What Causes Sensitive Skin?
Contrary to common belief, sensitive skin isn’t a skin type. Caused by both genetic and external factors, sensitive skin straddles between a skin type and a condition. For some, it can be temporary, while for others, it’s chronic ― typically in those with a genetic predisposition or inflammatory skin condition.
There are a variety of reasons why your skin may be sensitive, so we’ve outlined them below to help you get to the root of the problem.
Sensitive vs Sensitised Skin
Before we get into each of the causes, it’s important to understand the difference between sensitive skin and skin that is sensitised (stay with us!). Sensitised skin is usually temporary and typically caused by an allergic reaction, prescription-strength skincare or product misuse/overuse. It can also be caused by hormonal changes in the body.
In contrast, if you’ve always found your skin to be sensitive, find that it reacts to most new products or have an inflammatory skin condition such as rosacea, you likely have sensitive skin. Stuck on what sensitivity looks and feels like? We’ve outlined it for you here.
Causes of sensitive/sensitised skin:
Seasons & Environment
Whether you’re in the sunny climes of Australia or the depths of winter in England, the seasons can have an impact on your skin. In warmer climates, high UV index, excess sun exposure and heat can trigger redness and heat rashes and is a known trigger for conditions such as rosacea. In this instance, it’s vital to wear and reapply a high SPF, daily (although you should be doing this all year round anyway). It’s also important to keep the skin well hydrated – soothing mists and hydrating serums are your best friends.
In colder locations, icy temperatures and abrasive wind can cause redness and sensitivity as well as dryness, as moisture is zapped from your skin. Combat this by using a ceramide-rich moisturiser layered over a hydrating serum, adding a facial oil for extra nourishment. Squalane oil is brilliant for sensitive skin as its structure is similar to our skin's natural sebum (oil).
Weather aside, the environment around you can also lead to sensitivity. Think drying central heating and high pollution levels. When it’s bitterly cold outside but radiator warm inside, crank up the hydrating serums and lock in hydration with a moisturiser. For pollution, antioxidant serums are your best port of call.
For those with chronic sensitivity, you may be genetically predisposed to sensitive skin and will find that your skin has always been - and will likely always remain - this way. You might also find that your parents or siblings also experience the same and this is a good indicator that it’s genetic.
It’s also common for those with a dry skin type to suffer from sensitivity as the skin barrier is impaired. In either scenario, make sure to be gentle with your skin, opting for products formulated with sensitive skin in mind. You should also be cautious when choosing products. More on this next…
Products & Allergies
A common cause of skin sensitivity is either product misuse (be that using the wrong product for your skin type or using too much) or simply an allergy or reaction to an ingredient within a product. In this case, it’s crucial to remember to introduce new products slowly, patch testing where possible. When this happens, it’s also worth trying to narrow down and figure out which ingredient you may be sensitive to. This is often a case of trial and error but it’s worth it in the long run.
Common skin irritants are:
- Essential Oils
- High concentrations of simple alcohols e.g isopropyl alcohol and denatured alcohol (alcohol denat.)
- Heavily scented laundry detergents and fabric softener
Ever noticed when you’re feeling particularly stressed, your skin can go haywire? This is usually a response to inflammation in the body, which is triggered by a rise in cortisol ― the hormone that’s released when we are stressed. This can trigger conditions such as eczema and rosacea to flare up, as well as general skin sensitivity and breakouts.
Inflammatory skin conditions such as rosacea and eczema* go hand in hand with sensitivity. This is due to the skin barrier being compromised in these conditions and therefore not working as effectively to keep irritants out and give your skin the resilient, protective layer it needs. Ensure you’re using products to help strengthen the skin’s barrier and soothe inflammation. Ingredients that are useful here are niacinamide, ceramides, centella asiatica, hyaluronic acid (remember to always apply under a moisturiser) and peptides.
It's worth noting that if you are suffering from sensitivity alongside acne and breakouts, niacinamide can trigger spots in some skins.
With the rise of mask-wearing throughout the pandemic, comes an increase in sensitivity, due to the friction of the mask against the skin ― particularly when worn for long periods of time.
To reduce irritation, opt for fabrics in breathable, soft fabrics such as cotton and silk and wash them frequently with fragrance-free detergent, ensuring you’re using a fresh, clean one each day. Please also check the fabric composition label as some masks use latex.
So, now you know what might be causing your skin to act out, read our top tips to help keep it in line. You can also shop our Sensitive Face Box – a curated kit of products to help soothe and hydrate.
*Please note: eczema, acne and rosacea are medical conditions and are used here solely for identification purposes.