So You Think You Have Sensitive Skin?

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So You Think You Have Sensitive Skin?

How to read the symptoms to ensure that you didn’t self-diagnose wrongly.

“Sensitive” is an over-used term especially where skin type is concerned. Many claim to have sensitive skin just because they may have encountered an incident or two with a product. The truth of the matter is that most people who claim to have sensitive skin actually don’t.

What’s really happening is that our skin’s sensitivity may be heightened because of over-use of products, doing too many things to our face, trying out too many different products or simply irritations by pollutants in the air.

Signs and symptoms that you could be suffering from skin sensitivity


– Flushes easily and redness – flushing and redness are common signs whether you’re genetically predisposed or due to a reaction to certain ingredients or to heat. Those with truly sensitive skin will have this reaction often. But those with infrequent skin “sensitivity” to harsh ingredients don’t meet the criteria of sensitive skin. But be sure to protect your skin by applying sunscreen with SPF 30 and above before going out.

– Rashes and red bumps – Frequent rashes and tiny red bumps are tell-tale signs of sensitivity. Be sure to perform a test of new products on your jaw area or underarm and wait 24 hours to see if a rash develops before applying it all over your face.

– Dry patches, tautness and itching – This could be due to an allergic reaction to a topical ingredient like fragrance, preservative, chemical, or even a plant extract you’re newly sensitive to, or your anti-aging regime may be too harsh. However, it could also be a sign of atopic dermatitis (eczema) or psoriasis. In this case, you don’t have sensitive skin. What’s important to note is that when skin dryness persists, flaking may develop. When you put dryness and irritation together, they are a sign of eczema where there is a breakdown of skin barrier. Your skin is unable to retain moisture. For treatment, you may need a topical steroid to provide relief.

– Stinging or burning sensations – Those with sensitive skin tend to have a thinner skin barrier which is why your skin may feel a stinging or burning sensation when reacting to a certain topical ingredient in a product. Cut back on the layers of products, keep your skincare routine very simple and stick with gentle, hypoallergenic products.

So how do you know if you have sensitive skin? Dr SK Tan, Medical Director helps to answer some burning questions.

“I feel a slight tingling / burning sensation. Does that mean I have sensitive skin?”

SK: Not necessarily so. It may just be irritation from some ingredient in the product being used.

“What should I do when there’s a rash or burning sensation after putting on a product?”

SK: Stop using the product, wash off thoroughly and consult your doctor. Bring along the product so that the ingredient list may be scrutinized for any potential irritant.

“Is sensitivity a skin condition or type? Can it be cured?”

SK: Most individuals who claim to have ‘sensitive’ skin experience irritation from certain ingredients/products. Truly sensitive skin is found in people with atopic eczema or rosacea where many, if not most, products produce a stinging or burning sensation.
Atopic eczema and rosacea cannot be cured but can be controlled with appropriate treatment.

“Can I do exfoliation or is it a strict no-no? What are the things to avoid?”

SK: Exfoliation would make the skin more sensitive so it is not recommended. Avoid any cosmetic skincare products. If you’d like to try new products, go slow by using one at a time. This way it’s easier for you to know if that product has caused an irritation.

“How do I know that the reaction is due to an allergy or skin sensitivity?”

SK: Although there is a correlation between having allergies and sensitive skin, particularly eczema, it is best to consult your doctor and give him/her a detailed skin history.

“Do I have to look for sensitive-skin specific products or are baby and organic products mild and gentle enough?”

SK: Baby products are, in general, fairly safe, though some ingredients may still irritate. ‘Organic’ does not mean anything!

Thing is, once your skin starts to calm down, you might consider yourself belonging to the sensitive-skin category. But then, there’s a good chance that you might not. So when in doubt, always seek professional medical help to get a proper and accurate skin diagnosis.

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