enzymes in the skin. This means fair skin often can’t block free radicals as effectively and is more susceptible to sunburn.

The place you live in has an impact on your skin’s sensitivity levels. Enhanced exposure to rough winds and cold climates can negatively affect your delicate skin barrier.

The IFSI also found that ultraviolet radiation (UVR) intensifies symptoms of skin sensitivity through sun exposure, which can create itch or burning pain sensations.(4)

If you live in a busy town near heavy traffic, your exposure to pollution is higher and, during the course of your day, your skin can absorb chemicals that cause your skin to be stressed.

The Do's & Don'ts for Sensitive Skin


Understanding exactly what your skin needs is important if you have sensitive skin. There are simply some products that won’t be right or will include ingredients that won’t be right, so use products that are particularly tailored to your skin's needs. Take a look at our list below to understand what ingredients to avoid.

Sensitive skin varies tremendously across skin types. It responds differently to different cleansing methods. However, most dermatologists agree that fragranced or ‘deodorant’ soaps are not always the best option for the body. Instead, soap free cleansers, mild liquid cleansers or cleansing bars are much less likely to cause irritation. This is the case for cleansing creams and disposable washcloths as well.

Using a moisturizing product helps skin hold moisture which resists drying.

It’s always best to patch test a new product (a patch behind your ear makes for a good place) before applying all over your face. Then wait at least 24 hours to see if the product causes any irritation or if you develop a rash. If you have particularly hypersensitive skin, it’s best to then follow this with another test beside your eye. If both are clear, you’re fine to apply more widely.

It’s always best to patch test a new product (a patch behind your ear makes for a good place) before applying all over your face. Then wait at least 24 hours to see if the product causes any irritation or if you develop a rash. If you have particularly hypersensitive skin, it’s best to then follow this with another test beside your eye. If both are clear, you’re fine to apply more widely.

Expired make-up and other products can become contaminated or carry bacteria that may exacerbate or cause sensitive skin.

Sensitive skin is often extra-sensitive to sunlight and UV rays. By wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen all year round with an SPF 30 or higher, you are able to reduce the risk of sun to delicate tissue and skin.


Using very hot water to wash your skin can cause heightened irritation, sensitivity and strip skin of its natural oils causing dryness. Very cold water doesn’t cleanse your skin sufficiently or unclog the pores. Lukewarm water is the best option as it balances skin oils and removes dirt.

Rubbing and scratching at sensitive skin can exacerbate symptoms and makes sensitive skin inflamed and irritated.

Overloading your skin with different products causes stress and can cause sensitivity. While our products are created for sensitive skin, so, for the most part, are suitable to combine, introducing several ingredients to your skin at once can cause bad reactions. Being aware of skincare products’ components is crucial for sensitive skin.

Cleaning your brushes regularly protects against contamination, bacteria or dirt that cause sensitive skin to react badly.

Dermatologist waiting for a patient in her office

Which Ingredients Should I Look for Or Avoid in Products for Sensitive Skin?

People with sensitive skin need to understand the products that are right for them and should seek out products with simple ingredients that will be gentle on their skin. There are a number of ingredients that are extremely beneficial to sensitive skin, ones that moisturize and soothe sensitive skin. These include the following:

When Should I See a Doctor About My Skin?

The best way to manage sensitive skin is to see a professional dermatologist. This will help you find out the source or the cause of the sensitivity. Dermatologists can test the skin, check for any allergies and consider whether there may be underlying conditions causing the problem. These could include conditions such as eczema, rosacea, contact dermatitis, or psoriasis.

Management of Sensitive Skin

The management of extremely sensitive skin typically involves identifying, and then, eliminating the triggers for it and using products designed for sensitive skin. This may lead to using medications or home remedies — we recommend the former medication route as home remedies can have varied effects. See below for some Cetaphil recommended actions to help you on your way to soothed and happy sensitive skin:

If you’ve got sensitive skin, keep learning about what your skincare regime should include, by reading more Skincare Tips.