Sensitive skin is a common complaint that is on the increase globally, especially among women. Central heating, air conditioning, hot and cold weather, harsh chemicals, and skincare and cosmetic products, can all irritate sensitive skin.

Most common on the face and hands, sensitive skin can affect the whole body. It is typically dry, thin, and prone to allergic reactions. The symptoms most often associated with this type of skin are red, dry and blotchy skin. Fair-skinned, blue-eyed people with thin skin that burns easily in the sun are most likely to have sensitive skin.

Due to the impaired barrier of sensitive skin, potential irritants can penetrate through to the blood vessels and nerve endings beneath the surface, causing inflammation and discomfort. Most people with sensitive skin tend to react to a wide range of products and should avoid skincare and household products containing fragrance, preservatives and other known allergens.

Signs & Symptoms

  • Dry rough patches on the skin
  • Taut and itchy skin
  • Burning and stinging
  • Blushing and flushing
  • Redness and puffiness

How to Prevent and Treat Sensitive Skin

  • Avoid scented skincare products, perfumes and cosmetics
  • Use skin-friendly products containing only a few ingredients
  • Look for gentle clothing detergents and conditioners/softeners that will not cause a rash or itching
  • Limit your bath or shower time to five to ten minutes and use warm, rather than hot water
  • Avoid strong soaps and harsh exfoliants that can strip oil from your skin, opt for mild fragrance-free cleansers
  • Apply shaving cream, lotion or gel before shaving and use a clean, sharp razor. Shave in the direction the hair grows, not against it
  • After washing or bathing, gently pat or blot your skin dry with a towel and moisturise immediately
  • Use a good quality, unscented moisturising cream or lotion to reduce dryness and itching
  • Choose smooth, soft, natural fabrics, such as fine cotton and silk or rayon and linen
  • Try to drink eight glasses of water a day to keep your skin hydrated
  • Don’t overheat your home in winter
  • Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air inside your home
  • Topical remedies such as hydrocortisone cream, can help reduce itching, pain and redness
  • Do not use waterproof cosmetics
  • Throw out old cosmetics — they can spoil or become contaminated
  • Always do a patch test before using a new, unfamiliar skincare product
  • Wear a sunscreen with a SPF of at least 30 all year round

If sensitive skin is a persistent problem that interferes with normal life, seek professional medical advice, as there may be an underlying problem that can be treated.