Sensitive skin is diagnosed by symptoms such as skin flushing (redness), rashes, intolerances to skincare products, itchiness, and irritation. Sensitive skin has two main characteristics:
- The skin is thinner than normal skin, thus the blood vessels are closer to the surface of the skin. The proximity of the capillaries to the surface of the skin gives vivid pinkish color to the skin.
- Sensitive skin has immune hypersensitivity. Sensitive skin is thin and lacks normal skin barrier layers, and thus allergens and other chemicals penetrate much easier and deeper into the skin layers. Over time, the skin immune system of those with sensitive skin becomes even more sensitive and over-reactive. This is the main reason people with sensitive skin have problems tolerating skincare products.
Everybody may experience some of the signs and symptoms of sensitive skin, but the term “sensitive skin” applies if the symptoms persist.
Due to thinner skin, blood vessels are more visible. If the blood vessels are clearly visible and close to the surface of the skin, it is called telangiectasia, or broken capillaries. These broken capillaries are more common on the sides of the face and sides of the nose.
Sensitive skin is more common with dehydrated skin. The sensitive skin lacks normal skin barrier layers and thus is very prone to lose its water and look older with more visible wrinkles. Sensitive skin looks nicer at younger ages because of the blood vessels’ closeness to the surface of the skin. The skin looks pinkish, has a more vivid color, and appears fresh. The reason for all of these traits is the proximity of blood vessels to the surface of the skin.
Sensitive skin is more common among people with lighter skin and eyes. It is genetic, meaning people are born with this skin condition. Since the skin of people with sensitive skin is thinner, UV light can easily pass through it and penetrate to the deeper layers of the skin. Sunburn, hyperpigmentation, skin dehydration, and cancer are more common among people with sensitive skin.
Rashes are also more common among people with sensitive skin. The reason for rashes is the over-reactive skin immune system to minor traumas. The natural response of the skin to any trauma is expanding blood vessel diameters and attracting more inflammatory cells to the site of the trauma. The accumulation of inflammatory cells is called a rash.
Unlike the common belief that organic and natural products are safer for the skin, in the case of sensitive skin, natural and organic products may trigger the skin’s immune system and cause rashes, itching, and other signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction. Organic and natural skincare products haven’t been purified and thus contain many unknown and mostly nontherapeutic ingredients. These unknown ingredients are the major cause of triggering an allergic reaction.
Not all fragrances and essential oils are harmful, however, to people with sensitive skin. Fragrances are like every other chemical in that you may or may not have an allergy to them.
The problem with fragrances and essential oils is their molecular complexity. Each fragrance contains hundreds of chemicals, which increases the chance of an allergic reaction to one of the sub-ingredients.
If you want to use any skincare products, specifically organic/natural products, you need to patch test them first. To patch test a skincare product, apply a small amount of the product on your forearm and wait 24 to 48 hours. If nothing happens, most likely you don’t have an allergy to that specific product, and it is safe to use on your skin.
Eczema is more common among people with sensitive skin. The immune system of the skin is hyper-reactive and responds much faster and directly to any allergen. Due to the high probability of an allergic reaction, people with sensitive skin should avoid any unnecessary chemical contact on their skin. Fragrance-free products have fewer chemicals and, consequently, less risk of an allergic reaction. If you have sensitive skin, wearing sunscreen is essential, specifically sunscreens that cover the surface of the skin like a film layer. Sunscreen with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are less allergenic and give better protection. There is a myth that you need to cover your skin only when it is sunny, but the reality is that cloudy weather is more dangerous. Clouds only filter the visible lights, but UV light, the dangerous part of sunlight, can easily pass through clouds and damage the skin.