What Is Sensitive Skin & What Are The Causes?

What is sensitive skin? How do you care for it? Find answers to ten frequently asked questions about sensitive skin. 

What Is Sensitive Skin & What Are The Causes?

What is sensitive skin?

If you have sensitive skin, you’ll be all too aware of the wide variety of emotional and environmental factors that can affect it - from a change of weather, to household pets, stress and even dust. Read on to discover more about the triggers of sensitivity and how you can protect your skin from them.

What causes it?

Sensitive skin is caused by nerve endings in the top layer of skin becoming irritated. This occurs because your skin’s natural barrier function is weakened and has broken down due to a trigger. Common causes of sensitive skin can include:

•           Sun exposure
•           Exposure to air pollution
•           Frequent changes in temperature
•           Cold, harsh weather
•           Hard water (water with higher mineral content)
•           Very hot water
•           Lack of sleep
•           Hormonal changes during your menstrual cycle or pregnancy
•           Stress and late nights
•           Chlorine in swimming pools
•           Dry skin
•           Dehydration

How common is sensitive skin?

More people than ever consider themselves to have sensitive skin, and a recent European study found that up to 52% of participants reported sensitivity of some kind.

The severity of skin sensitivity, however, can vary from occasional reactions, to extreme sensitivity that occurs on a daily basis. This kind of everyday reaction can cause discomfort, dry, flaky patches, blemishes and redness, which in turn has a knock-on effect on a person’s confidence, mood and self-esteem.

How do I know if I have sensitive skin?

If you aren’t sure whether you have sensitive skin, take a look at these common signs below. If you experience any of them, you may need to use skincare that provides a little extra comfort and protection.

Sensitive skin:

•           Often feels tight and uncomfortable
•           Is sometimes sore or sensitive to touch
•           Needs extra hydration in winter
•           Dries out during flights
•           Can be oily in summer
•           Flushes easily after a spicy meal or drinking alcohol
•           Has patches of redness that may or may not fade
•           Has areas of uneven texture, with dryness and flakiness
•           Reacts to skincare
•           Becomes itchy or develops a rash after contact with irritants
•           Can feel itchy after wearing coarse, synthetic fabrics
•           Turns red and dries out after a hot shower or bath
•           Becomes irritable after continued washing with hard water

What makes sensitive skin worse?

If you’re suffering from skin sensitivity, there are a few ways of making sure it doesn’t get worse and the skin’s natural barrier isn’t further weakened. First of all, try not to touch your skin or scratch any itches, and keep your hands clean at all times so as not to spread bacteria.

Next, apply a high-factor sun protection to your face and body, as exposure to the sun and its harmful UVA and UVB rays can further irritate the skin. Don’t forget that UV rays are present all year round, even when it’s cloudy and grey outside.

Finally, make sure to check the ingredients in your skincare and cosmetics as this can be a common cause of irritation. If you suspect your skin is reacting to a product you’re applying, strip back your routine and only use very simple formulations until your skin has returned to normal.

What should I do when I have a sensitive skin reaction?

If your reaction is particularly severe, it’s advisable to contact your GP as you may require stronger medication. Mild reactions, however, can usually be soothed at home. Read on to learn more about the simple steps that can help calm down sensitive skin.

Step one: Firstly, cleanse your skin with a gentle, soap-free cleanser. Try using tepid water.

Step two: A deeply moisturising face mask can help restore your skin’s natural barrier function while soothing and calming irritation. Make sure you use a product with a minimal formula that’s suitable for sensitive skin.

Step three: Once you’ve removed the mask, apply a nourishing serum across your face and neck. Leave it to sink in for ten or fifteen minutes before applying a non-greasy but intense moisturiser. Massage it gently across your face, paying particular attention to any dry patches, until it has all been absorbed. Repeat this process whenever your skin feels uncomfortable.

Repeat this process whenever your skin feels uncomfortable.

What’s the difference between an allergic reaction and sensitive skin?

If you have a skin allergy, contact with that particular allergen will cause a reaction such as a rash, itching or a burning sensation. Allergic skin reactions tend to be more severe than sensitivity, and in extreme cases can cause vomiting and difficulty in breathing. If this happens, get medical attention right away.

Common skin allergens include:


•           Gold, nickel and other metals
•           Parabens and fragrances in skincare and cosmetics
•           Antibiotics in first aid creams
•           Rubber and latex

Can sensitive skin be healed?

While you can definitely eliminate some of the causes of skin sensitivity, it can never be completely healed. However, with the right skincare regime, you can protect and prevent your skin from irritation, keeping it hydrated, smooth and glowing.

Are women more prone to sensitive skin?

No. Sensitive skin can affect men as much as women. However, because women generally use more facial skincare products, they may be more likely to put their skin into contact with potential irritants.

Which products can I use if I have sensitive skin?

Use a daily skincare routine that is suitable for your skin type, formulated especially for sensitive skin. Look for products with relatively few ingredients.

Cleanse every evening, moisturise twice a day and wear an SPF of 15+ with UVA protection. Always choose cosmetics that are suitable for sensitive skin, too.Avoid chemically laden cleaning and laundry products, which can also irritate your skin.

How La Roche-Posay products can help

If you have skin allergies or sensitivity, you’ll need to take great care over the products you use in your skincare routine. Our Toleriane range is specifically formulated for even the most sensitive and reactive skin, and is proven to reduce sensitivity day after day. It’s formulated using minimal ingredients such as shea butter, glycerine and Thermal Spring Water and is 100% hypoallergenic.