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What is Skin Sensitivity?

By Felicia Dye
Updated May 17, 2024
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Health and beauty products often portray sensitive skin as a skin type similar to oily skin. This can be misleading because skin sensitivity generally is a condition. It can cause discomfort or abnormal appearance of the skin. People usually are not born with the condition, and most do not suffer with it all of their lives.

Skin sensitivity can be manifest in many forms. Eczema, sometimes called dermatitis, is one condition. It commonly involves red, itchy, swollen patches that can appear on various parts of the body. Rosacea is another condition which involves noticeable reddening of the skin. Areas affected by this condition often are sensitive to heat and cold.

The list of ailments that accompany skin sensitivity can be quite long. Skin can become discolored, ranging from abnormal hues of red to brown. The skin can become prone to rashes, begin to ooze, or become scaly. It also is common for those with skin sensitivity to be affected by climatic factors making them susceptible to sunburn and windburn.

Some people only have sensitive skin in one area, such as the face or elbows. These conditions can affect various parts of the body, and some people simultaneously suffer from ailments in multiple locations. As the skin varies at different points on the body, it also is possible for simultaneous ailments to differ from one location to the next. For example, the elbows may become itchy and scaly, while at the same time the face may break out in clusters of pimples.

Many people do not suffer from skin sensitivity their whole lives. It is common for such conditions to seem to emerge out of nowhere at any age. Also, it is possible that a person may suffer from sensitive skin for a period, and then it may disappear permanently or for extended periods of time.

There still are many unknown factors regarding skin sensitivity. Even though eczema is a common diagnosis, it is one that usually leaves many questions unanswered. The term is broad and can encompass many things without providing insight into a cause or cure.

When people seek treatment for ailments related to sensitive skin, they may be treated with medications that may or may not be effective. Some medications only temporarily deal with the ailments. In addition to medication, however, people normally are given regimens that involve behavioral changes that may reduce their ailments.

Many sufferers are informed of the things that have been noted to irritate skin sensitivity. These include chemicals found in fragrances and make-up, chemicals used for dry cleaning and in laundry detergents, and various textiles such as wool and fur. Sufferers of skin sensitivity often are advised to eliminate as many chemicals from their daily lives as possible.

This can include changing household cleaning products and eating organic foods. People may be advised to reduce their use of cosmetics and to carefully choose the brands they use. Bathing habits also may be a subject of treatment. Many people are advised to use certain soaps, to take quick, warm baths or showers, and to avoid scrubbing areas that are sensitive.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon282147 — On Jul 27, 2012

I have the same problem as Anon post 4 my whole life. I have the hope that someone can find the solution! Needless to say, 99 percent of the cloths are not comfortable, cotton is not always good, stockings are a pain for me, and seams and bras are also a pain. I have visited dermatologists and physicians for 45 years with no response.

By anon119393 — On Oct 17, 2010

I have suffered of itchy skin ( cloth labels, wool, and many other types of fabrics) since I can remember. I do not develop a rush but the itching is so terrible that I cannot stand most of the clothing. I can only wear cotton clothing.

I am also sensitive to bras wires, seams of the stockings, seams of the sweaters, shirts jackets, swimming dresses. I many doctors since I was a child but no one has given me a clue. They only prescribe Eucerin lotion which does not work. I really would like to listen to your advice. I am 57 and every time my sensitivity is worse. Thank you in advance.

By lawnmower — On Aug 31, 2010

shoeshopper- You will want to be especially careful when buying acne products. Acne products can be very harsh and will likely irritate sensitive skin.

Visit a dermatologist and see what they recommend for sensitive skin. They can often prescribe products that are gentle, yet effective.

If your acne medication does irritate your skin, only apply it every other day instead of everyday. Also, don't use a lot of acne products together. If you use a topical lotion, don't use a toner with it. If you use an acne wash, don't follow it up with a lotion. Too much medication on the skin can cause sensitive skin to become irritated.

By NewsGuru — On Aug 31, 2010

shoeshopper- Wearing makeup can irritate sensitive skin. However, there are products that you can buy that can will minimize skin irritation. With makeup, you get what you pay for. If you buy inexpensive products, the quality will be poor. You need to invest in quality makeup in order to get products that don't irritate the skin.

Look for products that are oil-free and are non- comedogenic. Non-comedogenic means that the makeup won't clog or block your pores.

By shoeshopper — On Aug 31, 2010

I am a female who has very sensitive skin on my face. Does wearing makeup aggravate already sensitive skin?

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