The Difference Between Sensitive and Sensitized Skin

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The topic of skin can be a touchy subject, especially for the growing number of people who report having sensitive skin. In fact, according to a study published in the International Journal of Dermatology, more than 44 percent of nearly 1,000 participants identified themselves as having sensitive or very sensitive skin. Sensitive skin may be a common issue today, but it’s also one of the toughest to define.

“In these days of modern technology and extreme weather, it’s becoming more evident that skin sensitivity is a growing problem,” says Janel Luu, CEO of Le Mieux Cosmetics and PurErb. “Throughout my travels, I’ve noticed on a global scale that in spas and at home, people are exfoliating too often, or using multiple exfoliants or acids. Another big concern is that skin needs to have sufficient time to heal naturally. Without that recovery time, inflammation increases and sensitive skin is the result. In spas, skin may be labeled as sensitive when it’s not clear what is causing the problem—there are many triggers for sensitive and sensitized skin, ranging from a particular ingredient that causes the reaction to one of the many lifestyle factors that can create inflammation.”

When treating clients who define their skin as sensitive, it’s important to recognize the difference between sensitive and sensitized skin. According to Natalie Pergar, lead skin care trainer at Eminence Organic Skin Care, both sensitive and sensitized skin share several of the same symptoms, but their root causes differ. “Sensitive skin is a skin type and is caused by a genetic predisposition to topical sensitivity and irritation,” she says. “It is also a common symptom of genetic conditions like psoriasis, eczema, and rosacea. You cannot change your skin type, but you can adjust your daily habits and skincare routine to manage its symptoms. Sensitized skin, on the other hand, is a skin condition characterized by skin irritation that builds over time due to environmental influences and lifestyle choices.”


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Reading product labels is especially important for people with sensitive and sensitized skin, as certain ingredients can easily irritate and inflame skin. Luu suggests avoiding products with any natural or synthetic fragrance as well as products that use parabens as preservatives, which can trigger a flareup. In addition, products with retinol or botanical extracts that include cinnamon, geranium, grapefruit, lemon, or peppermint can trigger an allergic reaction. Says Luu, “If unsure, do a patch test where you apply a small amount of the product to the inside of the forearm to check for a reaction.”


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