Do You Actually Have Sensitive Skin? Experts Weigh In

"Why do you think your skin is sensitive?" she asked.

I froze. Huh.

"Uh, it's always dry?" I offered, almost as a guess. "If I use strong ingredients, it reacts a little bit?" The truth was that I had no idea when or for what reason I had categorized my skin as "sensitive."

Do you ever wonder, “why is my skin so sensitive?” or “is my skin actually sensitive?” Sensitive skin can be caused by a variety of factors, including an adverse reaction to a product, specific ingredients, or over-exposure to the sun. Keep reading to learn from experts about sensitive skin, what causes it, and how to treat it.

What is Sensitive Skin?

“Sensitized skin is skin that has 'become' sensitive as a response to something, such as a skincare product or treatment. Sensitive skin can be an ongoing condition caused by a treatment, age, or biological skin disorder,” says board- certified dermatologist Paul Jarrod Frank, MD. So if your skin feels sore, is red, dry, or overall has a negative reaction to external factors, it is sensitive.

However, there is no official test or diagnosis for sensitive skin. “Sensitive skin is actually not a clinical diagnosis, though most people think of it as skin that is easily irritated,” says board-certified dermatologist Iris Rubin, MD.

How To Tell If You Have Sensitive Skin

You may assume you have sensitive skin, but you could be wrong. "Most people think their skin is sensitive, and most are wrong," says Rubin. "It's harder than you think. Unless you have a substantial reaction to certain ingredients or a pre-existing condition like rosacea, chances are your skin isn't really sensitive,” adds Benjamin.

According to Frank, lookout for signs of redness, dryness, flakiness, breakouts, and burning. Rubin says that stinging is also a typical reaction to sensitive skin and esthetician Renée Rouleau notes that inflammation is also a symptom of sensitive skin.

"If you have a sensitivity to topical ingredients you will likely know pretty instantly," says Benjamin adding that you'll likely see redness or irritation fairly quickly. If you know that your skin is pretty reactive or you're trying out a more intense ingredient like retinol or glycolic acid for the first time, consider using a small spot of skin as a tester area rather than risking inflammation across your entire face. Rouleau recommends using the side of your neck since the skin there is thin and generally more reactive. "The idea is that if it can be tolerated on your neck, then you can feel confident that it will be okay on the face," she says.

What Causes Sensitive Skin?

Over-exposure to the sun

Too much time in the sun can cause redness and stinging.

Underlying health conditions

Skin conditions like eczema, rosacea, and psoriasis can cause the skin to be red, dry, and bumpy.


According to Frank, the overuse or abuse of products can cause your skin to be sensitive, so follow the instructions carefully. Also, look out for skin sensitivity when using products containing alpha-hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids.


Genetics tend to play a role, and if you're of Irish, Scottish, English, or Scandinavian descent, you might be more susceptible to sensitivity. (This heritage tends to breed thin skin with less oil production). If you find that your skin reacts to certain ingredients or formulas with rosacea, itching, redness, stinging, rashes, burning, or hives, your complexion probably veers on the side of sensitive.

Use a clean washcloth and towel every time you are washing your face to ensure no product residue or bacteria goes on your skin.

The Best Products For Sensitive Skin

We love how this face peel helps with getting rid of acne, dead skin, and hyperpigmentation, but is still gentle on the skin.

This daily Vitamin C&E Treatment repairs your skin's moisture barrier and reduces hyperpigmentation.

Applying this beauty balm feels like a spa treatment at home. The cream dissolves into a liquid, making it very nourishing and hydrating to the skin.

This sunscreen not only has a sun protection factor of 30, but is also tinted, meaning you can substitute it for your moisturizer on days when you want light coverage.

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