Sensitive vs Sensitized Skin

What’s your skin type? Its the typical and correct questions any good beauty advisor will any client. Lately, the common response is - “I have sensitive skin”. However, there is sensitive skin AND there sensitized skin.

Many women believe that their skin is sensitive because they negatively react to certain products. In the treatment room, I’ve seen more and more self-proclaimed, self-diagnosed sensitive skin types; especially among younger women. The reality is that there is a true sensitive skin type…BUT… there is also sensitized skin or reactive skin - which is a treatable skin condition.


True sensitive skin is characterized as a genetic predisposition, which is a skin type that you’re born with. Sensitive skin is more “delicate” and thinner. Your blood vessels are closer to the surface of the skin – hence the redness.

The main reason for adverse reactions to products is that the protective outer layer (the epidermal lipid barrier) of your skin isn’t efficient at blocking irritants, bacteria, and allergens from penetrating the skin. Underlying inflammatory skin diseases such as eczema, rosacea and psoriasis demonstrate skin sensitivity that is likely genetic.

On the other hand, sensitized/reactive skin is often a result of

1.) lifestyle - smoking, alcohol consumption, and poor diet

2.) internal - hormonal fluctuations, certain medications

3.) environmental - high levels of pollution, using harsh skincare products


In the treatment room, I have found the biggest culprits of sensitized skin is when you are using too many products in your routine, over-exfoliation, and certain harsh ingredients. Here is a common list of irritants:

Alcohols (commonly found in toners) Denatured, isopropyl, SD Alcohol 40 Sulfates (foaming agents commonly found in cleansing gels)FragranceDyes and colorants Harsh exfoliants – apricot kernels, seed/shell powdersAcids and retinoids Used properly AHAs, BHAs and retinoids are effective skincare ingredients. Using too many actives at different stages of your routine (cleanse, tone, treat, hydrate) is often irritating to most skins. This is commonly seen in the treatment of acne.Mechanical cleansing brushes when used twice a day


Treating Sensitive Skin

Combating sensitive skin conditions requires the right products with a balance of active and soothing ingredients to improve the skin’s barrier function. You should also stay away from products formulated with the ingredients outlined above.

Luckily, there are a number of non-irritating products formulated without sulfates, dyes, fragrance, alcohol and other irritants. When trying something new, perform a patch test behind your ear for facial products and a patch test on your writs or forearm for body products.

Treating Sensitized Skin

Improving sensitized skin is similar to working with sensitive skin.

For sensitivity due to product use, it’s important to minimize usage by either using less product each night or by using the product fewer times per week until the skin can build up a tolerance.

If the cause is not clear, take a break. Stop using any exfoliants or mechanical cleansing brushes. Use only a sensitive cleanser, moisturizer and SPF during the day. After 1-2 weeks, start adding in products and see how your skin responds. This will allow you to identify triggering products and allow your skin to heal itself.


© 2019 NIA EL-AMIN