4 Causes Of Sensitive Skin
and Treatment Tips For Each

What are the causes of sensitive skin?

By dealing with the causes, the symptoms (red, reactive, irritated and painful skin) can be helped. 

causes of sensitive skin

If you want to skip ahead use the links below - 

1. Environmental - where & how you live

2. Are you born with it? Genes, allergies, skin type

3. External - products and treatments

4. Internal - what's happening inside?

This page has 4 common causes of sensitive skin, along with tips on how to deal with each one.

Read on!

1. Environmental - Where You Live/The Outside World

Where you live can make a difference to your skin condition - a significant difference. 

Hot, Dry Climates:

Low humidity causes moisture to evaporate from your skin. This dries it out and compromises the top protective layer of oils.

Without a healthy barrier, skin becomes sensitized and easily irritated. 

Air conditioning is a must but this is one of the worst moisture zapping culprits! This and the constant coming and going between cool inside and hot outside air, causes major stress on your complexion. 

If you're prone to eczema, this often flares up in hot weather due to the dryness.

Cold Climates:

Cold weather is naturally low in humidity, so just like above, moisture is sucked from skin. Wind is one of the most irritating elements, a wind burn is often worse than sun burn.

Very cold weather causes blood capillaries to dilate - they sometimes break and become visible. Your skin's strength is compromised as they are no longer carrying oxygen and nutrients optimally.  

The use of heating is essential in cold weather but this can be irritating and again, sucks out vital moisture. 

Tips For Dealing With Environmental Causes Of Sensitive Skin:

  • To counteract air conditioners and heaters, use a humectant moisturizer - this helps keep water in your skin 
  • Night time - a humidifier is a simple yet very beneficial addition to your bedroom. They increase moisture in the air which is so important especially if you sleep with air conditioning or heating. 

You might be surprised by the difference a humidifier alone can make (I just started using this one from Amazon.com, and my lips have finally stopped chapping!)

  • Sunscreen isn't only for sunny climates - in cold windy weather it can help prevent irritation. A physical block is best for this (instead of chemical). Look for one that is non-comedogenic and contains zinc
  • A layer of vaseline over your daily moisturizer and sunscreen adds an extra barrier between your skin and the elements - don't worry about looking shiny, simply concentrate on your cheeks as these tend to be the area affected the most
  • Strengthen skin from the inside by getting plenty of Vitamin E and Omega 3 in your diet
  • If you spend a lot of time in the sun or windy conditions - avoid skin peels or products that are too active. While these improve skin, they have a flip side and can make it very sensitive when combined with sun and wind exposure

2. Are You Born With It?

Pore size is determined by genes. If you have smaller pores your skin produces less oil. What's this got to do with sensitive skin?

The main job of oil (sebum) is lubrication and protection. The less oil, the less protection = greater chance for sensitivity. If you have a dry skin 'type', your skin is generally more easily irritated by outsides factors.

Allergies and certain sensitivities can be something you are 'born' with - for example gluten or dairy intolerance can manifest as sensitive skin (especially eczema)

Tips To Help:

  • Again, I recommend a humidifier in your bedroom - they also help with breathing and keeping nasal/sinus passages clear which can help allergies. 
  • If you have a dry skin type, your favorite word should be PROTECTION - use an emollient moisturizer and a good sunscreen. Add a oil underneath your moisturizer for extra lubrication both morning and night (something simple like Argan or coconut oil)
  • A barrier repair treatment like Dermalogica's can make the world of difference in strengthening your skin against the elements once again

3. External Causes of Sensitive Skin - Products & Treatments

Perhaps the most common cause of sensitive skin is overuse of certain products and treatments that are just too harsh.

  • I'm not a big fan of microdermabrasion. It's too irritating and simply scraps off the top layer of skin like sand paper... (equal but far healthier results are obtained with consistent use of a light peel product)
  • Manual, grainy exfoliators also physically assault the skin
  • Some products can cause sensitivity with their ingredients. 'Natural' products can be the worst culprits. Remember - some of the deadliest poisons come from Mother Nature!
  • Sunscreen - the chemical type can often do more harm than good, especially those Spf 50+! Those chemicals get into your skin cells and can cause sensitivity (does your skin ever sting after applying one?)

Another external factor are chemicals in the home or work place. These stay in the air and on surfaces and can be the number one cause of irritation and sensitivity. 


  • Stick with simple products until your skin has repaired itself - an emollient moisturizer, a gentle but effective cleanser, and a decent physical sunscreen
  • Stay away from microdermabrasion (it is my opinion, however from experience both with my own skin and clients) and don't use harsh scrubs
  • Dermalogica Barrier Repair is a treatment gel that works to repair the natural lipid barrier - if your skin has been sensitized with harsh products and treatments, get a tube of this (it re-strengthened my skin after an aggressive microdermabrasion training course!)
  • If you think it could be chemicals used in your home try some of the natural alternatives that do the same job without the harsh affects

4. Internal - What's Going On Inside You?

Skin conditions such as sensitivity can be an indication of what is going on inside you.

Pay attention if your sensitivity flares up after eating certain foods. For some this is spicy foods like curry (which can be an indication of rosecea). Others it's coffee, too much sugar or dairy. 

Illness is another internal cause of sensitive skin, which can stick around even after you've recovered. When you're sick, all systems of the body are affected. Nutrients and resources are used to fight infection first and foremost, which means your skin looses out on important resources to keep itself strong. 


  • If you have particularly bad flare ups and you think it may be a food group or other allergen - see your doctor who can perform an allergy test
  • Build your skin from within! Eat plenty of good fats like avocado, nuts, fish and coconut oil. Omega 3 and Vitamin E supplements strengthen cell membranes and reduce inflammation
  • Cutting out a food group for 7 days can be a good way to take note of how it affects your skin - if you see an improvement it's an indication that it may be time to eliminate or at least cut back signifcantly
  • Exercise and sleep! Sleep in particular has a vital role to play in the health and strength of skin. Not only does it repair itself at night, a good sleep is important for stress control and keeping a health immune system

Recommended Products For Sensitive Skin - Whatever The Cause:

Dermalogica Barrier Repair - rebuilds the lipid barrier and protects against inflammation and environmental assault (I highly recommend this from personal experience)

Burnout Zinc Oxide Sunscreen - chemical free, fragrance free, 'matte' look, won't clog your pores. A really good option for sensitive skin.

Dermalogica Ultra Calming Cleanser - also recommended from personal experience. Cleanses really effectively without stripping the skin. 

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