What is sensitive skin?

Sensitive skin is very common and there is even an increase among men. The special thing about sensitive skin is that it is not an official dermatological diagnosis. One of the many quotes from my AMC dermatology trainer:

“There are over 2000 dermatological diagnoses! If it’s not in The Rook (Dermatology Bible – consisting of 4 parts), then it doesn’t exist’ Professor J.D. Bos (AMC – 2004)

Sensitive skin

These are the most common skin complaints in people with sensitive skin:

Suffering from redness, dry skin areas in the face, stinging or burning sensation, sensitivity and / or itching, especially in the face. Most frequently mentioned skin complaints of people who have sensitive skin

Little is known about the underlying mechanism of sensitive skin. There are no dermatological tests. It is a self-diagnosis, defined as skin less tolerant to regular use of cosmetics.

More often eczema in youth

It is estimated, however, that at least 50% of women and 40% of men perceive their skin as sensitive. It is even called a dermatological condition by 31.2% of people with very sensitive skin. 17.6% of people with sensitive skin and 8.7% of people with slightly sensitive skin. Patients with sensitive or very sensitive skin are also more likely to have had eczema in their youth. Because sensitive skin is so prevalent now, cosmetic manufacturers are forced to develop new products and brands for people with sensitive skin, and they do.

Does all skin irritation also mean that you have sensitive skin?

Less tolerant to regular use of cosmetics Because sensitive skin is not specified as a condition in medical textbooks, it usually remains a self-assessment by the patient/consumer and possibly in consultation with the doctor. It’s not a skin disease. It basically means that you have skin that is less able to withstand regular use of cosmetics. In general, it manifests itself in the form of redness, a stinging or burning sensation, tenderness and/or itching, especially in areas exposed to various factors such as chemical products (cosmetics, soap, water, pollution), physical influences (ultraviolet radiation, extreme temperatures (heat or cold), and even excessive wind), psychological factors (stress), or changes in hormones (pregnancy, menstrual cycle). Irritation after using cosmetics: within a few minutes or sometimes after days Sensitive skin shows symptoms after exposure to cosmetic products. It often appears immediately, but sometimes symptoms develop after a period of minutes, hours or even days. Specialists have little information about the underlying pathophysiology of sensitive skin.

Factors that increase the predisposition of sensitive skin

A woman’s epidermis is less thick than a man’s, which can make the skin more sensitive…. A number of factors are known to increase the predisposition to sensitive skin; experts say there are both personal and environmental factors that increase the likelihood of developing sensitive skin, such as: * Age, young people have more sensitive skin than the elderly. In the medical literature, there is almost no data on sensitive skin in children. It is possible that the ratios of body surface area to body mass in children are very high, so that they experience a higher exposure to skin care products and are therefore more sensitive. * Biological sex, it is believed that female hormones and epidermal thickness (which is lower in women than in men) can make the skin more susceptible to irritation. * Ethnicity, it seems that Asians, for example, develop sensitive skin more quickly. * Body part, the skin on the face is often more sensitive than the skin on other parts of the body. More precisely; the nasolabial fold is the most sensitive part of the face, followed by the cheekbones, chin, forehead and upper lip. * Culture, in some cultures perfumes, creams, or make-up are more often used that are aggressive and irritate the skin.

The role that smells play

There are over 2000 different fragrances in use today. Many different fragrances can be used in one cosmetic product. In general, fragrances in ‘stay on’ cosmetics will cause more skin problems than in ‘rinse off’ products such as shampoo, toothpaste and shower foam. These odors can come from natural sources (animals or plants), usually of botanical origin such as balms, essential oils and spices such as cinnamon, cloves, vanilla. More than 90% of all fragrances used are synthetic. Not all fragrances can cause irritation, but if you have sensitive skin, it is best to avoid the following ingredients.

Not all fragrances can cause irritation, but if you have sensitive skin, it is best to avoid the following ingredients.

Geraniol, cinnamaldehyde, hydroxycitronellal, cinnamyl alcohol, a-amylcinnamaldehyde, isoeugenol, eugenol, oak moss, coumarin, lyral, limonene, citronellol, farnesol, citral, a-hexylcinnamicaldehyde, geraniol, cinnamal, cassia aldehyde, hydroxycitronellal, citronellal hydrate, lily aldehyde, oxydihydrocitronellal, allylguaiacol, 2-methoxy-4-allylphenol, 4-hydroxy-3-methoxyallylbenzene, 3-phenylallyl alcohol, 4-propenylguaiacol ,2-methoxy-4-(1-propenyl)phenol , 4-hydroxy-3-methoxypropenylbenzene , amylcinnamaldehyde, amyl cinnamal, jasmine aldehyde , benzylideneheptanal, Cedarwood oil, Santalum album (sandalwood oil), Bisabolol (chamomile oil), the lichen acid mix (containing Atranorin, Egyptian jasmine absolute, synthetic jasmine, juniper tar, lemon oil, menthol, Mentha piperita (peppermint oil), Musk mix, orange oil, alpha-pinene, rose oil, Cananga odorata (ylang-ylang oil). *Environmental factors, season (especially winter), contamination and water features can make skin more susceptible to irritation. * Persoonlijke factoren, sommige onderliggende ziektes of het gebruik van bepaalde medicijnen (zoals orale anticonceptie) kunnen het skinoppervlak aantasten.

Factors that can cause sensitive skin

At the moment, the cause of sensitive skin is not yet well defined, but it is already linked to a number of things:

  • reduced barrier function
  • increased neuro-sensory stimulation
  • an increased immune response
  • an underlying skin disease

The reduced barrier function is the most widely supported theory. In general terms, this hypothesis implies that the permeability of the stratum corneum is increased, so that irritating substances can penetrate the skin more easily than normal.

What do you notice about a reduced barrier function?

  • More moisture loss, so tight skin.
  • Cytokine release (proteins that act as chemical messengers between different cells in the body). Not immediately noticeable.
  • Skin irritation such as burning and itching, not always visible.
  • Eczema, redness, itching and flaking, visible skin symptoms.

The nerve endings in the skin can also play a role. They are responsible for pain, sensation, heat and cold can interact with mast cells, which are part of your immune system in the skin. This leads to increased stimulation. This is new insight. Because no clinical symptoms are recorded in the medical textbooks, the doctor and the patient usually rely on their own (subjective) observations. In some cases, the cause is an underlying skin disease (rosacea, atopic eczema, psoriasis, hives, and dermatitis perioralis) that is diagnosed during a physical examination; this includes a specific treatment for the disease in question.

This is how you test at home whether you are sensitive to a cosmetic product

What Is Sensitive Skin Sensitive Cream Iconic ElementsThe ROAT test is suitable for this (Repeated Open Application Test). And here’s how you do it: Find a piece of normal hairless skin that hasn’t been exposed to the sun recently. A suitable spot could be the hairless side of the forearm, the inside of the elbow, behind the ear, or on the side of the neck.

  • Apply the cosmetic product to an area of approximately 5cmx5cm.
  • If the product is a cleanser or shampoo, wash it off about a minute later.
  • Apply the product to the same spot twice a week for two weeks.
  • If you get irritation at this spot, you have an allergy to that product and you stop the test.
  • If the irritation persists for more than two days even after you have stopped, contact your doctor or dermatologist.

What should and shouldn’t you do with your sensitive skin?


  • Avoid agents that cause irritation with a skin test such as ROAT.
  • If a cosmetic product causes a burning or discomfort sensation upon application, discontinue use immediately.
  • Use as few different products as possible.
  • Watch for skin reactions to alcohol, coffee or spices.


  • Use cosmetics that are easy to remove with water.
  • If you are exposed to air conditioning or highly heated areas, do not hesitate to apply these creams several times a day.
  • Choose a sun protection with only mineral filter.

Sensitive Skin Irritated Skin Eczema Psoriasis

If you suffer more from sensitive skin, Calming cream.

This article was also published on BeautyJournaal.nl (link)

While you are here

The skin flakes, it is dry and itchy. What is this, do I have eczema or very dry skin? There are some clues to tell these two skin conditions apart. The major difference between dry skin and eczema is the presence of inflammation (inflammation). In eczema, the skin barrier does not work properly, which leads to moisture loss from the skin and disturbances in the top layer of skin (epidermis). If your skin is red, itchy, and flaky, it’s probably more than just dry skin and you probably have eczema. Another important clue between eczema and dry skin is that eczema gets worse if not treated properly. It can then lead to other complaints such as tears, cracks, skin thickening and intense itching. People with eczema are also more prone to skin infections due to a disrupted skin barrier. If areas such as elbow creases, knee hollows are also affected. So red, scaly and itchy then chances are it is eczema. More about dry skin or eczema

Picture of Dr. Francis Wu

Dr. Francis Wu

Dr. Francis Wu, een vooraanstaande dermatoloog, is de drijvende kracht achter Iconic Elements. Hij heeft sinds 2004 zijn expertise ingezet om een veilige en effectieve huidverzorgingslijn te creëren, geschikt voor zowel gezonde huid als huidproblemen. Iconic Elements, opgericht in 2016, is de eerste brede skincare lijn in Nederland ontwikkeld door een dermatoloog. Als medisch specialist streeft Dr. Wu naar het bevorderen van het welzijn van mensen door hoogwaardige en effectieve huidverzorgingsproducten te bieden. De proefdiervrije en vegan producten vermijden schadelijke chemicaliën en bevatten natuurlijke ingrediënten.
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