Is Your Skin Sensitive or Sensitized? Here’s How To Know and How To Deal

Have you ever noticed that your skin reacts differently at different times? When you’re stressed, it might be more likely to break out. When you have a cold, it can become dry and flaky. And even when you’re on top of your usual skincare routine, sometimes the results just aren’t there.

When it comes down to it, your skin is sensitive—but there are different types of skin sensitivity. So what’s the difference between sensitive and sensitized skin? And how do these differences affect how you take care of your skin?

First off: what is “sensitive skin”?

Most people who would label their skin as “sensitive” are actually referring to sensitized skin. Sensitized skin is characterized by symptoms like irritation, redness, itching or burning. It may look and feel dry, rough or tight. It may also have visible signs of irritation such as rosacea, flushing or broken capillaries.

Sensitive vs. sensitized: what’s the difference?

Why might your skin react this way? Sensitized skin occurs when something in your environment—say a new soap or cleanser—causes an allergic reaction, causing inflammation in

My skin is so sensitive I can’t even look at it without it breaking out.

This is one of my all-time favorite quotes, because most people think their skin sensitivity is just a simple condition of the skin that can be dealt with by using regular ole’ over-the-counter cleansers and creams. Unfortunately, this isn’t always true.

The truth is that many of us have sensitive skin, but not all of us have sensitive skin. Sensitive skin is a very real condition, while sensitized skin is a reaction we cause to our own skin. If you have sensitive skin, your skin will react to external factors like pollution or even the environment. You might be allergic to certain ingredients or your skincare routine might trigger irritation. In this case, it is important for you to identify which products are causing irritation, as well as any environmental triggers (like pollution or dust) to get your skin back into balance.

On the other hand, if you have sensitized skin, you will notice that you experience more flare ups than others with sensitive skin and that your flare ups seem to appear more often than they should – especially in comparison to your peers with sensitive skin. If you have sensitized skin, your

Clinical dermatologist and skincare expert Dr. Joyce Park, M.D., is here to tell us the difference between sensitive skin and sensitized, how you can know what’s going on with your skin, and how to deal based on your skin needs.

Sensitive skin or sensitized?

“If you have sensitive skin, it’s probably because of a genetic predisposition and/or an underlying medical condition that makes your skin behave in an extremely reactive way in response to certain stimuli,” explains Dr. Park. “Your skin might get easily irritated by most skincare products and fragrances, and it may also react to other environmental triggers like sun exposure and pollution. Sensitized refers to a reaction that is not necessarily due to a genetic predisposition or a medical condition but more so due to external factors such as over-exfoliation, too much sun exposure or pollution that have led to chronic inflammation in the body manifesting itself on the surface of the skin. So, for example, if you are constantly over-doing it with actives like AHAs or retinol or are using products that are too harsh for your skin type, then that would be considered sensitized rather than sensitive skin.”

When it comes to skin sensitivity, the line between sensitive skin and sensitized skin can be blurry. Sensitive skin is a skin type, while sensitized skin is a condition that can affect anyone with any skin type. Both can cause irritation, redness and discomfort. The difference between them? Sensitive skin is genetic and you’re born with it, while sensitized skin develops over time.

“Sensitive skin is a genetic component of the individual,” says Dr. Deanne Mraz Robinson, board-certified dermatologist at Modern Dermatology in Connecticut. “You will always have sensitive skin.” Sensitive skin often has a thinner epidermis—the outermost layer of your skin—which makes it more susceptible to irritants compared to other types of skin. And as for sensitized skin, “it’s an acquired condition based on the interaction of the environment and your lifestyle,” she says.

So what does this mean for you? Knowing whether you have sensitive or sensitized (or both) can help you determine how to treat your complexion best. Here’s how to tell the difference between them:

“I don’t know about you, but I’ve been seeing an influx of clients who have extremely sensitive skin. And I’m not talking about those who are allergic to a certain ingredient or only break out during that time of the month. I’m talking about skin so sensitive that it reacts to every single product they try, whether it’s a new moisturizer or even just a different brand of their go-to cleanser. And after doing some digging, I discovered that this isn’t just happening at my spa—it’s happening everywhere.

What’s more, there are many people who confuse “sensitive” and “sensitized,” though they aren’t the same thing. Sensitive skin can be genetic and is often related to rosacea or eczema, while sensitized skin has become reactive from external factors like over-cleansing, using products with harsh ingredients or overexposure to the sun. Thus, when it comes to treating either condition, there are two very different approaches.”

If you want to get better at tennis, play with a better player. Find someone who is better than you and play with them as much as possible. If you’re just playing with people who are worse than you, then your game won’t improve.

If you want to be badminton champion of the world, practice with a badminton champion. If you want to be a great writer, find a great writer and study their work.

This is obvious for sports: no one would expect to get better at tennis by only ever playing against people worse than themselves. But we often forget it in other areas of life. Learn from people who are already good at what you want to do.

The score in tennis is always expressed odd-even: 15-all, 30-all, 40-all. The first of these, “15-all,” is redundant, but it’s the only one you find in print. You almost never see two alls together: 40-all is always “deuce.” I don’t know why this is: I suspect it’s a carryover from the time when there was no deuce at all.

The game used to start at 0 and go up by ones. So the first score would be 0-0, then 1-0, 1-1, 2-1, 2-2, 3-2, and so on. (This was true both of tennis and badminton.) If you won four points in a row you automatically won the game — there was no deuce rule. But if you reached 6-6 there was a tiebreaker called “the advantage,” which sounds like a pretty good name for what we now call deuce. You can still see references to the advantage rule in old books like George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty Four”; it seems to have fallen out of use around 1930 or so.

What happened then? Why did they switch from the advantage rule to

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