Sensitive skin is a common issue but not a medical diagnosis by itself. The term generally refers to skin that is more prone to inflammation. The cause of the inflammation may differ for each person.
People with generally sensitive skin have local reactions to chemicals, dyes, and fragrances present in products that come into contact with their skin.
They may also get rashes or irritation from clothing or friction. Some people are allergic to certain substances and may react on their skin.
Sensitive skin may also be a symptom of an underlying condition. Finding ways to avoid potential triggers and soothe irritated skin may help people with sensitive skin find relief and improve their quality of life.
Treating sensitive skin typically involves finding and eliminating triggers, as well as using home remedies or prescription medications to treat the symptoms:
Depending on the cause of sensitive skin and the accompanying symptoms, doctors may prescribe a few different medications. They include:
- Steroid creams: Both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription-strength steroid creams such as hydrocortisone may help relieve inflammation and itchiness. People should not use them on the face.
- Analgesic creams: Numbing creams
may helpreduce itchiness, which could make the person less likely to scratch or irritate the area.
- Antihistamines: Taking an oral antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl),
may helpwith some allergic reactions.
- Protective sunscreen: Broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher can help protect sensitive skin from ultraviolet (UV) rays.
Home remedies and prevention
Some home remedies may also help treat or prevent sensitive skin symptoms. They include:
Hypoallergenic moisturizers and lotions may reduce dryness without irritating sensitive skin. Some ingredients may work better than others, depending on the type of sensitivity.
For instance, people with very dry skin may respond well to ingredients such as urea or lactic acid.
Some simple oils, such as shea butter or coconut oil, may work better for others. It is always important to test a product on a small area of skin before applying it to the rest of the affected skin.
Oatmeal is effective because it improves the skin’s barrier rather than just treating the symptoms. Applying a colloidal oatmeal paste to sensitive skin may help manage symptoms.
People with sensitive skin may also be able to minimize symptoms by:
- taking shorter showers and baths that last less than 10 minutes
- avoiding using very hot water for bathing and washing the hands
- avoiding harsh fragrances, detergents, or other chemicals
- using fragrance-free, hypoallergenic products, such as soaps, deodorant, and detergent
- avoiding harsh chemical cleaners
- patting rather than rubbing the body dry
- testing new products on a small area of skin before applying them to more extensive areas
A person can keep a journal of the products that they use each day to help them identify any possible triggers of symptoms on their skin. If the person finds a product they believe is causing a reaction, they should stop using it and take it to their dermatologist to undergo testing for allergies.
In many cases, having sensitive skin is generally not a cause for serious concern, as it likely stems from a minor allergy or underlying skin condition
If a person has sensitive skin with no underlying health condition, their skin may become irritated more easily.
- heavy winds
- very cold temperatures
- very hot temperatures
Additionally, a person with sensitive skin may be more prone to reactions to skincare products, makeup, or certain types of clothing.
The symptoms of sensitive or reactive skin may appear in numerous ways, including:
- patches of redness
- rashes that may itch, sting, or burn
- itching, stinging or burning without a visible rash
Contact dermatitis refers to an inflammatory skin reaction from contact with something on the skin. There are different types of contact dermatitis.
Irritant contact dermatitis
A person can get irritant contact dermatitis from products like soaps, laundry detergents, or even from exposure to water. A non-specific, inflammatory skin response
The skin may become red, swollen, and itchy. In some cases, it may become very dry and crack, and blisters may even form.
Photoallergic contact dermatitis happens when the skin is irritated after coming in contact with something after being exposed to sunlight, usually a product like a sunscreen lotion.
Allergic contact dermatitis
Common allergens that can cause skin reactions include:
- latex or rubber
- dyes and coloring
- chemicals or ingredients in creams or bath and beauty products
- reactions to certain plants, such as poison ivy, poison oak, or stinging nettle
Symptoms may include:
- redness with or without swelling
- rashes or hives
- dry, flaky skin
- blisters or cracked, oozing skin
- dark, leathery patches of skin
Symptoms may clear up on their own if the person eliminates the offending product. Anyone having difficulty identifying products that are causing their symptoms should see a dermatologist.
A person with dry skin may also have sensitive skin. The skin tends to become more sensitive as it loses the protective moisture and fat that keep the skin from drying out.
Dry skin may be more likely to appear on areas that have exposure to the elements, such as the hands, face, and arms.
Taking steps to keep moisture in the skin may help keep it from drying out. Using moisturizing lotions and facial creams daily may help prevent symptoms.
African Americans may want to take particular care to moisturize their skin, as research
Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a condition that generally causes dry, itchy patches of skin to appear, though symptoms vary from person to person.
Usually, eczema occurs in children, but it can also happen in adults. The most common areas for eczema flare-ups include the face, elbows, neck, wrists, ankles, and legs.
People will get rashes in these areas that are usually itchy and bumpy. On darker skin, this may be harder to see.
People with rosacea may have red skin and visible blood vessels, typically in the face. In some people, the skin may develop a rash of small, pus-filled bumps.
Rosacea can occur in different types and cause a variety of symptoms. This can include redness, flushing, irritated and swollen eyes, and rashes that may look like acne.
Photodermatoses is an abnormal reaction to sunlight within the skin itself. In people with this condition, the UV rays in sunlight
A reaction to sunlight in someone with photodermatoses could cause a rash, blisters, or scaly patches to appear on exposed skin. The reaction gets worse the longer the sunlight touches the skin.
Skin covered by clothing, a hat, or even hair covers will likely not show symptoms.
While remedies may help soothe irritation and other symptoms of sensitive skin, the best way for a person to find the source of their skin sensitivity is to see a dermatologist.
Dermatologists can test the skin and check for any potential allergies or underlying conditions. Knowing the cause of the symptoms often makes them easier to treat.
Although it is rare, it is possible for a person to have a severe allergic reaction to skincare products and experience anaphylaxis. It is also possible that a rash can be a symptom of some other serious medical condition. People should seek emergency medical attention for concerning symptoms, including:
- difficulty breathing, wheezing or gasping for breath
- swelling in the face, tongue, or throat
- rash covering the entire body
- dizziness or fainting
- signs of infection in the skin such as pus
- a rash that is painful
Usually, having sensitive skin is not a sign of a serious skin condition. Some people are simply more sensitive to products that come into contact with the skin.
In many cases, avoiding harsh chemicals, perfumes, and other irritating ingredients in skin care products can help ease symptoms and keep them away. Modest home treatments may help soothe rashes or minimize the reactions that people have to these products.
Anyone experiencing persistent or worsening symptoms should see a doctor or dermatologist for testing. There may be an underlying condition or allergy causing the reaction. Doctors may also be able to recommend other treatments.