Sensitive vs Sensitized Skin

Are you mistaking your sensitized skin as “sensitive skin type?” Most of the time – it’s not your skin type – and it’s totally fixable. So, what’s the difference?

Redness can indicate sensitive or sensitized skin

Sensitive skin is a lifelong, internal issue and is more common among individuals with fair skin. Signs of sensitive skin include redness, rosacea, ruddiness, thin skin, rashes, and visible blood vessels / broken capillaries. Sensitive skin can be treated with gentle, hydrating products. Individuals with sensitive skin have to be mindful of any triggers that increase their sensitivity. Avoiding heat, sun exposure, aggressive products, and food triggers will decrease flare ups. Common food triggers include alcohol, dairy, gluten, and sugar.

Sensitized skin is a treatable, external issue and can be acute or chronic. Signs of sensitized skin include redness, stinging, breakouts, dryness, flakiness, and tight skin. Sensitized skin is caused by a compromised skin barrier. Our skin naturally forms a lipid barrier – a layer of natural oils to protect the deeper layers from environmental irritants. Sensitized skin is caused by a disruption of the skin barrier function, allowing harmful irritants and pollutants to penetrate the skin. The skin barrier also protects the body from water loss – a compromised barrier will lead to dehydration and dry skin, and is more vulnerable to sun damage.

Harsh products, sun exposure, over-exfoliation, smoking, and stress are all factors than can lead to a damaged barrier. Treating your skin too aggressively can lead to a weak barrier. Skin barrier can be repaired by keeping the skin hydrated, within a healthy pH level, and using gentle products. It will take at least 2 weeks to fully repair – during that time, exfoliation and harsh products should be avoided. AHA’s and BHA’s (Glycolic acid, lactic acid, salicylic acid, etc.) and Retinol products should be avoided during the healing process. Cosmetics can irritate a damaged barrier, so I recommend avoiding makeup, if possible.

For the first 2 weeks of barrier repair, I recommend cleansing with a gentle cream cleanser morning and night. After cleansing, you have the option of using a serum. I recommend a B3 Clarifying Complex (containing vitamin B3, also known as Niacinamide), which will repair lipid barrier and reduce any lasting redness. Next, you will need to moisturize and protect. An antioxidant moisturizer, containing Vitamins C, E, or B3, will protect skin from any further free radical damage. Moisturizer should be used morning and night to keep skin hydrated. A Zinc based sunscreen should be applied in the morning, to protect from sun damage. Sensitized skin is likely to suffer from sun damage since the skin barrier is so thin.

Since the skin barrier is composed of lipids (fats), it's important to be consuming essential fatty acids and Omega-3 during the healing process. Foods such as avocado, salmon, nuts, and seeds are good dietary sources of Omega-3. Make a habit of staying hydrated and drinking water before you get thirsty to avoid skin dehydration.

After the first 2 weeks, the skin barrier and treatment plan should be reassessed. Everyone’s skin is different, so from here, everything should be customized to address your skin type, concerns, and goals. I offer complimentary consultations to go over your skin history, home care, concerns and goals, and my recommendations for your treatment plan and home care plan. Virtual and In-Person (Highlands Ranch / Denver, Colorado) consultations available.


Farage, M. A. (2019). The Prevalence of Sensitive Skin. Frontiers in Medicine, 6. doi:10.3389/fmed.2019.00098