What Is Sensitive Skin

What is Sensitive Skin?

Reference Lab

April 02, 2023

Sensitive skin is a common skin type that affects millions of people. If you have sensitive skin, you may experience inflammation, redness, dryness, and itching with exposure to common triggers, such as environmental factors, skin care products, and lifestyle habits. And though the symptoms may differ from person to person, the frustration that comes from having sensitive skin is universal. Understanding what causes sensitive skin to become irritated will help you manage your symptoms and maintain healthy skin for the long-term.

01 What is Sensitive Skin?

On its own, sensitive skin is not a diagnosis, but rather a skin type. The common irritation experienced by those with sensitive skin stems from an overactive response to a stimulus, like cold air or certain chemicals. Individuals with sensitive skin often find harsh conditions and certain ingredients intolerable, causing their skin to flare up with uncomfortable symptoms like dryness, itching and stinging.
Most cases of sensitive skin occur within the facial area, and especially around the eyes since the eye area contains some of the most delicate and thin skin on the body. Facial skin is highly innervated, making adverse sensations on the face more likely. The same nerves that enable your face to feel the softness of a cotton ball also allow you to experience painful facial skin sensations. Furthermore, facial skin comes into contact with the environment and cosmetic products more often than other parts of the body, increasing the risk of irritation. Although sensitive skin is most common on the face, sensitive skin may also develop anywhere on the body, including other exposed areas such as your chest and hands.1
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02 What Causes Sensitive Skin?

According to data from the National Institutes of Health, about 70% of women and 60% of men report having some degree of sensitive skin. Women experience sensitive skin more often than men, perhaps due to their more common use of makeup and skin care products. In addition, a woman’s hormone levels fluctuate from month to month and can dramatically change during pregnancy and menopause. A woman’s skin may become highly reactive and sensitive during these rapid hormonal shifts.2
A variety of factors can contribute to sensitive skin. Some people with sensitive skin are genetically inclined towards inflammation and sensitivities. In other cases, the environment can trigger sensitive skin. Even minimal sun exposure, windy conditions, air pollution, or cold air can inflame and irritate the skin, causing rashes and redness.1
A few common sensitive skin triggers are:
  • Fragrance
  • Beauty and skin-care products
  • Hair products
  • Hand sanitizers
  • Hot water
  • UV Rays (from sunlight and sun lamps)
  • Extreme cold or hot conditions
  • Wind
  • Environmental pollution
  • Smoke
  • Detergents
  • Solvents
  • Cleaning agents
  • Rough fabrics
  • Pressure on skin
  • Metals (nickel)
  • Rubber, latex, and adhesives
  • Plants or pollen
The factors that cause sensitive skin to react vary from person to person. Some individuals, for example, may be able to tolerate severe weather conditions but find that certain skin care ingredients trigger their sensitive skin. Common skin care or beauty products may cause uncomfortable rashes or itching. Moreover, a skin treatment that purportedly helps with itching and rashes may exacerbate symptoms in these individuals.

03 What Role Does the Skin Barrier Play in Sensitive Skin?

The uppermost layer of skin is called the stratum corneum, also known as the skin barrier. The skin barrier functions as a shield to protect the skin beneath it from environmental exposure and internal water loss in order to keep the lower layers hydrated. A healthy skin barrier blocks environmental stressors and balances moisture. If the barrier is weak, your skin becomes more vulnerable to external and internal stress. Therefore, a compromised skin barrier can cause or exacerbate sensitive skin symptoms.3

How Do I Know If I Have Sensitive Skin?

Many people who are genetically inclined toward sensitive skin are aware of their condition, having had to manage skin irritations all their lives. However, sensitive skin can also develop over time. Repeated exposure to chemicals and other irritants can result in increased reactivity in the skin.
Sensitive skin sufferers may exhibit the following symptoms when they come into contact with an irritant:
  • Stinging and burning
  • Rashes or hives (erythema)
  • Swelling
  • Itching
  • Redness or discoloration
  • Dry skin
  • Blistering
  • Cracked or bleeding skin
  • Patches of leathery skin
Your sensitive skin symptoms may depend on what your triggers are. For example, irritant contact dermatitis is the most common form of sensitive skin. With this type of sensitive skin, a rash typically follows the application of a specific irritating chemical that damages the skin’s barrier, causing the skin to break out.4

04 What Ingredients Should I Avoid with Sensitive Skin?

While there’s no magic bullet that can keep skin from being sensitive, there are steps you can take to reduce symptoms and fortify your skin barrier so that it is better protected from potential triggers. Because harsh ingredients in skin care and cosmetic products can cause skin flare-ups, avoiding ingredients known to irritate the skin is a must. In terms of ingredients, you may be wondering, what causes skin inflammation? A few examples of ingredients that tend to trigger sensitive skin are:4
  • Sulfates
  • Retinol
  • Petroleum
  • Fragrance
  • Colorants
  • Benzoyl Peroxide
  • Mineral Oil
  • Triclosan
  • Baking soda
  • Formaldehyde
  • Acrylates
  • Alcohol (or Ethanol)
Sodium lauryl sulfate, otherwise known as SLS or sulfate, in particular, is found in numerous cleansers and beauty products and should be avoided by those with sensitive skin. One study of 1,600 participants found that 42% experienced irritation from sulfates. Unfortunately, sulfates are found in most shampoos, soaps, and scrubs. Sulfates are also added to many cosmetics like mascaras and lipstick. Steering clear of SLS-containing products and other skin irritants can reduce sensitive skin flare-ups.5

05 What ingredients are safe for sensitive skin?

It’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to dealing with sensitive skin. Ingredients that are safe for sensitive skin do exist, and a few may even help calm sensitive skin symptoms and help build up skin’s barrier. If you are curious how to reduce skin inflammation and redness, here are a few ingredients that work well on sensitive skin.

Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic acid is a compound found naturally in the body, which is why it’s gentle on sensitive skin. Hyaluronic acid not only binds many times its water weight to keep skin hydrated, it also revs up collagen production, which is essential to skin’s strength and barrier function. Hyaluronic acid’s collagen-boosting abilities help hydrate and strengthen the skin barrier, making skin less susceptible to being ultra reactive. 6

Andiroba Oil

People with sensitive skin may benefit from ingredients that reduce redness, swelling, and rashes. Andiroba oil is one such ingredient. This oil’s anti-inflammatory properties can help quell sensitive skin reactions and heal small abrasions in the skin barrier. Moreover, andiroba oil also helps to synthesize collagen, keeping skin firm and its barrier strong. 7


Much like the benefits of andiroba oil, allantoin soothes and calms inflamed skin. Its moisturizing properties soften dry skin and heal injuries. Perhaps most importantly, even the most sensitive of skin can usually tolerate allantoin. Highlighting its hypoallergenic properties, a review of allantoin for skin published in the International Journal of Toxicology found the compound was non-irritating and non-sensitizing in multiple tests.8


Vitamin B-3, otherwise known as niacinamide, offers antifungal, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. Gentle on sensitive skin, niacinamide smooths dry skin and encourages the skin’s natural healing process. This ingredient is also a potent antioxidant, which protects against cellular injury and skin damage.9

Oleic Pau Mulato Extract

Taken from the bark of the Pau Mulato tree, oleic pau mulato extract reduces inflammation and promotes skin cell turnover. This extract can help make sensitive skin less vulnerable to external stressors. Oleic pau mulato extract also smooths wrinkles and soothes dry, itchy skin.10
Whether or not you have sensitive skin, choosing your topical skin care products wisely is important for keeping your skin healthy. Using the right ingredients in your skin care regimen sets the stage for a strong skin barrier and a balanced complexion.

06 How should you care for sensitive skin?

Skin sensitivity varies for each person. Some individuals experience sensitivity as a chronic condition; others only see symptoms when exposed to a trigger. Whatever the case, there are basic strategies that can help ease irritated skin.

07 Practice Consistent Sun Protection

Keeping UV damage to a minimum leads to healthier skin and also prevents inflammation. Coupled with a protective peptide moisturizer, use a sunscreen made specifically for your sensitive skin type. However, sun protection shouldn’t stop there. In addition to using sunscreen, it is important to avoid sun exposure during peak hours (on or around noon) and wear a large head covering when possible. Also, take special care of areas that are known to have sensitive skin, like the face and neck, and especially the area around the eyes.

08 Go Fragrance-Free

When choosing skin care and cosmetic products, stick with fragrance-free options. Though scented products may smell appealing, fragrances are common allergens and should be avoided if you have sensitive skin. Instead, look closely at labels and steer clear of fragrance in skin care whenever possible.

09 Choose a Gentle Daily Cleanser

Cleansing and exfoliating your skin with harsh products can weaken the skin barrier and exacerbate reactivity in sensitive skin. Sulfates and rough exfoliants strip away natural oils, leaving your skin unbalanced. For those with sensitive skin who aren’t acne prone, a gentle daily face cleanser is the safest option for keeping skin fortified and healthy.

10 OS-01 for Your Sensitive Skin

With a myriad of skin products to choose from, it’s hard to know which brands are safe for sensitive skin. Fortunately, people with sensitive skin can turn to data-driven platforms, such as SkinSAFE, to help make educated decisions regarding their skin care. Developed by skin care scientists in collaboration with the Mayo Clinic, SkinSAFE uses proprietary software to assist health-conscious consumers and people with sensitive skin in finding the safest skin care products.
According to SkinSAFE’s review system, OneSkin’s products are rated as highly trusted. For example: In addition to SkinSAFE’s stamp of approval, OneSkin products are also rated as “safe” on the Environmental Working Group (EWG) rating scale. On a scale of 1-10, with a score of 1 as the safest, OneSkin’s products perform among the safest and healthiest with the following scores: In addition, OS-O1 FACE , OS-01 BODY, OS-01 EYE, and PREP were tested for human sensitization (RIPT - a clinical study to assess skin irritation) and various other toxicity tests. After completing these tests, no adverse effects were found resulting from these products.
All OneSkin products are:
  • Paraben free
  • Palm oil free
  • Phthalate free
  • PEG free
  • Fragrance free
  • Colorant free
  • Sulfate free
  • Baking soda free
  • Triclosan free
  • Triclocarban free
  • Retinyl Palmitate free
  • Mineral Oil free
  • Formaldehyde free
  • Acrylate free
If OneSkin’s topical supplements are free of all of the above, then what do they contain? Nothing but healthy, ethically sourced, and safe ingredients! OneSkin includes sensitive-skin-friendly ingredients like niacinamide, allantoin, pau mulato extract, andiroba oil, and hyaluronic acid. Last but definitely not least, OneSkin’s proprietary ingredient, the OS-01 peptide, promotes skin health at the molecular level and strengthens the skin’s barrier (shown in lab studies on ex vivo human skin models). Whether you have sensitive, normal, combination, or oily skin, you can rest assured that OneSkin’s products are healthy, gentle, and soothing.

Key Takeaways:

  • Sensitive skin is common; about 70% of women and 60% report having some degree of sensitive skin.
  • The cause of sensitive skin varies from person to person. Some may be genetically inclined toward sensitive skin, while others may develop a skin reaction to elements in the environment.
  • Skin care products may contain ingredients that cause or worsen sensitive skin, like sulfates, fragrances, and colorants.
  • Harsh chemicals can damage the skin barrier, exacerbating sensitive skin symptoms.
  • Choosing the right skin care ingredients can help reduce symptoms and soothe sensitive skin.
  • Sites like SkinSAFE can help individuals find skin-friendly and health-conscious skin care options.
  • OneSkin products are highly rated and trusted skin care products that are free of common irritants, such as fragrances, colorants, and allergens.


  1. https://www.medicaljournals.se/acta/content/html/10.2340/00015555-2397
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6533878/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33852256/
  4. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/contact-dermatitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20352742
  5. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1034/j.1600-0536.2003.480209.x
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3583886/
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15517027/
  8. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1091581810362805
  9. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/natural/1534.html
  10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29495517/
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