A true sensitive skin condition is caused by a genetic predisposition. Someone who is truly sensitive is born with this condition and tends to be prone to blushing, asthma and allergies. This skin is considered more delicate with less melanin or pigment, a thin epidermis and blood vessels close to the skin surface, hence the obvious appearance of redness. Sensitive skin is often the result of a defect in the skin’s protective outer layer – known as the epidermal lipid barrier layer – allowing irritants, microbes and allergens to penetrate the skin and cause adverse reactions. A disturbed epidermal lipid barrier is an important component in several inflammatory skin diseases such as rosacea, atopic dermatitis, psoriasis and eczema.

Sensitized skin is a reflection of both the environment and lifestyle. While those with fair skin (usually of Northern European ancestry) traditionally experience sensitive skin, sensitized skin can be triggered in any person regardless of racial background or skin color. Sensitized skin is a growing phenomenon worldwide due to increased exposure to pollution and chemicals. Even cosmetic ingredients including alcohol, lanolin, fragrance and D&C (drugs and cosmetics) colorants can lead to sensitized skin. In addition, our own microclimate is also an important factor. The microclimate we expose our skin to in our home, cars, offices and airplanes changes daily, resulting in varying levels of sensitivity. For instance, we may be inadvertently sensitizing our skin on a typical winter day, when we transfer from cold, dry winds outside to dry forced air heating inside. Lifestyle choices are also crucial in promoting a healthy skin and reversing the effects of sensitized skin. Among lifestyle factors are stress, hormonal fluctuations, smoking, alcohol, poor diet, medical procedures and even over-processed or over-exfoliated skin.

Minimizing sun exposure, reducing stress levels, taking care to preserve the skin’s natural protective barrier, along with a healthy diet will undoubtedly have a positive effect on the health and appearance of the skin. The good news is that sensitized skin can be treated.

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