What Type of Sensitive Skin Do You Have?

Those who have sensitive skin all report similar symptoms: redness, irritation, inflammation and the general feeling that their skin is “one size too small.” But the underlying cause of such reactions is varied—and identifying the cause of the sensitivity plays the biggest role in honing in on how to treat the skin. “Ninety-eight percent of those who identify as having sensitive skin, have one of three types,” says Mount Kisko, NY, dermatologist David E. Bank, MD. Below, the doctor breaks down the causes—and solutions.

Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema)

People who have eczema first discover the condition as early as infancy, and are prone to having sensitive skin for their whole life. “This is a genetic condition that causes skin on the face and body to feel very dry with a sandpaper texture,” explains Dr. Bank. “Those who suffer from eczema have a problem with their skin’s outer barrier function and their skin has trouble retaining water, leading to dehydration. The way to handle and treat it is by being placed on the simplest of routines and using the most mild of cleansers and liberal applications of quality soothing moisturizers. If your skin flares up and becomes inflamed or itchy, you may have to use topical cortisone creams prescribed by a dermatologist.”

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Irritant Contact Dermatitis

There are certain materials–for example, a Brillo pad or rubbing alcohol–that when applied or rubbed onto skin in sufficient quantities will cause irritation for everyone. Those who have sensitive skin, however, have a much lower threshold for when that irritation occurs. “Someone with sensitive skin will react much quicker to certain irritants than those with normal skin,” explains Dr. Banks. “Some of the most common irritants that cause reactions include soap, alcohol and exfoliating products. Those who have sensitive skin can tolerate these ingredients in much, much lower quantities, so it’s best to avoid those ingredients in your skin care products.”

Allergic Contact Dermatitis

The third type of sensitive skin care irritation is caused by an allergic reaction to something that has come into contact with skin, resulting in sensitivity, redness, inflammation and raw patches. “The most common skin allergies that many people are prone to are fragrances (both synthetic and natural) and certain preservatives such as parabens,” says Dr. Bank. “Anyone who suffers from allergic contact dermatitis should always take care to avoid products that contain fragrances or parabens and see their dermatologist for further allergy testing.”


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