Sensitive skin: myth or reality?
In Europe, the United States and Japan more than half the population reports suffering from sensitive skin. That fact alone warrants a better understanding of this condition, how to diagnose it, evaluate it, and treat it. Our heritage makes this topic particularly relevant, as our origin was in post-procedure skin care, meaning the treatment of sensitized skin.
Men or women?
Women are more sensitive than men overall, and as a result, typically report sensitive skin more often than men do. While this was previously thought to be due to the fact that our epidermis is slightly thinner than that of men, and due to specific hormonal differences, recent testing has found that sensitive skin is just as prevalent for men as it is for women.
What is sensitive skin?
Sensitive skin is defined as a hyper reactive response of the skin to an external source that results in inflammation. The source of irritation can be environmental conditions, cleaning products, personal care products, clothing, or anything that comes in contact with the skin. The symptoms concerned are often one or a combination of the following sensations: itching, burning, erythema (redness), tingling, flaking (scaling), tightness, and dryness.
Causes of Sensitive Skin
So why is sensitive skin… so sensitive? An exaggerated response to an external source may be caused by a compromise in the skin barrier’s protective function: specifically, a thinner stratum corneum and reduced corneocyte area. A thinner barrier makes it easier for water soluble chemicals to quickly traverse the stratum corneum and cause irritation, making the skin more sensitive than normal to environmental factors.
Sensitive Skin vs. Sensitized Skin
Many people who report having sensitive skin may in fact have sensitized skin. The difference is in genetics. People with sensitive skin have a genetically thinner or compromised stratum corneum barrier, which makes them more sensitive to factors that normal skin is protected from.
Sensitized skin is rather a result of external influences damaging the skin’s protective barrier, or of chronic exposure to damaging conditions wearing down the skin's natural protection. A sensitized condition is a temporary state of sensitivity that can be reversed by ceasing exposure to the irritant and creating an ideal environment in terms of moisture and temperature so that the skin can restore its protective barrier.
A genetically sensitive condition is permanent and irreversible; exposure to provoking factors should be limited in order to avoid irritation. Extra steps should also be taken to protect sensitive skin.
Sensitive Skin vs. Irritated Skin
Sensitive skin is a condition, irritated skin is the result. Sensitive and sensitized skin can result in irritation. Irritated skin can be caused by any physical or chemical factor damaging the skin.
Sensitive Skin and Age
Children tend to have generally more sensitive skin than adults; their protective skin barrier is thinner and becomes thicker as they age. However, adults are chronically subject to conditions that can lead to sensitization with age.
Factors provoking irritation of Sensitive Skin
There are a variety of factors that have been found to provoke irritation in sensitive skin. These factors affect people differently and irritation can result from a chronic or acute exposure.
- Household or skin care products: alcohol, soaps, dyes, abrasive and harsh products, aggressive cosmetic treatments and more.
- Environmental factors: cold, heat, frequent and significant changes between temperatures, pollution, dryness in the air, indoor heating or air conditioning.
- Lifestyle concerns: emotions, stress.
Managing Sensitive Skin
There is no standard treatment for sensitive skin, it is a genetic condition and irritation is due to so many different factors. But there are some ways to protect and avoid irritation.
- Avoid exposure to provoking factors.
- Use anti-irritant products that have a cooling, soothing, anti-inflammatory, or healing effect helps repair the skin barrier to its unique optimal state (for example our Kantic+ Nourishing Cream).
- Protect your sensitive skin year-round with a broad-spectrum SPF such as our Protective Day Cream SPF23.