What is sensitive skin?

Although not a “skin type” but rather a symptom caused by different factors, Sensitive Skin is characterized by frequent redness, burning, itching or dryness as a reaction of the topical application of skin-care products or other stimuli. A healthy skin functions to maintain balance by protecting the body against external influences, while regulating the levels of moisture. Much of these processes take place in the horny layer of the skin called stratum corneum, which is composed of lipids and cells, forming the uppermost layer of the skin. These lipids provide stability and permeability, regulates fluid, maintains elasticity and firmness. In healthy skin, the barrier function of the stratum corneum retains moisture to prevent dryness and sensitivity.[1] However, their effectiveness greatly depends on enzyme activity which is often weaker in sensitive skin. As a result, the barrier function of the skin becomes compromised, resulting in water loss and enabling the penetration of irritants or other foreign bodies.[2] The body’s immune system now will respond by activating the inflammatory response, because it sees the irritants or commonly known as antigens, as a threat.[3] Symptoms of sensitive skin now arise as the body’s response to maintain balance. According to dermatologists, in order to diagnose sensitive skin, the following symptoms must be present: skin reactions such as erosion, bumps and pustules, very dry skin, blushing and skin flushing.[4]

What causes sensitive skin?

Our skin is a living organ and it is designed to react to something that isn’t right in our body. Our nerve endings underneath the skin barrier detect everything that comes in contact with our skin – harsh chemicals, pollutants and irritants. In sensitive skin, the barrier that protects the skin from its external environment is compromised, leading to various symptoms such as redness, stinging sensations, bumps, dryness, breakouts and tightness. Sensitive skin may be triggered by the following:

Weather changes

During the winter season, cooler air combined with central heating can cause the skin to become dehydrated and more sensitive. In contrast, the sun’s UV rays during summer can damage the skin barrier and cause sensitivity as well.

Dirt and Pollution

Smoke, dust, exhaust and other pollutants that mix with the air are absorbed by the skin’s natural barrier. Over time, it can weaken and irritate the barrier, affecting its function to leave the skin feeling more sensitive.[5]


Lack of sleep and exercise, smoking, and poor diet are associated with skin sensitivity. They have negative impact on the skin and may alter its natural function.[6]


This particularly affects women more than men. Hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy, menstruation and menopause can cause skin sensitivity. Lack of hormones called estrogen may significantly affect the function of the skin’s barrier, resulting in dehydration, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation and skin sensitivity.[7]


When the body suffers prolonged stress, it produces more cortisol which may trigger an increase in oil production, and in severe cases, limits the blood flow to the skin. All of these may affect the function of the skin’s barrier which can lead to skin sensitivity.[8]

What is the treatment for sensitive skin?

The degree of skin sensitivity varies from person to person. Sensitive skin may react badly to sunlight, ingredients in skin-care products, excessive use of makeup, weather, and dehydration. Plus, it is more prone to itchiness, redness and dryness. Despite countless rows of products claiming to treat sensitive skin, treating such conditions is not a one-size-fits-all affair. Other products may work well for you but may wreak havoc on other person’s skin. Sometimes depending on the sensitivity of the skin any product will “irritate “an extremely sensitive skin. It may take a slow building up of the skins resistance to be able to use serums every day. Slowly introducing the correct serums may be recommended by your skin therapist.

How to treat sensitive skin?


Choose a gentle cleanser. Chi’s Rose Petal Mousse or Ylang Ylang Cleanser will help with barrier repair.


It is very important to calm and sooth a sensitive skin. Depending on the severity of the sensitivity one may need to start with Soothe Serum to completely calm the inflamed skin. Classified by the FDA as a wound-healing agent, LYCD is a skin respiratory factor that helps skin cells to promote the healing process through the uptake of oxygen. It was patented by Dr.Sperti in 1939, who named it Biodyne because it stimulates healthy cell growth. The word Biodyne comes from the Greek words bios (life) and dyne (force). The active ingredient has even been isolated as a protein fraction containing a mixture of several peptides, one of which is a peptide fraction that stimulates wound healing. Biodyne is known to be biologically active on skin cells. LYCD can also help to relieve puffy bags under the eyes, and some individuals report a reduction wrinkles. Chi’s Green Tea and Soothe serums contains polyphenols, the active ingredients in green tea, which possess antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties. When applied topically, Chi’s Green Tea Serum harnesses these potent ingredients. Current research also indicates that epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), an extract of tea, can prevent collagen breakdown and reduce UV damage to the skin. Chi’s Calm serum contains B3, GAGs and Epithelial Growth Factor which will calm a reddened compromised skin. Using this serum in the morning with Soothe at night you will feel instant relief. Once the skin is calm, it is then important to begin repairing the skins natural barrier. Calm serum is perfect for this, and it will have the two-fold benefit of improving hydration levels whilst strengthening the skins structure. Chi’s Natto serum is also fantastic for a dry depleted skin. Made from fermented soya bean, this sticky sensation is full of vitamins and minerals to sooth and hydrated the most compromised of skin.


Choose a healing moisturiser fortified with ingredients that help build up the barrier of the skin such as Chi’s O2 Revitalizing Cream.

Skin Exfoliation

Best to avoid any exfoliation until the skin is strong and healthy. Any flakiness of the skin indicates it is desquamating itself and does not need any assistance, no matter how temping it is!

Go easy on cosmetics

To avoid skin irritation, use a mineral based make up. There are many on the markets so check the ingredients. Avoid talc, kaolin, glycols, preservatives and artificial colours

Avoid harsh chemicals

Skin-care products contain harsh chemicals that may trigger skin sensitivity. The most common culprits with high sensitivity risks are Benzoyl Peroxide, Retinols, and PABA.[13] Also, if a product contains herbal essences, essential oils, scents and fragrances, don’t use it. Almost any botanical ingredient such as extracts and essential oils are stimulating to the immune system because of the preservatives added in the product.[14] This will only contribute to redness, itchiness and other symptoms.

Use sunscreen

Choose a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more, as this can block 97 percent of the sun’s UV rays.[10] Prolonged periods of sun exposure can damage the skin and aggravate sensitivity.

If symptoms of sensitive skin worsen, it is best to immediately consult with your dermatologist for further management and evaluation. A sensitive skin can be a symptom of an underlying medical condition, so always seek professional advice.


1. Singh, S. (2000). Handbook on Cosmetics (Processes, Formulae with Testing Methods), page 232.
2. Farage, M., et al (2015). Skin, Mucosa and Menopause: Management of Clinical Issues, page 19.
3. Aehlert, B. (2010). Paramedic Practice Today: Above and Beyond, Volume 1, page 239.
4. Williams, K., et al (2008). Dermatotoxicology, page 95.
5. Halliwell, B. Et al (2015). Free Radicals in Biology and Medicine, page 406.
6. Milady (2012). Milady Standard Esthetics: Fundamentals, page 293.
7. Milady (2012). Milady Standard Esthetics: Fundamentals, page 117.
8. Eby, M., et al (2008). EbyReturn to Beautiful Skin: Your Guide to Truly Effective, Nontoxic Skin Care, page 78.
9. Draelos, D. (2011). Cosmetics and Dermatologic Problems and Solutions, Third Edition, page 145.
10. Greydanus, D. (2013). Pediatric Psychodermatology: A Clinical Manual of Child and Adolescent, page 172