Sensitive skin vs. Reactive skin
- What is the difference and can you cure it?



Millions of people are affected by sensitive skin. However, there is no formal definition of sensitive skin, that covers the full picture. If you experience stinging, burning, bumps or irritation when certain products contact your skin, you have some form of sensitive skin.  Below we will try to simplify this condition by dividing sensitive skin into 3 categories by what causes them:


Sensitive, sensitized or reactive skin, what is what?

  1. Sensitive: Genetic, you are born with a thin, fragile, fair skin, might have ginger or blond hair and blue eyes. Skin is lacking in natural sebum production. Fitzpatrick scale skin type 1 or 2. Low tolerance to sun, wind and frost. Dry and struggling with weak barrier function and microbiome, the skins bacteria flora balance, is easily disturbed. Can't be cured, needs a lot of care and protection.

  2. Sensitized: Skin condition. Irritated skin from aggressive skincare products, too much scrubs or peelings, alcohol and sulfates in products. Too much sun or strong wind and frosty weather. The skin can be okay again with correct help! Caused by external factors.

  3. Reactive / intolerant / allergic: Skin disease. Autoimmune conditions. Intolerance towards specific components like essential oils, perfume, plant extracts, acids, enzyme - well anything organic could actually trigger an allergic reaction, we can never know when or why. Might become a permanent allergy like systemic allergies to fur, pollen, gluten etc. Caused by internal factors, triggered by external factors. Can't be cures as such, sometimes it calms down with age, of course one must avoid the triggering agents. An allergy internal, like food allergies is not automatically also on the outside, meaning if one is allergic to eating nuts it does not mean they can't use oils produced from nuts, on the skin. 

    Rosacea is a skin disease that develop in stages, Rosacea needs medical attention, we can treat but not cure Rosacea!

Cure the cause or reduce the symptom?

The most important thing is to acknowledge that we can't always cure the cause, we can only reduce the symptoms.

Each type of sensitivity has it's own "DNA" and we need to analyze very carefully and then evaluate if we as beauticians can help or if the condition is more medical related and out of the cosmetic field of work!





We could address the three types of sensitive skin like this:

Sensitive Skin

Questions to ask during skin analysis

  • does your skin feel tight and too small? not just after a shower but short time after applying moisturizer you feel like you could do all over again. 
  • is your skin dry and tight all over your body or is it only on your face? 
  • how was your skin as a teenager? Dry or oily? 
  • do you hesitate to cleanse your skin and try to avoid using too much soap and water on it?
  • can your skin swallow endless amounts of oil and cream and it still doesn't feel like it's enough?
  • are you in constant search of a more rich and nourishing face cream?

Signs to look for     

  • fair skin, red hair, freckles, invisible pores     
  • skin scaling, easily gets irritated, erythema / flushing
  • not shiny or oily
  • break outs of acne is very rare
  • visible capillaries, flushing and warmth
  • premature ageing, visible lines before the age of 30


Good advice & best solutions

  • choose milk or oil cleanser or a micellar water to cleanse the skin. Avoid the foamy gels and soaps that might contain sulphates wich strips the skins surface of essential lipids
  • avoid skin tonic / toners that contains denat. alcohol or isopropyl alcohol
  • avoid creams / moisturizers that contains a lot of silicones and any mineral oil like paraffinum liquidum, petrolatum or vaseline
  • choose a nourishing day and night cream with high content of plant oils like shea butter, avocado oil, jojoba oil, sweet almond oil and many others
  • use both serum for water and a face oil for nourishment under you moisturizer
  • apply sunscreen on top of your day cream, everyday, all year around and avoid sun exposure directly on the face
  • avoid hot water and baths, luke warm water is always better. Avoid sudden dramatic changes in temperature

Sensitised skin:

Questions to ask during skin analysis

  • has your skin been like this for a short period of time or longer, like years? 
  • do you know what has irritated your skin?
  • did you change something in your skincare routine recently?
  • did you receive any professional strength treatments with fruit acid, dermabrasion etc. recently?

Sign to look for  

  • skin is visibly red, scaly, open and flushing
  • if client express the skin feels irritated but you don't see visible signs at all, suspect intolerance or allergy


stock-photo-red-rash-on-young-asian-thai-woman-face-itchy-and-allergic-skin-problems-dermatitis_shutterstock_1953028711 web smaller

Good advice & best solutions

  • stop using any of your products for a day or two
  • introduce one product at the time again, one product every second day 
  • choose milk or oil cleanser or a micellar water to cleanse the skin. Avoid the foamy gels and soaps that might contain sulfates which strips the skins surface of essential lipids
  • avoid skin tonic / toners that contains denat. alcohol or isopropyl alcohol
  • avoid perfume / fragrance and essential oils for a time, in both skincare for face but also other cosmetics like body products, hair products, body mist and eau de toilette
  • use few and simple products with short ingredients lists
  • avoid sun exposure and sunbed use


Reactive skin = intolerant / allergic: 

Questions to ask during skin analysis

  • du you have any history with allergic reactions to ingredients, food, animals, pollen etc?
  • have you consulted a doctor or dermatologist 

Sign to look for

  • we can't always see if a client is in this category
  • all skin types can become intolerant or allergic, it's not skin type related but immune system related
  • if the client does not have an acute allergic reaction at the moment, we can't know, they'll have to tell us and we must always ask before any treatment or product recommendation
  • irritated skin is dry, itching and scaly - allergic reactions can show the same symptoms but always occurs in connection to swelling and often burning warmth or even painful symptoms

    stock-photo-young-woman-has-reactive-skin-rash-itch-on-neck_shutterstock_1017422944 web smaller

Good advice & best solutions

  • always consult a doctor or dermatologist 
  • reactive skin can be diffuse and react once to a specific ingredient but next time nothing happens, this could depend on the physical as well as mental state of a person, it could also be a cross reaction between 2 specific factors that caused the reaction - that type of reactions is also called intolerance, it might be permanent or it was just the wrong day and ingredient
  • allergies are often prolonged or for life, once allergic to cats, always allergic to cats but it happens that one "grows out" of the problem, so you never know
  • always follow the advice of the doctor, as beauticians we can't cure a rash caused by a true allergy, we can even makes it worse by applying more ingredients, especially  natural plant extracts could worsen the issue. 
  • allergic reaction is not a cosmetics issue and should be handled by medical professionals with antihistamines, ointments etc. 
  • finding the exact ingredient that has triggered an allergic reaction  the first time, can be a long and complex process. You can contribute by providing INCI lists on all the products you have used in the treatment or in products you've sold to the client for homecare

NO PRODUCTS ON EARTH CAN BE CONCIDERED ALLERGY PROOF - as long as a compound is organic, there's a risk of a reaction



FOR SPECIFIC PRODUCT RECOMMENDATIONS see one of the following articles: Darphin, Nimue or comfort zone

Now you know a bit more about the 3 main types of sensitivity. If you want to become a specialist in diagnosing sensitive skin and learn more about if then sign up for our free online webinar here

Sensitive skin, genetic or triggered

Jun 6, 2023 11:03:09 AM / by Mia Bromose

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Tags: Skin Care

Mia Bromose

Written by Mia Bromose

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