Sensitive skin has always been a fairly common problem. Lately, there has been a slow and widespread increase around the world. According to a report1, 60-70% of women and 50-60% of men around the world suffers from sensitive skin.

For a long time, the prevalence of sensitive skin was underestimated. It is typically not a condition that you will consult for as symptoms are subjective, may occur frequently and are considered normal. Most people tend to think that they don’t need medical attention.

And yet despite it being a "minor problem", it is clear that for people who have sensitive skin, it has a real impact on their quality of life. Sensitive skin plays a major role in their lifestyle choices, influencing their decisions about what foods to eat, what products to buy, what clothing to wear, and even where to go, since indoor and outdoor air can make skin react. Dealing with its consequences everyday can be a real burden for them.

 

Read more in our article "Measuring and alleviating the burden of sensitive skin on daily life"

 

1 Farage MA. The prevalence of sensitive skin. Front Med 2019; 6:98.
Sensitive skin role in lifestyle choices

Sensitive skin symptoms

As a result of the increase in people suffering from it, sensitive skin was qualified in 2017 by the International Forum for the Study of Itch (IFSI) as a legitimate dermatological syndrome.

  • Dr Michèle Sayag, allergologist
    Dr. Michèle Sayag, Medical Strategy Director - BIODERMA.

    Sensitive skin is defined as the appearance of unpleasant sensations including stinging, burning, pain, itching and tingling that occur in response to stimuli that normally should not provoke such sensations. Skin can appear normal, but it’s possible that temporary redness, light and fleeting, may also accompany the other symptoms. It is different to the permanent redness associated with skin conditions such as rosacea.

    Dr. Michèle Sayag, Medical Strategy Director - BIODERMA.

All of these symptoms for sensitive skin can last one, two or even several hours. Haunted by their skin’s reactions, sufferers can be driven to change their skincare routines and even aspects of their lifestyle, in an effort to find relief. The struggle can last a lifetime.

Sensitive skin symptoms

  • Aurélie Guyoux, NAOS Research & Development Director
    Aurélie Guyoux, R&D Director - NAOS.

    Sensitive skin is actually an advantage at the outset. Our skin is our interface with the environment. It provides constant information about the nature of our environment and potential irritations, which triggers appropriate adaptive and protective measures from the body. For example, our skin adapts constantly to warm temperatures thanks to the perspiration mechanism, but also to UV rays thanks to melanin and its oxidative defence. But today, skin has to constantly adapt to many, different potential irritants. Sensitive skin therefore over-reacts with varying intensity to different stimuli in its environment. This exacerbated sensitivity can be regulated.

    Aurélie Guyoux, R&D Director - NAOS.

While studies are still ongoing to fully understand this condition, Laboratoire BIODERMA has recently identified that sensitive skin originates in one of two ways:

There is natural sensitivity, due to a biological dysfunction. In this case, nerve fibres quickly become hyperexcited when exposed to certain triggers, causing skin to overreact and different symptoms to appear. Natural sensitivity tends to be a permanent condition.

Nerve fibres

There is also induced sensitivity, which arises due to a number of environmental and lifestyle factors. In today’s urban environment, your face is continuously exposed to daily irritants – pollution, UV rays, stress, etc. To protect itself, the skin produces free radicals. When these factors that are aggressive for skin become too much, the skin produces too many of these free radicals. This creates oxidative stress, which alters the skin’s protective barrier function so that even more irritants penetrate. Oxidative stress and the altered barrier function together lead to inflammation and sensitised skin. Induced sensitivity can exacerbate natural sensitivity. It can come and go depending on a person’s lifestyle and environment, but is globally on the rise around the world.

Skyline sunrise

In both cases, sensitive skin is out of balance and may not be able to defend itself. In fact, sensitive skin is constantly fighting to achieve a normal, healthy state. When it reacts, it is more difficult for the skin to return to normal by itself. A vicious cycle develops that swings between health and skin reactions - especially when stinging, itching, burning and redness appears, it would mean that all signs of sensitive skin has settled in.

What triggers sensitive skin?

Triggers of sensitive skin vary from a wide range of sources.

Pollution Pollution, various volatile organic compounds, heavy metals, particulate matter can all affect skin.
UV rays UV rays can also impact sensitive skin.
Temperatures Hot or cold temperatures, the wind, humid or dry air, air conditioning, changes in the season can all provoke sensitive skin.
Detergents Detergents, surfactants and other cleaning products can be too harsh on skin.
Hormones Hormones related to pregnancy and menstrual cycles can affect skin. 42% of premenopausal women say their skin feels more sensitive just before or during their menstrual cycle, and over 70% of post-menopausal women say their skin sensitivity increased after menopause².
Lifestyle factors and choices Lifestyle factors and choices such as smoking, contraceptive pills, shaving, clothing, sleep disorders, fatigue and certain foods may also have an effect.
Cosmetics and make-up Cosmetics and make-up may contain irritating molecules such as pigments, preservatives or sulphites. An ultra-gentle, non-irritating cleanser that preserves the skin barrier is essential for sensitive skin.
2 Farage et al. 2020, Laurent Misery et al. 2017

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