Sensitive skin: manifestations, causes and solutions


Is your skin hot, tight, red? No doubt it is sensitive, as it is for more than half of the French population. And have you noticed what makes her react? Heat, cold, pollution, certain emotions or certain cosmetic products? What is certain is that having sensitive skin can be very uncomfortable, and truly affect the quality of your daily life.

In this article, we explain everything you need to know about sensitive skin: the causes of its hypersensitivity, its symptoms, common trigger factors, as well as the steps you can take to take care of your skin and regain greater well-being and comfort in your daily life.


1. What is sensitive skin?

Is your skin sensitive?

To know if your skin is sensitive, rely first and foremost on your feelings. If your skin feels tight, tingling, hot or itchy , it is likely that it is showing signs of sensitivity . Particularly if these manifestations occur in a triggering context: temperature variations, wearing certain clothing, use of hygiene products, cosmetics or makeup, phase of the menstrual cycle, etc.

Definition of sensitive skin:

Highly studied by the scientific community, sensitive skin has long been difficult to define as its symptoms and trigger factors are multiple . Today, there is an official and scientifically established definition by the IFSI, the international society on pruritus (International Forum for the Study of Itch) [1].

According to this definition, sensitive skin is:

  • A chronic condition of the skin, with latent hypersensitivity whose reactions are only expressed occasionally, that is to say that the manifestations of sensitive skin appear in the form of transient episodes .
  • Skin that reacts excessively to stimuli , or factors, which are aggressive for it, and which are not for other skin.
  • Skin that has a lower tolerance threshold than that of non-sensitive skin.

It is important to note that sensitive skin can affect all skin types : dry skin (quite frequently), combination skin, and even oily skin.

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Official definition of sensitive skin

“Sensitive skin is a syndrome defined by the occurrence of unpleasant sensations (tingling, burning, pain or itching) in response to stimuli that would not normally cause such sensations. These unpleasant sensations cannot be explained by lesions attributable to a skin disease. The skin appears normal, or may be the site of erythema. Sensitive skin can affect any area of ​​the integument, but particularly the face.”

IFSI ( International Forum for the Study of Itch

  • What is the difference between sensitive skin and reactive skin?

    Unlike sensitive skin which reacts occasionally, reactive or intolerant skin reacts permanently to certain aggressive factors. Its tolerance threshold is even lower (or almost zero) than that of sensitive skin.

    Our CALM+ range is specially designed to soothe and calm every reactive skin, while providing a unique sensory experience, so you can feel good about yourself every day

  • What is the difference between sensitive skin and atopic skin?

    Unlike sensitive skin, atopic skin has an immunological and allergic component. It is very dry, and its symptoms can be similar to those of sensitive skin, with increased redness and itching , this is what we call pruritus .

    Our DA PROTECT range is specially designed to soothe and nourish sensitive atopic-prone skin, providing a complete solution to relieve symptoms and help improve the quality of your skin.


Note that sensitive skin is also not:

  • Sensitized skin , as in allergy where the skin has become allergic to a specific allergen after one or more contacts with it.
  • Irritated skin that reacts to factors commonly defined as irritants such as shaving, cosmetic procedures like laser, irritating chemicals.

2. How do you know if your skin is sensitive?

Everyone has their own experience with their skin, and understanding the signs of sensitivity can be the key to choosing the right care. There are some general signs that may indicate sensitive skin, here are some clues that can help you!

  • What are the signs of sensitive skin?

    They can be visible and/or felt , and expressed more or less intensely.

    Visible symptoms:
    Dryness sometimes accompanied by scales and roughness.
    Redness in the form of epidermal flushes, plaques or more or less localized erythema.

    Symptoms experienced:
    • A general feeling of discomfort , tightness.
    Sensations of heating , heat, even burning.
    Tingling .
    Itches .

  • What areas are affected by sensitive skin?

    Sensitive skin can appear anywhere on the body !
    And affect both the face (the most common) and the entire body , including the scalp .

  • Who can have sensitive skin?

    The whole family ! From infants to adults, skin hypersensitivity can occur at any age.

    In France, more women feel their skin is sensitive (60%), compared to 40% of men.

    Light skin is more affected than dark skin.
    And, with age , episodes of hypersensitivity become more frequent.


3. What is the impact of sensitive skin on quality of life?

Having sensitive skin impacts quality of life. Studies [2] show that the most common discomforts experienced by people with sensitive skin are:
- itching for 32% of people,
- tingling for 19%,
- pain for 11%,
- burns for 6%
- and unpleasant sensations in their skin at least once a day for 4%.

These manifestations and their discomfort are not without consequences on the psychological well-being of the people concerned. They can sometimes experience mood disorders, impaired sleep quality, anxiety, or loss of self-confidence.
Socially, redness and the overall appearance of the skin are also to be taken into consideration.

4. What makes your skin sensitive?

If you suffer from skin hypersensitivity, you have certainly identified the aggressive factors for your skin. These factors can be of 2 types [3].


Exogenous (external) factors:

  • Physical factors: UV radiation, heat, cold, temperature variations, air conditioning, dry air, wind, friction (clothing, etc.).
  • Chemical factors: cosmetic and hygiene products, soaps, water, medical treatments, pollution...

Endogenous (internal) factors:

  • Female hormonal variations : with the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, menopause.
  • Stress (with the hormonal action of cortisol) and emotions.
  • Natural aging .

5. Why is the skin sensitive?

Scientific research into the origin of sensitive skin mainly highlights 2 biological causes of skin hypersensitivity [3].


Alteration of the skin barrier

Our skin protects our body from the external environment. It therefore provides a barrier function.

In non-sensitive skin, this barrier function is effective.

In people with sensitive skin, their surface epidermis is altered, and no longer plays its barrier role effectively . The deeper layers of the skin are then exposed to aggressive environmental factors with which they should not come into contact³.


Hypersensitivity of the nervous system of the skin

Our skin also has its own nervous system. It is also part of our central nervous system. Thousands of nerve fibers (called nociceptors) run through our skin (around 1,000 fibers per cm2).
Naturally sensitive to thermal factors (hot, cold, temperature variations), mechanical (pinch, prick, twisting of the skin) or chemical (chemical products), it is to them that we owe our natural sensitivity , essential for perceiving and evolving. in our environment .

In sensitive skin, the cutaneous nervous system seems dysregulated and hypersensitive , with nerve fibers of lower density⁴ but more sensitive, generally inducing an alteration of perception⁵. It is this modification of perception that makes the skin react more intensely!

6. How to take care of sensitive skin?

The good news is that it is possible to improve your daily life and that of your skin with a few simple actions. Here are our best tips for you to take care of your sensitive skin.

  • Identify the triggers for reactivity:

    When you go through episodes of hypersensitivity, take the time to recognize the elements that can influence the health of your skin, note the triggers:

    • Wearing a piece of clothing , a certain type of textile , clothing that is too tight , too hot...
    • Cosmetic, care, makeup and even toiletry and hygiene products .
    • The surrounding temperature , heating, air conditioning, or sudden thermal variations.
    • The time of your menstrual cycle subject to significant hormonal variations.

      Once you have identified the triggers, you will find it easier to avoid them or reduce their intensity.
  • A few simple steps for sensitive skin:

    • Choose soft, natural textiles like cotton.
    • Avoid showers and baths that are too hot and too prolonged.
    • Limit the exposure of your skin to cold , as well as sudden temperature variations.
    • Protect your skin from the sun.


A skincare routine adapted to sensitive skin: choose treatments adapted to sensitive skin

Sensitive skin deserves special attention, a care routine tailor-made to meet their delicate needs. Here are some tips to protect your skin gently and effectively:

  • Reduce the number of skincare products applied each day to limit sources of skin reaction .
  • Intensely moisturize your skin by choosing a moisturizer adapted to its type.
  • Avoid mechanical scrubs (with exfoliating grains).
  • Protect your skin with a UV index sun protection treatment .

Also choose hygiene, care and makeup products specially formulated for sensitive skin.

To help you find the right products, here are some criteria to prioritize:

  • Short formulas with a reasonable number of ingredients.
  • Ingredients close to the skin's natural components such as glycerin or hyaluronic acid.
  • Nourishing ingredients that strengthen the skin barrier such as shea butter, beeswax, vegetable oils.
  • Soothing ingredients like Allantoin, Centella Asiatica, Bisabolol.
  • Surfactants and gentle cleansing agents.
  • Formulas that are fragrance-free or approved for use on sensitive skin.
  • “High tolerance” formulas , that is to say whose good tolerance has been clinically verified on sensitive skin.

TOPICREM formulas have all been specially designed to provide protective hydration and preserve the skin barrier of sensitive skin for the whole family. To do this, our laboratory relies on its expertise derived from pharmaceutical excellence:

  • Selection of high tolerance ingredients with proven effectiveness,
  • Development of clinically tested formulas on sensitive skin,
  • Effectiveness proven by science and approved by consumers.

Through the comfort and emotional well-being they provide, our treatments help you feel confident with your skin and with yourself, to better reveal yourself to others, and thus to fully enjoy every moment of life. .

Bibliographic references:

¹ Misery L, Ständer S, Szepietowski JC, Reich A, Wallengren J, Evers AW, et al. Definition of sensitive skin: an expert position paper from the special interest group on sensitive skin of the IFSI (International Forum for the Study of Itch) Acta Derm Venereol. 2017; 97:4-6.

² MA Richard, F. Corgibet, N. Dupin, M. Beylot-Barry, V. Chaussade, C. Philippe, C. Taieb, P. Joly, K. Ezzedine, L. Misery, The skin of the French. Analysis of the characteristics of our skin based on the Objectifs Peau study, Annals of Dermatology and Venereology, Volume 144, Issue 12, Supplement, 2017, Pages S108-S109, ISSN 0151-9638, 10.1016/j.annder.2017.09.129.

³ Misery L. Sensitive skin, reactive skin. EMC - Cosmetology and Aesthetic Dermatology 2017; 12(1):1-5 [Section 50-220-A-10].

Buhé V, Vié K, Guéré C, Natalizio A, Lheure C, Le Gall-Ianotto C, et al. Pathophysiological Study of Sensitive Skin. Acta Derm Venereol. 2016; 96:314-8.

⁵ Huet F, Dion A, Batardière A, Nedelec AS, Le Caër F, Bourgeois P, et al. Sensitive skin can be small fiber neuropathy: results from a case-control quantitative sensory testing study. Br J Dermatol. 2018; 179:1157-62.