Sensitive skin is a term used to describe a skin condition of people who easily break out in rashes and get blotchy, itchy or stinging skin in response to a product.  Sensitive skin reactions are commonly caused by skin disorders or allergic skin reactions (eczema, rosacea, or allergic contact dermatitis), overly dry or injured skin, or by excessive exposure to skin-damaging environmental factors (sun, wind, excessive heat or cold).  Genetics may also play a role but this is less well-defined.  It’s difficult for a dermatologist to test for sensitive skin because so many factors can cause it. In some instances, patch testing (where the doctor puts a lot of little patches on your back containing different ingredients) may identify contact allergens that are causing or contributing to sensitive skin.

If your skin is itchy or red after applying a new product, then yes, I would say that you have sensitive skin.  My advice would be to try using less of the product (maybe every other day instead of daily) or stop using the product all together.  Try to avoid products that contain fragrances.   Moisturizing sensitive skin is important as dry skin will be more sensitive.

Do I need to see a dermatologist for sensitive skin?

Probably not.  Most people will experiment with different products until they find one that doesn’t cause irritation and will only see a dermatologist if their skin irritation worsens.  If you do decide to see a dermatologist, you will first be checked for skin conditions such as eczema and rosacea.  A dermatologist can recommend milder skin care products that will be less likely to irritate your skin and may suggest a cortisone cream.

What are sensitive skin products?  Do they work? 

Identifying the best products to care for your sensitive skin can be a difficult task.  Skincare products that are specifically labeled for sensitive skin will likely have minimal ingredients and will also contain ingredients that are known to soothe skin.  If you have sensitive skin, I think that it’s really important that you opt for clean skin care. When I say clean, what I mean is skin care that is free of common preservatives and fragrances that people commonly become allergic too. One mistake that many patients make is opting for natural products with lots of essential oils, which they think will soothe their sensitive skin. While this may work for a small subset, for most with sensitive skin this can lead to severe contact allergies and rash. If you are worried that you have contact allergies, I would recommend the Vanicream skin care line. It is free of preservatives, fragrances, masking fragrances and much much more. It is also relatively inexpensive. They offer just about anything you’d like to put on your skin, including shaving cream. You can find Vanicream moisturizers in most stores like Target, CVS, and Amazon. However, to have access to their full skin care line, you’d have to buy it online.

With any new products, you should perform a patch test on your arm before using it on your face.  The American Academy of Dermatology recommends testing the product and waiting up to 48 hours to see how your skin reacts.

How should I care for my sensitive skin?

If your skin is easily irritated, you will want to avoid overly abrasive scrubs, astringents, and toners that contain irritating ingredients (like alcohol and menthol).  Stick to warm water and never use steam or ice on the skin.  An over-the-counter cortisone cream can be applied to any existing irritation that is not on the face. Over the counter cortisone creams should not be used on the face because they can cause another type of harmful rash called steroid rosacea.  If you use over the counter steroids on a rash on your body be sure to consult your dermatologist if irritation persists or doesn’t resolve in a few weeks.

Do you have sensitive skin?  I’d love to hear what products you have found to work well, share in the comments below or email them to me at