Hypoallergenic, gentle, gluten-free, natural, clean…these days, you’d be hard-pressed to find a skincare product that doesn’t trumpet at least one of these buzzwords. Why? Because your skin is requesting it, apparently. A whopping 71 percent of adults report having sensitive skin, according to research.
Turns out, there are two kinds of issues—sensitive and sensitized—and it’s very easy to confuse the two. “Sensitive skin is a descriptive term more than it is a medical diagnosis,” says Alicia D. Zalka, MD, a dermatologist in Connecticut and the founder of Surface Deep. While there may not be any specific tests for it, derms will determine if it’s an issue by asking patients if they have redness, itching, flaking, or other responses to products, says Dr. Zalka.
On the other hand, “sensitized skin means you have developed an allergy to something,” says Purvi Parikh, MD, an allergist and immunologist with Allergy & Asthma Network. “This is an immune reaction that can be caused by food, airborne allergens, medications, or product ingredients.” Overall, anyone can have sensitive skin, while sensitized skin is genetic and caused by something external that suddenly starts bothering you.
So how do I know if I have a sensitive-esque problem?
Most often, you’ll notice symptoms on the face, neck, hands, or underarms, says Dr. Zalka. There are also multiple health conditions that can cause or coincide with skin issues, including atopic dermatitis (eczema), rosacea, psoriasis, allergic contact dermatitis, and hives.
Worth noting: On darker skin tones, symptoms or reactions can be trickier to spot, says dermatologist Lian A. Mack, MD, founder of the skin center GlamDerm. But “while it may be difficult to see pink or red, the skin may have scaling or itching that can also indicate an allergy or irritation,” she adds.
Also, symptoms don’t always show up ASAP. Sometimes it’s hours or even days later. Since blanket “skin issues” can be connected to a host of things, check with an expert rather than just deeming your skin sensitive and acting accordingly.
Why does everyone think they have sensitive skin?
Short answer: social media! Clips on YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram have led to more awareness around these skin issues, for sure. But taking advice from anyone other …….