Sensitive skin: what it is and how to care it
Skin redness that appears for no apparent reason, annoying recurrent itching, dryness, small lesions or uncomfortable sensations that show up as a consequence of temperature changes… Surely all this sounds familiar for some of you and the fact is that every time there are more and more people who affirm having sensitive skin. In today’s post we are going to talk about what it is sensitive skin, the factors that promote it and how to take care of it.
The International Forum for the Study of Itch (IFSI), recently defined sensitive skin as “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 caused by any skin disease. The skin may look like normal, which makes diagnosis difficult, or be accompanied by erythema, weals, rash or inflammation(1). The subjectivity of sensitive skin symptoms has prompted that many current studies use questionnaires to detect new patients.
The face is generally the part of the body where most of the people report having sensitive skin. This could be due to the fact that the skin of this area is thinner, the great number of products that are used on it or the high density of nerve endings that concentrate there . Indeed, the nasolabial folds are considered the most sensitive areas of the skin. However, sensitive skin manifestations can appear in any part of the body, being also very common in hands, feet, scalp, neck and back (2).
The uncomfortable sensations typical of sensitive skin can appear for no apparent reason, although many times they have been associated to the menstrual cycle, changes in meteorological conditions, stress, use of cosmetic or hygienic products or even fabric contact.
Even though, it was traditionally thought that sensitive skin was a condition that only affected a small proportion of the population, recent studies are showing a higher prevalence, especially in industrialized countries. For instance, in USA, Japan or Europe most of the questioned women consider they have sensitive skin (3). Despite the general idea is that sensitive skin is more often found in woman than men, this difference does not seem to happen, probably due, in part, to the increase in the use of masculine cosmetic products (3, 4).
The possible causes underlying these skin reactions are being widely studied. Some experts suggest that this hyper-reactivity is most frequently found in people having a thinner stratum corneum. This would ease the penetration of chemical compounds present in hygienic or cosmetic products deep into the skin, causing damage (5). Other authors postulate that the innate immune system triggers an abnormal immune reaction in some people that leads to sensitive skin symptoms (6). Despite both theories could be true, they do not fully explain the physiopathology of sensitive skin.
As we have previously mentioned in a prior post, the skin is formed by a whole network of nerve endings that allow the interaction between this organ and the external environment. Imbalances in the peripheral nervous system lead to itching, burning, stinging or pain sensations. Considering that these uncomfortable manifestations are typically shown by people having sensitive skin, there is increasing evidence pointing towards an alteration of nociceptive channels as the cause of sensitive skin. This would explain, for instance, why many people suffering from sensitive skin experience an increase in the symptoms under stress situations (in which the nervous system plays a pivotal role) or why skin sensitivity increases with age, as the nerve endings deteriorate (3, 7).
Since sensitive skin as a syndrome per se was not studied until the XXth century, the general treatment recommendation is to keep the skin moisturized, to try to avoid the use of aggressive products and to protect the skin from the sun. When symptoms are too annoying or affect the daily quality of life of patients, doctors usually recommend topical corticoids. However, science is rapidly moving forward and thanks to the research in the molecular mechanisms that regulate the peripheral nervous system, in Prospera Biotech we have developed a neurocosmetic product that acts in the nociceptive channels and cares very efficiently the sensitive skin.
- Misery L, Maibach HI. Editorial: Pathophysiology of Sensitive Skin. Front Med (Lausanne). 2020;7:159. Published 2020 Apr 28.
- Saint-Martory C, Roguedas-Contios AM, Sibaud V, Degouy A, Schmitt AM, Misery L. Sensitive skin is not limited to the face. Br J Dermatol. 2008;158(1):130‐133.
- Berardesca E, Farage M, Maibach H. Sensitive skin: an overview. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2013;35(1):2‐8.
- Farage MA. How do perceptions of sensitive skin differ at different anatomical sites? An epidemiological study. Clin Exp Dermatol. 2009;34(8)
- Ohta, M., Hikima, R. and Ogawa, T. Physiological characteristics of sensitive skin classified by stinging test. J. Cosmet. Sci. Soc. Jpn. 23, 163–167 (2000).
- Yamasaki, K. and Gallo, R.L. The molecular pathology of rosacea. J. Dermatol. Sci. 55, 77–81 (2009).
- Kueper T, Krohn M, Haustedt LO, Hatt H, Schmaus G, Vielhaber G. Inhibition of TRPV1 for the treatment of sensitive skin. Exp Dermatol. 2010;19(11):980‐986.