Is Your Skin Sensitive or Sensitized? Here’s How To Know and How To Deal

The topic of skin sensitivity is a complex subject. The term is thrown around with many different meanings, so it’s hard to know what exactly we’re dealing with.

Is your skin sensitive or sensitized?

Sensitive skin is a genetic condition, characterized by an overactive barrier function. It has a reduced tolerance to external irritants and the skin reacts immediately after contact.

Sensitized skin, on the other hand, is a reaction of the skin to environmental conditions. This can be stress, diet, lack of sleep or environmental aggressors like pollution and sunlight. Irritated skin becomes sensitized as it can no longer repair itself as efficiently as before.

How do you recognize if you are dealing with sensitive or sensitized skin?

Sensitive skin : Your skin feels tight and produces less sebum than normal. It reacts immediately towards temperature changes (cold/hot), pollution, hard water and products that contain alcohol and fragrance.

Sensitized skin: You see redness and inflammation on your face and feel a stinging sensation when applying products that contain alcohol and fragrance.

If you’ve ever heard the terms sensitive skin and sensitized skin, you may be wondering what it means. Is there a difference? Is one better than the other? It turns out, there is a difference and learning about how your skin behaves is the first step to creating a skincare routine that works for you.

What is Sensitive Skin?

Sensitive skin is characterized by a tendency to flush or blush easily, stinging or burning sensations, and itchiness. If your skin becomes inflamed when you use products that are too harsh for your skin type, this may also indicate that you have sensitive skin.

If you suspect that you have sensitive skin, it’s important to consult with a dermatologist who can help you determine what types of products are right for you. They can also tell if your sensitivity is due to an underlying condition like rosacea, which will inform what kind of treatment plan is best.

What is Sensitized Skin?

While sensitive skin can be a result of genetics, sensitized skin usually comes from external factors like pollution, using skincare products that are too harsh or drying, harsh weather conditions and changes in temperature. This can lead to irritation and inflammation.

If your skin feels tight and


Sensitive skin affects about half of all people, and it can either be caused by genetics or environmental factors (such as pollution, weather, sun damage and beauty products). Some of the most common signs are redness and irritation, itchiness, dry patches and breakouts. It’s important to note that just because you have sensitive skin doesn’t necessarily mean you have a sensitized skin barrier. A sensitized skin barrier is a common condition characterized by a weakened moisture barrier which can cause your skin to become even more sensitive. And sometimes, this sensitivity leads to visible signs of aging such as fine lines and wrinkles—we don’t want that!

The good news is there are ways to know what type of sensitive skin you have so you can treat your specific issues. We tapped board-certified dermatologist Dr. Dendy Engelman for her expert tips on how to tell if your skin is sensitive or sensitized, plus ways to manage each one. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, keep reading for her advice on how best to handle them.

When I was younger, I always thought sensitive skin was a myth. Of course, that’s because my mom always told me that my redness, dryness and irritation were all in my head and that I was just picking at my skin.

But as I got older, and my skin issues persisted, I finally realized my mother was wrong. Sensitive skin is quite real, and does exist. The only problem is that it’s often confused for “sensitized” skin.

The difference between the two? Sensitive skin is genetic or hereditary. It’s this way because your body produces less of a protein called filaggrin, which helps to keep moisture inside the skin barrier. With less filaggrin in the body, your skin becomes more susceptible to moisture loss and damage.

On the other hand, sensitized skin comes from lifestyle habits such as over-exfoliation, sun exposure or excessive use of chemical exfoliants or certain skincare products (i.e., ones with fragrance). When these lifestyle habits are paired with sensitive skin types? It only makes matters worse.

So how do you tell the difference between sensitive skin and sensitized? This is what to look out for…

People who live in a more polluted environment, have sensitive skin, have a genetic predisposition to eczema, or even have a skin barrier that is damaged due to over-use of AHAs and retinols are more likely to suffer from “sensitized skin.”

People with sensitive skin constantly worry about reactions caused by ingredients, but it’s important to know the difference between sensitivity and sensitized skin. Sensitivity is a genetic predisposition and can be present at all times; however, sensitized skin is an environmental issue and can come and go.

“Sensitive skin has always been an issue for me,” says Amanda Montell, who suffers from Rosacea. “I’ve found that the best way to deal with it is a two-pronged approach: remove irritants from your diet (like sugar) and your daily routine (like detergents) and replace them with things that soothe the skin. This means cutting out alcohol, dairy and processed foods in favor of whole foods like fruit, vegetables and fish.”

To test if you suffer from sensitized skin instead of sensitive skin, begin by eliminating products with harsh ingredients such as alcohol, fragrance, acids and retinoids from your routine for at least two weeks. If your

Sensitive skin is a tricky thing. It can really just mean your skin is dry, or that it’s irritated and red, or that you’ve broken out in hives after coming into contact with something. But it can also mean your skin is actually sensitized. So what’s the difference? And how do you know which one your skin is?

Sensitized skin occurs when your skin barrier (AKA the outer layer of your skin) gets damaged. Think of it like this: Your skin barrier is like a brick wall with each individual brick being a cell in the top layer of your epidermis, and the mortar between these bricks being lipids (fatty acids and ceramides). When this protective outer layer is damaged and compromised, moisture escapes from within the deeper layers of your skin allowing irritants to penetrate through.

And it isn’t only environmental pollution that can compromise our barrier; ingredients in skincare products can also be irritating – even if they claim to be natural or gentle. If you find yourself with stinging, burning or itching skin after using a cream or serum, then it’s highly likely that the formula contains an ingredient that isn’t right for your sensitive complexion.

When you have sensitive skin, you may tend to hear the same advice over and over again. Use less product. Don’t be so aggressive with your exfoliation. Don’t use as much fragrance in your products. Try this gentle cleanser that won’t irritate your skin.

But what happens when you follow all of this advice and you still find that your skin is constantly irritated? What do you do when the most simple skincare products (say, a basic moisturizer) seem to cause your face to flare up red and angry? When even mild cleansing makes your skin burn and itch, it can be tough to know what will actually help reduce irritation, rather than make it worse.

For starters, we need to understand what’s causing the irritation in the first place.

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