Sensitive vs. Allergic Skin: Evidence and Care

Piel Sensible vs Piel Alérgica: evidencias y cuidados
Do you have reactive skin, does it redden easily or even itch sometimes, then... what is it? Allergic skin or simply sensitive skin. Although it may not seem like it, there are differences between these two types of skin and, although it should be a dermatologist who determines it to recommend the appropriate treatment, we are going to try to explain the main differences, in case we can help you a little...

Sensitive skin: definition

Sensitive skin Also called reactive, intolerant or hyper-excitable skin. Very difficult for a dermatologist to diagnose, as the symptoms that appear are very similar to allergic skin. Several definitions have been proposed over many years, but none have been able to do so accurately. The definition of Sensitive Skin refers to an unpleasant and uncomfortable hypersensitivity for the sufferer, to the point of affecting even their quality of life.

An increasingly frequent problem

Nowadays we see more and more people with this type of problem. Based on different types of rigorously conducted surveys, it is estimated that approximately 50% of women in the United States and Japan and 30% of men describe having this problem on their skin. In European countries, such as France, Italy, Portugal, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and Greece, almost 40% of every 5,000 inhabitants claim to have very sensitive skin. In our country, the prevalence is really high, almost 11 million Spaniards have this type of problem. In relation to race, some studies show that the black race has less sensitivity than Caucasians and these, less than Asians, but these are hypotheses that have not been confirmed, in addition to other factors of incidence such as psychosocial and cultural factors, daily body hygiene or some types of diets, such as Asians, who react more intensely to spicy foods.


It is a multifactorial problem where cutaneous hyperactivity can be of genetic origin, but its manifestation can also be triggered by different factors. In intolerant, sensitive or hyperactive skin, the reaction is immediate, as opposed to an allergic reaction.. Extrinsic factors to which this type of skin reacts:

Cosmetics and grooming products:

The use of cosmetic products not suitable for the skin type, is the most frequent trigger. There are many irritants in the formulation of a cosmetic, such as, for example: alcohol, propinenglycol, butylene glycol, resorcinol, trichloroacetic acid, alpha hydroxy acid, etc., which depending on their concentration can often be irritants and therefore an aggravating factor in sensitive skin. There are also certain physical cosmetic procedures such as phototherapy, ultraviolet radiation (sun), dermabrasion, chemical peels, laser, etc., which can significantly aggravate this skin problem.

Environmental factors:

Environmental factors are also triggers for this syndrome.
  • temperature and humidity decreaseThe following factors can also trigger this syndrome: cold, sun, wind, pollution, air conditioning directly affect the amount of water in the stratum corneum, which is the most superficial layer of the skin, and this causes sensitivity to increase.
  • the dietSpices, alcohol, coffee, spicy foods.
  • the practices of body hygieneShaving techniques in men, excessive showering.
  • on abuse of body hygiene products.
  • work activities in which there is exposure to different chemical products.

Intrinsic factors:

  • There are several intrinsic factors in people who have this type of problem. For example, it occurs much more in the female sex, in young people, in fair skin, susceptible to sunburn (photo types 1 and 2), susceptibility to flushing and/or redness, skin pigmentation, thin stratum corneum, decreased stratum corneum hydration, disruption of the stratum corneum, increased epidermal innervation, increased sweat glands, decreased lipids, high level of transepidermal water loss....
  • Also the psychological factors also play a major role in this type of skin. The stress is the most important of these, although other depressive or neurotic psychological factors may also play a role.

Characteristics of sensitive skin

There are several signs associated with sensitive skin, such as redness, spider veins and flaking, in addition to itching, burning, stinging and a feeling of tightness of the skin. The most common location is the facial skin, but it can also manifest itself on the hands, scalp and feet.

Sensitive skin care

If you have this type of skin it is very important to take into account several points:
  • It is essential to keep your skin very well protected. hydrated
  • Always moisturize the skin all over the body after showering, and the face in the morning and before going to bed.
  • Use lukewarm water and do not take long showers.
  • Always use cosmetic products without perfume, dyes, alcohol and ideally for sensitive skin.
  • Try not to expose yourself too much to the sun, it is a great irritant for the skin. Use sunscreens with high SPF
  • Avoid, as much as possible, stress and fatigue.
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How Allergic Skin Reacts

In allergic skin the mechanism of action is different from that of sensitive skin. Allergic Skin In allergic skin, the following is involved system immune system. This happens when our body comes into contact with an unknown or foreign substance and the body overreacts, with the skin being a very affected organ. Most of the time it does not occur the first time of contact with the substance or allergen, it is usually triggered by repeated skin contact with the substance or allergen.The allergic reaction of inflammatory type is produced. This is called "delayed hypersensitivity". The substance foreign to your skin is called an allergen, and the substance your body makes to fight the unknown substance is called an antibody. It is quite normal for there to be confusion between what is sensitive skin and allergic skin. The important thing is that if you see that your skin "reacts" to any factor, go to your dermatologist so that he/she can make a good diagnosis and give you an appropriate treatment for your problem. The lesions that appear on the skin are of various types: redness, inflammation, desquamation, crusting, vesicles, itching, tightness, etc.

Types of allergenic substances or allergens

  • Perfumes and fragrances: these substances appear in most cosmetic products, e.g. lotions, shampoos, make-up remover wipes, household cleaning products etc. Therefore, always try to buy fragrance-free products.
  • Nickel: This metal is present in costume jewelry, some gold-plated jewelry and piercings. The problem usually appears mainly in the ears. Other products where nickel may be present are watches, eyeglass frames, clasps, buttons, belts, bra fasteners, etc.
  • Latex: It is becoming more and more common to find this type of allergy, because it is increasingly used in different products. For example, in gloves, clothing, hair bands, condoms, and many other products. The allergy can appear from a simple reddening of the skin to breathing difficulties and vomiting.
  • Hair dyes: one of the most allergizing substances in this type of cosmetic is PPD (paraphenylene diamine). This type of substance is in the chemical composition of the dye, so you should be especially careful and check the ingredients when you buy it or when you go to the hairdresser.
  • Fabrics and textiles: many people think they are allergic to wool, and in reality it is often not an allergy but a sensitivity.
The textile materials that cause most allergies are those derived from formaldehyde resins. This material is mainly used in elastic garments waterproof, wrinkle-proof and shrink-proof garments. So, if you have this type of allergy, look for formaldehyde-free garments. In many cases, if the allergy is mild, it can be solved by washing the garment repeatedly.
  • Cosmetics: many times it is directly the fragrance or preservatives. The most common are formaldehyde, parabens or thimerosal. The important thing is to stop using them and watch the formulation of the new cosmetic.
  • Topical medicationsOne of the most allergizing substances in topical medications (ointments and antibiotics) is neomycin. It is very important that your allergist makes sure that you are not allergic to this substance, and in case you are, you should always communicate it.
  • Sunscreen: Sometimes some of the components of sunscreens may react when you are exposed to the sun. For example: PABA (parabenzoic acid), benzophenones, oxybenzone, salicylates, cyclohexanol.
  • Household products: The most allergenic products are those containing adhesives and solvents. For example, paint thinners, liquid charcoal for lighters, or nail polish remover for nail polish.
As you can see, we are exposed to many allergenic substances. That is why it is increasingly important to pay attention to the components of the products we consume. Our advice is that if you suffer from this type of symptoms, redness, rashes, itching, intolerance to cosmetics, peeling, etc., you should consult your dermatologist for a correct diagnosis so that you can evaluate products. It is very important to be clear that if your skin is sensitive or you are allergic, you must take proper care of yourself.