Globally, more than 40% of the population say they have sensitive skin. While sensitive skin isn’t really a clinical term, it is a common expression, and typically refers to skin that is easily reactive and more prone to inflammation. As for what causes the skin to become sensitive, there are many contributing factors – particularly products that the skin comes into direct contact with.
Surprisingly, the environment can actually play a fairly significant role in triggering sensitive skin and susceptible to other external irritants.
Where you live, for example, could be one cause. If you happen to live in a big city, you’re likely to be exposed to more pollutants, which can cause skin sensitivity. Some of the pollutants that are most commonly known to be problematic as a result of city living include dust, exhaust fumes, and cigarette smoke. These particular pollutants can stick to the skin, causing the pores to become blocked and lead to it becoming irritated. The longer your skin is exposed to these types of pollutants, the more likely you are to develop symptoms of skin irritation.
The weather can also cause skin sensitivity. If it’s sunny out, UV rays can cause damage to your skin’s protective mechanisms and weaken it. To prevent the skin from becoming irritated as a result of sun exposure, you should always wear a daily, broad spectrum SPF. It’s not just warm weather that can cause skin sensitivity, however, as even cooler, windier weather can, too. When we’re exposed to cooler temperatures, our blood vessels contract to keep us warm, which can cause the skin’s moisture barrier to weaken which is what results in dry and sensitive skin. So, just as you would protect your skin from the sun, you also need to protect it from cooler elements such as wind by wearing appropriate clothing (sweater, winter jacket, scarf, and gloves.)
While we look to certain topical products such as creams, lotions and oils to improve our skin, some of these may actually be contributing to your skin problems. When you develop skin sensitivity as a result of something that has touched the skin, this is known as contact dermatitis – which is used to describe skin that has become red, itchy and/or irritated.
Products that are commonly known to cause skin sensitivity include certain skincare products, cosmetics, deodorants, and hair products such as shampoos and conditioners. If you find your skin is irritated after using any of the aforementioned products, the best thing to do is to ensure you shop for products that contain the least ingredients possible and ones that are designed specifically for individuals with sensitive skin (packaging will often say this, so it can be easy to differentiate between what might be good for you vs. what might not.)
While the aforementioned factors are just some of the most common reasons why the skin might become sensitive, those aren’t the only reasons. In fact, if your skin tends to be more sensitive to things than not, and you haven’t been able to find much or any relief, then it could be an indicator that you’re dealing with an underlying condition such as eczema, psoriasis, or rosacea – all of which can mimic that of sensitive skin, but also come along with their own set of symptoms. For example, symptoms of eczema include dry, itchy, and inflamed skin; symptoms of psoriasis include scaly, dry skin in addition to rashes; while rosacea (which affects the face) is characterized by red skin, swelling, and blood vessels may also be visible.