If your skin screams “stop!” when you slather something on it, it’s probably hypersensitive. Or not — at least technically.
Your skin is obviously sensitive to whatever you’re doing to it, but classifying it as “hypersensitive” — or even “sensitive” — is mostly descriptive.
“‘Hypersensitive skin’ is not an official clinical term,” says Catie Wiggy, a licensed master esthetician and vice president of product innovation for French Transit, whose brands include MyChelle Dermaceuticals and Crystal natural deodorants.
Indeed, the American Academy of Dermatology doesn’t define “hypersensitive skin” — or even “sensitive skin” — under its list of skin diseases and conditions.
“When a person has moderate to severe cases of inflammatory skin conditions, like rosacea, psoriasis or eczema, an individual likely believes their skin is hypersensitive,” Wiggy says. “Genetics, environment, age, hormones and gender can all impact skin sensitivity and play a role in causing visible skin reactions.”
Madisen English, a beauty blogger and influencer based in Charlotte, North Carolina, is certainly familiar with that. “I’ve always struggled with excessive dryness, redness, irritation, and I have eczema,” she says. For years she also coped with acne and hyperpigmentation. “I noticed that my skin was more prone to irritation, even from the simplest products.”
Here’s what to do if your skin is “hypersensitive” (or even “sensitive”):
1. Consult a skin pro.
“Do not self-diagnose,” Wiggy warns. “Have a medical professional, esthetician or dermatologist check your skin.”
And to be clear: “Sensitive skin is a common issue but not a medical diagnosis by itself,” Wiggy notes.
2. Don’t use too many products.
“Use the bare minimum of a cleanser, moisturizer and sunscreen,” Wiggy recommends.
That might take some self-control, English acknowledges.
“It’s easy to get excited when you see new products launching left and right that claim to treat a variety of concerns that you deal with, however using too many products can end up backfiring,” she says. “You may not be able to use all of the pretty, fragranced products that you see everyone rave about. That’s okay! Once you find what works for you, you’ll be able to achieve the skin you desire with a simple regimen.”
3. Choose products with simple ingredients and/or those designated for “sensitive skin.”
“Look for nourishing, gentle ingredients in your products, such as aloe vera, rosewater, oatmeal and honey.” English recommends. “These ingredients are my go-to in my daily routine, and I love how good they make my skin feel.”
To be sure, even if an ingredient is generally considered harmless you can have a bad reaction to it. English ran into this with a vitamin C serum that caused red bumps on her face. “Although it was natural, my skin can be sensitive to high levels of vitamin C, and I have to check how much is in a product before using it,” she says.
4. Adopt a somewhat scientific approach.
“Before starting a new skincare or body product, test a small amount of it on the back of your wrist or side of your lower neck to see if there is an initial reaction,” Wiggy advises.
And add or switch to new products one at a time, instead of all at once. “If you react, you’ll be able to pinpoint where it came from,” English says.
5. Protect your skin from UV rays.
“Wear sun protection daily,” Wiggy recommends.
That’s exactly what English does and proselytizes. “Apply sunscreen every morning, whether you’re leaving the house or not,” she says. “This tip has been a game-changer for me and has helped my skin a lot over the years.”
Wellness writer Mitra Malek doesn’t have sensitive or hypersensitive skin. But she’s surely sensitive in other ways.