Picture of Author: <b> Karen Austin
Author: Karen Austin

Is your skin sensitive or sensitised?


At Richmond Skin & Laser we estimate that at least 50% of the people we meet say that their skin is sensitive. In fact, a true sensitive skin is much less common than you might think.

Contrary to popular belief, having an allergic reaction to a particular skin care product is not a sign of sensitive skin. It is often a sign of a sensitised skin, or that your skins immune system just simply doesn’t like one of the ingredients.


Sensitive skinSensitised
GeneticResult of environmental factors
Life longTemporary or transient
Associated with multiple allergies and eczemaSeems to happen randomly, even if you have used the product before
Skin can only tolerate gentle/mild skin careDoesn’t seem to be linked to any certain ingredients


It is important to remember that an allergic reaction or irritation is not the product or brands fault, it is just your skins immune system being over-active. Majority of the time skin care products are formulated to reduce the chances of reactions or irritation (they want everyone to be able to use them). If skin care companies removed every ingredient that someone has ever had a reaction to, there would be no ingredients left to use! It would be like banning the production of chocolate because a percentage of the population gets sick from lactose!

We would also like to mention that having a breakout after starting new skin care is not an allergic reaction. It is actually a good sign that the product is making changes to the skin (but that’s a story for another day).

If you are now unsure if you have sensitive skin, keep reading to understand the differences.

True sensitive skin…

Someone with sensitive skin is usually born with it, often inherited from parents. These people will typically have very fair skin, fair hair and are of Northern European ancestry. Their skin is naturally thinner and has a higher amount of blood vessels in the upper layers making them prone to redness.

Due to their skin being thinner, a sensitive skin has a less effective outer layer making it easier for irritants to penetrate. This means the skin is affected by pollens, pollution, bacteria, chemicals and skin care resulting in rashes, scales, blisters and inflammation.

People who suffer from sensitive skin usually also suffer eczema, psoriasis, hay fever and many other/multiple allergies. Basically, their immune system is hyper-sensitive, or overactive.

Before we begin to understand what sensitised skin is, we must first understand the main purpose of your skin; to act as a barrier between your body and the outside world. 

The skin as a barrier…

Our skin is the largest organ in our body, and among other purposes one of its main functions is to act as a barrier. Skin helps to keep bacteria, fungus and parasites from getting in (when it is healthy).

Skin is comprised of billions of skin cells that are constantly being grown from the basal layer of your skin. These cells keep moving up towards the top of the skin until it reaches the outer most layer – the stratum corneum – where it is now flattened out and considered a ‘dead skin cell’.

Up until it reaches the top layer of the skin, skin cells are ‘glued’ together and can be likened to a bricks and mortar structure. This glue loosens as the cells reach the surface where they are able to shed off.

Along with the skin cells and their glue, we also have sebaceous glands (oil glands) and sweat glands. The oil and sweat produced by your skin is designed to create a second barrier for the skin. This part of the skin is called ‘the acid mantle’, a liquid barrier that is the first line of defence to protect against harmful invaders.

Sensitised skin…

A sensitised skin is a result of environmental factors and is becoming increasingly common. This can happen due to a number of reasons, including over exfoliation, professional treatments such as chemical peels and laser resurfacing, stress, smoking and alcohol.

Someone with sensitised skin has disrupted the barrier of their skin, the most common cause we come across is from over-exfoliating or using incorrect cleansers. An impaired barrier means that topical products (ie. your skincare) are able to penetrate deeper than they are supposed to.

This leads to irritation, redness, inflammation and even rashes. Sensitised skin will bounce back to normal once their skin barrier is repaired and more often than not, you will be able to use the products that caused the flare up shortly after.

In conclusion, a sensitised skin is often confused for sensitive skin. Sensitised skin is much more common and is caused by environmental factors impairing the skins barrier. Whereas, sensitive skin is most often a lifelong condition and is (relatively) uncommon.

If you think you may have sensitised skin, it is time to understand how to repair your skins barrier. Book in for your FREE skin consultation with one of our expert skin specialists, it always pays to get some professional advice and be educated about YOUR skin.

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