How Do I Know If I Have Sensitive Skin?

March 28, 2024
Cat Matta
By: Cat Matta | by L'Oréal
Sensitive Skin 101: What It Is and What You Can Do About It

You’ve probably heard the saying, “being comfortable in your own skin.” But for those with sensitive skin, comfort isn’t always within close reach. And if you’ve ever asked yourself the question, “How do I know if I have sensitive skin?” you wouldn’t be alone. In general, up to 70% of women and 60% of men report having some level of sensitive skin.

Thankfully, there’s no reason to suffer in silence. Ahead, we’ll guide you through all things sensitive skin, including how to tell if you have sensitive skin (Hint: It’s largely subjective), what you can do about it, some of our favorite products for sensitive skin, and tips for helping to keep signs of sensitive skin at bay.

What Does “Sensitive Skin” Mean?

Experts define sensitive skin pretty broadly as experiencing an unpleasant feeling—such as burning, pain, stinging, itching, tingling, dryness, and the like—when you come into contact with something that should otherwise be benign. Unlike naturally having a dry skin type, for instance, sensitive skin flares up in response to external factors. Reactions to irritants you’re susceptible to can occur on any area of your body, though sensitive face skin is the most common.

Facial skin is packed with nerve endings, which can make you more acutely aware when it’s irritated. It also has a thinner protective barrier than other areas of your body, which means that the skin on your face is more vulnerable to disruption. Sensitive skin symptoms might also come about when we encounter different climates—indoors and out—throughout our lives, as well as a whole host of other environmental factors, like pollution. And, if you’re like us, you likely apply more skincare and beauty products to your face than anywhere else on your body. (Not that there's anything wrong with that!)

How To Tell If You Have Sensitive Skin

No matter if you have sensitive face skin or sensitivity anywhere else on your body, there are one of two sensitivity reactions: subjective, invisible symptoms (in other words, how your skin feels) and objective, visible signs (e.g., how it looks) We’ll explain both in detail ahead.

What does sensitive skin feel like?

When it comes to determining if you have a sensitive skin type, first, let your senses do the talking. A hallmark of sensitive skin is discomfort that arises from coming into contact with a chemical or physical irritant, which can happen without there being a clear, visible reaction. Some common physical symptoms of sensitive skin include:

  • Irritation
  • Burning
  • Tingling
  • Dryness
  • Itching

Try taking note of what your skin is telling you and when. If your skin starts to howl after applying a new product, especially one with fragrance, soap, or alcohol, there’s a good chance it’s a prime offender. Ditto with anything else that touches your skin, from detergents to certain fabrics you don. Even changes in temperature and humidity can rile sensitive skin up.

However, keep in mind that not all reactions to irritants are immediate. Some symptoms may occur within minutes of coming into contact with the trigger while others may happen hours later or even after repeated use of a product, resulting in a cumulative reaction. If you think delayed reactions might be the case, try jotting down when you experience signs of sensitive skin to see if you can detect a pattern of when they occur.

What does sensitive skin look like?

While signs of sensitive skin can vary wildly from person to person, there are a few symptoms that tend to pop up more frequently. So, if you suspect you have sensitive skin, see if any of the following visible sensitive skin symptoms sound familiar.

Many of these physical signs can coincide with other skin concerns, so if you’re unsure whether your woes are due to sensitivity or something else, it may be time to have your dermatologist weigh in.

What To Do If You Have Sensitive Skin

In addition to identifying what the reasons for sensitive skin are in your own unique situation, the key to managing sensitive skin lies in the products you choose to—and not to—use. Simplify your routine and avoid products that contain alcohol, added scents, or other potentially irritating ingredients. By using the right products, you might just find relief.

And remember, in addition to certain products or ingredients, your environment can prime sensitive skin for a reaction. This includes humidity levels, extreme temperatures, wind, and sun exposure. Plus, pollution can contribute to sensitive skin, especially if you live in a densely populated urban setting. So to keep your skin looking and feeling its best, it’s a good idea to avoid these stressors (when possible).

6 of Our Gentle Skincare Faves

If you’re looking for skincare that's gentle on sensitive skin, you’re in for a treat. Below, we’re sharing six of our favorite gentle products suitable for easily irritated skin.

IT Cosmetics Bye Bye Redness Serum

Help say sayonara to sensitive, red skin with this lightweight, skin-calming serum. The green-tinted, light-reflecting formula instantly neutralizes the look of facial redness, while the calming serum helps soothe sensitivity and strengthen your skin barrier within an hour of application. With continued use—a week or more—you should see an overall reduction in facial redness and skin that looks more clear, smooth, and even-toned.

Follow it up with IT Cosmetics Bye Bye Redness Neutralizing Color-Correcting Cream. This hydrating, skin-soothing moisturizer tamps down on facial redness from rosacea, broken capillaries, blemishes, irritated skin, and more while delivering lasting, full-coverage, color correction.

Sensitive Skin 101: What It Is and What You Can Do About It

Thayers Natural Remedies Hydrating Milky Face Wash

Removing makeup doesn’t have to be harsh on your skin. This face wash helps skin feel immediately hydrated and soothed while removing makeup and impurities. The gentle, milky formula, blended with snow mushroom, hyaluronic acid and elderflower water, cushions skin as it cleanses to avoid disrupting the skin barrier, so skin does not feel stripped or dry.

CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser

Gently cleanse and help replenish your sensitive skin with this non-stripping face wash from CeraVe. It contains three essential ceramides and hyaluronic acid and helps lock in moisture to help restore your skin’s natural protective barrier. The ultra-mild formula is non-comedogenic, fragrance-free, and boasts the National Eczema Association’s seal of acceptance—so you can use it knowing it won’t cause your sensitivity to flare up.

Sensitive Skin 101: What It Is and What You Can Do About It

CeraVe Moisturizing Cream

Help restore your skin’s barrier with this rich yet non-greasy daily moisturizer. The fast-absorbing formula stars hyaluronic acid, petrolatum, and the brand’s signature trio of ceramides and bathes the skin in deep, long-lasting hydration. Add it to your daily routine for skin that looks and feels smoother, more supple, and healthier.

Thayers Milky Hydrating Face Toner with Snow Mushroom and Hyaluronic Acid

Give your skin the moisture it craves and 48 hours of hydration—even without an additional moisturizer—with this gentle, creamy ph-balanced milky face toner. Blended with snow mushroom, hyaluronic acid, and elderflower, this formula is also free of alcohol, fragrance, phthalates, and parabens. Your skin will drink it up for all-day hydration and a 35% boost in moisture levels.*

*Results based on an instrumental test vs. untreated skin.

Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Skin Barrier Repair Balm with Squalane

Deeply hydrate your skin with this lightweight, invisible balm while improving the function of your skin’s moisture barrier 5-fold.*. This formula with squalane, ceramides, and glacial glycoprotein provides all-day moisture. And, it blends flawlessly under or over makeup for on-the-go skin hydration whenever you need it.

*Based on an instrumental test measuring improvement in moisture barrier function four hours after a single application compared to untreated skin.

Sensitive Skin 101: What It Is and What You Can Do About It

5 Tips for Managing Sensitive Skin

Now that you’re armed with knowledge about sensitive skin and some products to help you get relief, there are a few more things you can do in your daily life to help your skin along the way.

1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

There’s a reason your skin’s protective layer is called the “moisture barrier.” Staying hydrated and well-moisturized can help get and keep it in good shape, which in turn can make your skin look and feel healthier. You can also up your skin hydration ante by using a humidifier to help avoid getting dry, red sensitive skin.

2. Only use gentle, fragrance- and alcohol-free products

We know we’ve already hammered this point home. But it bears repeating. Fragranced products, like soaps with a deodorant effect, are generally too harsh for use on sensitive skin. And alcohol is generally drying, which could disrupt your skin barrier and lead to more sensitivity.

3. Turn down the water temp

A steamy, hot shower or bath may feel like heaven, but it can also wreak havoc on your skin’s barrier. Hot water can aggravate any type of skin, so try to dial down the temp to set your sensitive skin journey up for success.

4. Limit sun exposure

Limiting the amount of time you spend out in the sun—and using plenty of sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher when you do—helps protect your sensitive skin from getting even more irritated.

5. Destress as best you can

Easier said than done, we know. But stress can also disrupt skin barrier function. When we’re stressed out, our bodies tend to release fight-or-flight hormones like cortisol. This can trigger an immune response that promotes inflammation and irritation. So, try your best to give yourself some daily downtime to rest, relax, and unwind.

5 Common Myths About Sensitive Skin

You may have heard some rumors about sensitive skin flying around out there (like only certain skin types can experience sensitivity). We’re here to do some much-needed myth-busting. Keep reading to help get some facts straight about sensitive skin.

Myth #1. All sensitive skin is the same

Think of the term “sensitive skin” as an umbrella under which many different types of skin sensitivities reside. Since there’s no official way to diagnose it—and there are potentially countless triggers—individual experiences with a sensitive skin type can vary widely.

Myth #2. Only dry skin can be sensitive

If your skin is dry, it can certainly feel more sensitive, leading to a tight feeling, itchiness, cracked skin, or flaking, scaling, and peeling. And both dry skin and sensitive skin are likely the result of a malfunctioning skin barrier. But other skin types, such as normal, combination, and oily can also be sensitive. However, as we previously mentioned, sensitive skin is more prone to reacting to external irritants, as opposed to being an intrinsic skin type.

Myth #3. Sensitive skin should only cleansed with water

While you’ll definitely want to stay away from harsh cleansers, or ones with known irritants like fragrance or alcohol, there are plenty of gentle cleansers made just for those with sensitive skin and/or with skin-soothing benefits.


No need to worry about this sensitive skin myth. Sure, like with any other products, there are some that you’ll want to steer clear of to help reduce the chance of your skin getting irritated. So, look for non-comedogenic products that won’t clog your pores, as well as formulas made specifically for sensitive skin.

Myth #5. Sensitive skin will last a lifetime

This one’s a bit tricky, but the answer is actually: not necessarily. Since there are so many potential causes of sensitive skin—chemical, physical, environmental, and even stress-related—the staying power of sensitive skin is different for everyone. One thing is for sure, though: If you can identify what’s causing your skin to become irritated and steer clear of it, or simply use products formulated specifically for sensitive skin, the chances of your skin flaring up may diminish.

Next Up: Our Favorite Calming Products to Help You De-Stress

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