What is sensitive skin?

Sensitive skin is more prone to redness, itching or other types of reactions. While sensitive skin is a lay term and not a medical diagnosis, dermatologists and other skincare professionals can help alleviate the signs and symptoms of the condition.

What are the signs of sensitive skin?

Signs of sensitive skin include:

  • Reactive skin responds excessively when exposed to certain triggers or irritants, such as specific products, treatments, or environmental factors
  • Redness, which can appear as rashes, bumps, flushing, or dilated blood vessels, known as telangiectasias; redness associated with sensitive skin usually subsides after exposure to irritants ends
  • Dry skin, which may lead to cracked skin or acne breakouts; dry skin associated with sensitive skin is more likely to worsen in the cold, dry air of winter or when exposed to wind
  • Itchiness, especially after cleansing with harsh products, using hot water, or when the air is cold and dry; scratching can lead to more irritation and even skin infections
  • Stinging or burning sensation after cleansing or applying products that are too strong for sensitive skin; gels, products containing alcohol, and many anti-aging or acne products most commonly cause stinging or burning sensations in people with sensitive skin
  • Frequent rashes that develop after exposure to a trigger; rashes associated with sensitive skin may appear red, dry, flaky, or bumpy
  • Breakouts that resemble acne’s red bumps and pustules; treatment with acnes washes or creams can irritate sensitive skin to worsen breakouts
  • Flaking, peeling skin that can sometimes resemble dandruff
  • Skin that sunburns easily due to unprotected exposure to the sun or to certain ingredients in sunscreens

Discovering your best skin starts with knowing your skin type.

Types of sensitive skin

There are two main types of sensitive skin: naturally sensitive and sensitized skin.

Naturally Sensitive

Some people are born with naturally sensitive skin, as there is a genetic component to a number of medical conditions that are associated with sensitive skin. People with rosacea are four times more likely to have a family history of the condition, for example, and the National Rosacea Society notes that sensitive facial skin is one of the most common features of rosacea. Atopic dermatitis (eczema) tends to run in families and people with eczema may experience damage to their skin barrier, which makes their skin more sensitive to irritants. The dry, thick, raised patches of psoriasis tend to develop on skin folds or areas of skin exposed to clothing or antiperspirants; while the exact cause of psoriasis is unknown, genetics do play a role.

Sensitized Skin

Certain environmental factors, such as air pollution, can make skin more sensitive. Specifically, exposure to air pollution is associated with inflammatory or allergic skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis.

What causes sensitive skin?

Sensitive skin often occurs as the result of a minor allergy, exposure to an irritant, or an underlying skin condition. DermNet NZ lists several causes of sensitive skin.

Irritant contact dermatitis accounts for 80 percent of all contact dermatitis, according to the National Eczema Association. This skin condition develops as an inflammatory response to an irritant, rather than as an allergic reaction to an allergen. These irritants may include:

  • Skin irritants, usually as a combination of several mild irritants or factors; frequent exposure to soaps and cleansers and “wet work,” which is work involving wet hands or hand washing, account for more than one-quarter of all work-related contact dermatitis
  • Irritating body fluids, such as sweat, urine, and feces
  • Environmental factors, including cold, heat, low humidity, and ultraviolet light
  • Mechanical factors, such as friction, vibration, pressure, or occlusion by covering the skin with tape, gloves, or dressings

Allergic contact dermatitis causes an allergic response to an external agent, such as soaps, cosmetics, fragrances, jewelry, and poison ivy or other plants. The allergic reaction typically develops one to two days after contact with the allergen.

Contact urticaria is a form of hives, which appear as red, itchy welts. The signs of contact urticaria typically develop within 10 to 15 minutes of contact with the irritant. Exposure to latex gloves, cosmetics, skin creams, and sorbic acid are common triggers.

Skin sensitivity from rosacea often presents as irritation or redness following application of a skin care product or cosmetic, often after many years of using the product without causing sensitivity.

Skin sensitivity associated with urticaria (hives) develops after exposure to pressure, heat, cold, or vibration.

Dermographism means “skin writing” or “writing on the skin,” and is a condition that causes skin sensitivity within minutes of the skin being scratched or stroked. This type of sensitive skin is likely the result of the inappropriate release of histamine, which is a chemical released into the bloodstream to help the immune system defend against a potential allergen. Approximately 2 to 5 percent of the population has dermographism, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology.

Aquagenic pruritus causes skin sensitivity after contact with water of any temperature. Sensitivity may persist for an hour or longer. Between 1.4 percent to 24 percent of the population has aquagenic pruritus, according to the Genetic and Rare Disease Information Center, but the number of people with this condition varies between populations.

Dry skin can become more sensitive, as dry skin often loses the protective moisture and fat.

Eczema or dermatitis can disturb the skin’s barrier to allow water, temperature, humidity, or other irritants to penetrate the skin.

Photodermatoses is a group of skin conditions that cause an abnormal reaction, such as sensitivity, to sunlight.

Cutaneous mastocytoses causes skin sensitivity in the form of brown itchy patches of skin that may be mistaken for freckles or bug bites. The condition develops as the result of the accumulation of mast cells, which are cells that release histamines during allergic reactions.

Products to treat sensitive skin

Several products and treatments use advanced technology to effectively treat the signs and symptoms of sensitive skin.

  • Stem cell serum

    Shop Anti-Aging Serum

    Stem cells are the body’s raw materials – they have the unique ability to turn into many different types of cells. All living things contain stem cells; the stem cells in skincare products are usually sourced from plants and fruit that stay fresh for a long time. High quality skincare products for sensitive skin contain stem cells from the kernels of the argan tree. Argan stem cell serum stimulates the skin’s repair processes and reverses signs of aging. 

    Other ingredients in the serum complement the effects of argan stem cells. Trophy Skin’s Anti-Aging Serum contains stem cells, for example, along with mugwort extract that soothes and calms irritated skin, hyaluronic acid that increases skin hydration, and algae extract that repairs and hydrates skin while protecting the treated skin from environmental damage.

    Shop Anti-Aging Serum

  • Red light therapy

    Shop Light Therapy

    Red light therapy uses the healing power of light to help soothe sensitive skin. Red light therapy devices emit specific wavelengths of light that penetrate the skin to trigger beneficial changes inside skin cells. Research shows red light therapy can help alleviate some symptoms of psoriasis, which can lead to sensitive skin. The red light therapy system by Trophy Skin, RejuvaliteMD, uses red light along with yellow, amber, and infrared lights to safely and effectively stimulate skin healing.

    Shop Light Therapy

  • Care systems

    Shop Skin Spatula

    Care systems are devices that perform two or more tasks that help alleviate sensitive skin. Some use advanced technology, such as ultrasonic waves that infuse serum deeply into the skin for maximum penetration – all without irritating sensitive skin. 

    The Trophy Skin Care System uses the LaBelle Skin Spatula Device that has a scrubber mode to deep clean, exfoliate, and extract dirt and debris from sensitive skin, for example, along with an infusion mode that pamper, hydrates, and infuses serum into skin.

    Shop Skin Spatula

  • Microdermabrasion

    Shop Microdermabrasion

    Microdermabrasion  can smooth rough skin, diminish wrinkles, and minimize fine lines. Unfortunately, some microdermabrasion treatments can irritate sensitive skin. The Fine Diamond Tip by Trophy Skin provides people with sensitive skin spa-quality results at home, without the discomfort of more abrasive tips. Made with real diamonds, this tip is crystal-free, so it is a safe and natural approach to DIY microdermabrasion.

    Shop Microdermabrasion

How often should you
treat sensitive skin?

The frequency of treatment for sensitive skin depends largely on its underlying cause and the patient’s response to treatment. Mayo Clinic recommends treating atopic dermatitis by applying nonprescription hydrocortisone cream no more than twice a day, for example. The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends that people with rosacea wash their face gently twice a day and apply moisturizer once daily. If skin sensitivity worsens, the individual should consult with a skincare professional for recommendations on how to adjust their treatment schedules.

Best skincare routine for best results

Knowing how to treat sensitive skin through a skincare routine can provide optimal results, as can using sensitive skin products.

1 Cleanser

Cleanser removes built-up dirt, pollution, makeup, sunscreen and other impurities that can linger on the skin’s surface to cause unhealthy skin or trigger skin sensitivity.

2 Alcohol-free toner

Toner balances the skin’s pH levels after cleansing, removes any lingering dirt or residue, and soothes the skin. Those with sensitive skin should use face wash for sensitive skin and avoid cleansers formulated with too much alcohol or astringent ingredients

3 Serum

Serums introduce stem cells and other ingredients that treat, protect, and calm sensitive skin.

4 Moisturizer

Moisturizer can keep skin well-hydrated to reduce the risk of irritation. Non-comedogenic, fragrance-free cream, gel or water-based moisturizers are best for those with sensitive skin.

5 Sunscreen

Sunscreen for sensitive skin can prevent skin damage that weakens the skin barrier and triggers sensitivities.

Things to avoid when
treating sensitive skin

Certain product ingredients can interfere with the treatment of sensitive skin by irritating skin or causing excessive dryness. These ingredients include:

  • Fragrance
  • Essential Oils
  • Chemical sunscreens
  • Harsh exfoliants
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfates
  • Alcohol

Risk Factors

Research shows that risk factors for sensitive skin include:

  • Atopic allergies that cause hypersensitivity reactions, such as dermatitis
  • Medical history of skin conditions that cause sensitivity, such as rosacea and psoriasis
  • Having pale or fair skin
  • Current or past smoking
  • Sun exposure

Pollution, dry skin, contact with irritants or allergens, and exposure to hot or cold temperatures are also risk factors.

Sensitive skin is a common problem: research shows that 60 to 70 percent of women and 50 to 60 percent of men report having some degree of sensitive skin. The signs and symptoms of sensitive skin can cause discomfort and concern. Treating sensitive skin can be difficult, but manageable by reducing exposure to triggers and using the right products.


National Library of Medicine

National Rosacea Society

National Library of Medicine

National Eczema Association

The Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis Alliance

National Psoriasis Association

Frontiers in Environmental Science – Air Pollution and the Skin

DermNet NZ

National Eczema Association

NHS GO Health Services

NIH Stat Pearls

American Osteopathic College of Dermatology

Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center

Genetic and Rare Disease Information Center

Medical News Today

National Institutes of Health


Mayo Clinic

American Academy of Dermatology Association

National Library of Medicine