What is sensitive skin?

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What is sensitive skin?

Despite sensitive skin being very common, there is no consensus on what exactly causes it. That said, there are some factors that have been shown to contribute to sensitive skin.

These factors are: (1) sensory hyper-reactivity, (2) impaired barrier function, (3) inflammatory or vascular responsiveness, and (4) atopic predisposition. So let’s break these concepts down to something a little easier to grasp.

Sensory hyper-reactivity

Sensitive skin is someti-mes defined as a sensory reaction to environmental factors. Some people have what is known as ""sensory hyper-reactivity"", meaning that their skin is "over" reactive to external stimuli. This, in turn, can lead to sensitive skin.

Impaired barrier function

An intact skin barrier serves two important functions for the overall health of the skin. As the the word barrier indicates, it creates a two-way protection between the skin and the surroundings, thereby not only protecting the skin from external irritants, but also preventing water loss from the skin to its surroundings.

Water loss is an especially important measurement to determine sensitive skin. Impaired barrier function due to sensitive skin will lead to an increased water loss across the surface of the skin, and at the same time make the skin more vulnerable to external irritants.

Inflammatory or vascular responsiveness

People with sensitive skin often report reddening of their skin after applying personal care products, rapid temperature changes and bathing. This redness of the skin often decreases within an hour or so, but for some people it’s more or less chronic. The redness is a direct result of increased blood flow to the fine capillaries of the skin.

Persistent redness often results from inflammation in the skin itself, which is known as the skin condition rosacea.

Atopic predisposition

Many studies suggest that some people have sensitive skin as they have what is known as an ""atopic disposition"". This basically means that some people have a genetic predisposition to develop certain allergic hypersensitivity reactions.

What can you do to best protect your sensitive skin from reacting?

To avoid reactions from sensitive skin there are, happily, some precautions you can take. First of all it's important to use gentle skin care products without known irritants and harsh chemicals, by doing so you will support the skin’s barrier to better withstand external stimuli. Limit your time in the shower or bath to 5 or 10 minutes. Water is very drying on the skin, so limit contact time to prevent too much moisture loss from the skin.

Source: What Is Sensitive Skin? A Systematic Literature Review of Objective Measurements

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