Sensitive skin: symptoms and causes

Vanessa Gibbs

One of the hardest things about sensitive skin is that it’s so tricky to take care of. It can sometimes feel like every product causes a reaction and nothing will calm irritation. But with a little more understanding of what’s actually going on, there is a way to treat and heal sensitive skin.

Sensitive skin isn’t a medical diagnosis, but it’s a very common skincare concern. In fact, up to 70% of women and 60% of men have some degree of sensitive skin. It simply means that your skin is easily irritated and reacts more than normal. This could be by anything from skincare products to the weather.  

But how do you know if you have sensitive skin and what should you do about it? That’s where we can help. Here at Face Dr, our skin experts have decades of experience working with clients with a wide range of skincare concerns, including sensitive skin. We know the frustration of living with sensitive skin—not to mention the confusion of knowing what to put on it to help it heal. 

Here, we’ll share our knowledge and dive into what exactly this skin type is, including the symptoms, causes and some advice on what you can do about it. If you want to learn more about how to build the perfect skincare routine for sensitive skin, we’ve covered that, too. 

What are the symptoms of sensitive skin? 


woman in bath with lemons sensitive skin

First up, how do you know if you have sensitive skin? Sensitive skin can come in many forms from mild irritation to sensitivity that affects your daily life. It could be simply the skin type you always have or a one-time flare up that will go away. 

You’ll most often notice a reaction in your skin that causes a change in texture, colour or sensation. 

The most common symptoms of sensitive skin include: 

  • Dry skin 
  • Flaky patches 
  • Redness 
  • Itchiness
  • Burning or stinging sensation 
  • Small bumps 

What causes sensitive skin?


Skin often becomes sensitive when the natural barrier that keeps irritants out is weakened, allowing things like UV rays, wind and chemicals in and that causes inflammation and a reaction. 

Sometimes, it’s just a part of who we are. Some types of skin sensitivity are caused by genetics and the skin also becomes more sensitive as we age. Other times, a certain trigger has caused a reaction and more sensitivity than usual. There are so many causes of sensitive skin and it can be hard to pinpoint what exactly is triggering a reaction. 

Common triggers include: 

  • Skincare products — harsh skincare products like those with alcohol, acids, fragrances or physical scrubs 
  • Other products — like laundry detergents, make-up or shower products 
  • Environmental triggers — very hot or cold temperatures, strong wind, air pollution 
  • Excessive sun exposure 
  • Hormones — hormonal imbalances and changes  

Sensitive skin can also be a sign of something more serious like eczema, psoriasis, rosacea or an allergy. So if you’re experiencing a lot of new sensitivity it can be useful to speak with a dermatologist, GP or skincare professional to rule out anything else. 

How to prevent sensitive skin 


skincare product for sensitive skin

It can be hard to prevent sensitive skin, especially if it’s down to genetics or ageing. But there are a few things you can do to keep your skin as healthy as possible and reduce the risk of a reaction. 

First, look at your skincare routine and make sure you’re avoiding harsh ingredients like fragrances. You might also want to be wary of anything with alcohol, retinoids and strong acids like glycolic acid and salicylic acid. You may find that you can still use some of these ingredients, but you just need to introduce them slowly. 

Always patch test new products before using them. To do this, swipe a small amount of the product on a discrete part of skin, like the inside of your wrist, and watch for redness or signs of irritation over the next 24 to 48 hours. If it’s clear, you can start using a small amount on your face. 

Be gentle in other areas of skincare too, such as when applying products or drying your skin. Be sure not to rub, pull or scrub too hard, all of which can damage the skin and cause irritation. 

How to treat sensitive skin 


What should you do if your skin is already irritated or continuously gets irritated easily? First, see if you can figure out what your trigger is. For many, it’s in their skincare products, but others will react to environmental triggers or other products in their daily life. If you’ve started using something new and are now experiencing redness and irritation, it may just be that. 

For others, managing sensitive skin is a longer journey. Start by overhauling your skincare routine and investing in high-grade products that are designed with sensitive skin in mind. Many of these will not only help to calm and soothe irritated skin, but they can also help to heal the skin’s natural barrier and reduce sensitivity overtime. 

Avoid over-washing and over-exfoliating the skin and avoid any harsh chemicals and ingredients in both your skincare and other daily products. As heat can be a trigger and is very drying, keep showers short and warm—not hot. And remember to towel dry gently afterwards. 

One way to ensure you’re treating your sensitive skin in the best way possible is to speak to a skin professional. They’ll be able to help you decide on the best products to use and what to avoid. 


woman looking in mirror with clear sensitive skin

Products to try: 


Here are some products to get you started, all of which are designed to work with skin that’s irritated, reactive and sensitive. 

Get expert advice on sensitive skin


Sensitive skin can be tricky to manage, especially if you have no idea what’s causing reactions or your skin seems to be always on high alert. But armed with expert knowledge, you can start calming, soothing and healing it in no time. 

Here at Face Dr, we offer free online consultations with our skin experts. In a 30-minute video chat, you can speak to someone who knows what they’re talking about when it comes to the best way to take care of your skin. You can ask any questions you have about your sensitive skin, get your skin analysed by a professional and get their top recommendations for the products that can help it look its best. 

We only ever recommend brands and products we know provide real results and there’s never any obligation to buy. Plus, our skin experts can refer you to a GP if further attention is needed. 

Ready to find out the best way to take care of your sensitive skin? Book a free consultation with our experts today. 

It’s normal for our skincare routine to regularly need changing. We need to adapt to take into account everything from our individual skin conditions, to...
Read more
Are you experiencing random breakouts? How about unexplained dry or flaky skin? Whatever is going on, it could indicate the skincare routine that’s been working so well for you is no longer providing results. Let’s dive into some of the biggest reasons why your skincare routine might cease to work.
Read more
Face Dr showcases ZO's new cleanser, the ZO Balancing Cleansing Emulsion. Do you have sensitive skin that can be reactive to drying cleansers? This may be the perfect cleanser and pre-cleanser for you! Read on to find out the benefits of the latest ZO Skin Health Cleansing Emulsion.
Read more