How to Know You Have Sensitive Skin

Young fierce-looking woman touching both cheeks

Dry, Tight, Flaky and Peeling Skin

One of the most common symptoms people associate with sensitive skin is skin that is dry, tight, flaky or peeling. Although sensitive skin can experience these problems, there are two major possibilities that aren’t sensitive skin: products that are too harsh for your skin or an allergic reaction to a specific skincare ingredient.

Anti-aging ingredients, like retinol, can be damaging to the moisture barrier of your skin which results in the loss of hydration and moisture. Using harsh products removes your skin’s natural oils and good bacteria leaving your skin more vulnerable to dryness, peeling and even wrinkling. Allergic reactions can come out of nowhere and may be to ingredients like fragrances, preservatives, chemicals or even certain plant extracts. To remedy both harsh products and potential allergies, your best bet is to switch to gentle, mild formulas free from fragrances, common allergens, known irritants and high concentrations of anti-aging ingredients like vitamin A. If using milder products does not improve your skin over a period of a few weeks, it’s possible that the dryness is due to sensitive skin, so it’s a good idea to contact your dermatologist.

Bumps, Ruddiness and Redness

Redness certainly can be a symptom of sensitive skin, but it can occur for a number of other reasons as well including rosacea. Rosacea is a chronic, inflammatory skin condition that can cause redness, acne-like bumps and a stinging feeling. One way to help determine whether your redness is sensitive skin or rosacea is to pay attention to when the redness increases. “Anything that increases blood flow to the face – hot and cold weather, consuming caffeinated drinks or spicy food – makes it worse,” says Dr. Tina Alster MD, a dermatologist in Washington D.C. Using products aimed to calm your skin and reduce redness will help with rosacea, but they may take several months to take full effect. Additionally, New York City dermatologist, Dr. Jeanette Graf, says that using sulfur treatments can help with rosacea and its symptoms.

Itching and Scratching

Sensitive skin sufferers can experience skin that is itchy and scratchy, but more commonly the problem is one of two skin conditions: eczema or psoriasis. Eczema is incredibly common with about one in 10 people experiencing it. Eczema often manifests in areas where your skin is thin or where skin is dry often. Psoriasis usually appears in the form of raised scales that are very common on the scalp, elbows and knees. Both of these skin conditions result in dry, itchy skin and a visit to your dermatologist can help properly diagnose and treat these conditions.

Although sensitive skin is common, it is not as prevalent as many believe. “Everyone comes to me saying ‘I have the most sensitive skin!’” says Dr. Alster, but often the problem she discovers is not sensitive skin at all. Celebrity facialist Joanna Vargas has this advice for determining whether or not you have sensitive skin: “Brush your fingers across the side of your face with light to medium pressure. If the skin turns red, it’s sensitive. You know you have sensitive skin if the majority of the products you place on your skin cause stinging or redness.” Whether or not you have sensitive skin, the number one tip from dermatologists is to be kind and gentle to your skin to avoid stressing it out!

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