Delicate Matters: Uncovering the Causes of Skin Sensitivity

Delicate Matters: Uncovering the Causes of Skin Sensitivity

Exploring the causes of sensitive skin offers insights into how to maintain its health and resilience. Sensitive skin reacts with symptoms like irritation, redness, and itchiness, triggered by a variety of factors ranging from environmental influences to skincare products. 

Understanding and caring for sensitive skin involves taking a closer look at these triggers and learning how to support your skin’s natural defenses. A complete skincare routine that respects the delicate balance of your skin can significantly enhance your complexion’s overall comfort and appearance.

Whether your sensitivity is due to a compromised skin barrier or the wrong choice of cleanser, understanding these causes is key to better skincare — this article will walk through what disrupts your skin's peace and how you can nurture it back to comfort.

What Is Sensitive Skin?

If you have sensitive skin, you know what it feels like to be challenged by your skincare routine — you never know what might trigger a reaction. Sensitive skin is characterized by hyper-reactivity to environmental factors, cosmetics, and even stress, leading to sensations of discomfort, such as itching, burning, and stinging. These responses arise because this skin type generally has compromised barrier function, making it more permeable to irritants that are otherwise harmless to others.

Sensitive skin is a totally separate skin type from oily skin, dry skin, or combination skin — but a lot of people don’t realize this. It’s an important truth to acknowledge not just because it allows you to more appropriately address your individual skin concerns, but also because it enables you to take a bit of the pressure off of yourself. You can’t completely change your skin type… but you can learn to work with it to help balance it out and improve your complexion.

What Is Your Skin Barrier?

Your skin barrier is basically an ecosystem housing a community of microorganisms that work to maintain harmony on the skin's surface. When the skin barrier functions optimally, it locks in moisture and hydration, contributing to the skin's plump and vibrant appearance. 

It’s the equilibrium between oils and moisture, a balanced pH, and a thriving microbiome that dictates the resilience of this barrier. However, certain factors can disturb this equilibrium, such as harsh exfoliating agents or hot water, which can strip away the skin's natural oils. Even environmental factors like the change of seasons can bring on periods of dryness or heightened sensitivity. 

What does this have to do with sensitive skin? Well, for one, sensitive skin can be more prone to skin barrier damage due to the irritation that is more likely to occur with this skin type… but for another, sensitive skin is often confused with sensitized skin, which is actually an entirely different situation.

How Are Sensitive Skin and Sensitized Skin Different?

Deciphering the difference between sensitive and sensitized skin is crucial for your skincare roadmap. Sensitive skin, which you’re often born with, involves a natural predisposition to reactive sensations, whereas sensitized skin is acquired — like as a consequence of external factors or lifestyle choices disrupting the skin's protective barrier.

Sensitive skin typically presents a consistent pattern of reactivity and skin irritation, making it predictable in its needs and reactions. This skin type may show signs of redness, dryness, or itchiness — like an ongoing alarm for irritants. Genetics play a central role here too, with this skin type running in families.

In contrast, sensitized skin is an unexpected response to triggers such as over-exfoliation, harsh skincare ingredients, pollutants, or stress. Sensitized skin can be reversed once the culprit is identified and eliminated. It's not a life sentence, it’s just a temporary disruption.

While sensitive skin demands a consistent, gentle skincare routine, sensitized skin calls for a temporary shift in your regimen to restore its compromised barrier. Understanding these differences helps in navigating the terrain of skincare, ensuring your skincare ritual is one of balance and well-being, free from the distress of irritation.

What Are Some Common Causes of Skin Sensitivity?

Skin sensitivity arises from a multitude of factors, whether your skin is temporarily sensitized or you have a sensitive skin type. From the environmental assaults by pollution and UV rays to the dehydrating effects of climate-controlled interiors, let’s break down some of the most common causes of skin sensitivity so you can start addressing it.

Contact With Irritants

Our modern environment bombards the skin with various irritants. Harsh soaps often strip away the skin's protective lipid barrier alongside unwanted grime and oil. This overzealous cleaning can result in irritant contact dermatitis, manifesting as redness and irritation — unwelcome signs that your skin's harmony has been disrupted.

The quest for perfect skin can ironically lead to sensitivity, with a wide range of skincare products filled with synthetic fragrances, preservatives, and other potential irritants. When applied, these can cause a reaction on the skin, leaving behind an irritated complexion.

Allergic Responses

Allergic contact dermatitis is a more dramatic reaction where the immune system perceives certain substances (like dyes and perfumes) as threats, leading to an intense defensive response. Unlike simple irritation, this reaction kicks the body's defense mechanisms into gear, which can lead to hives and blisters — our skin's version of a full-scale protest.

This heightened state of reactivity can be attributed to specific proteins that skin cells mistakenly identify as harmful, setting off a chain reaction intended to protect but often causing more harm than good. Each encounter with the offending allergen reinforces this response, leading to a cycle of sensitivity that can be as persistent as it is uncomfortable.

If you’re dealing with allergic reactions, it’s important to talk to your dermatologist and hone in on what the cause might be. The only way to eliminate these reactions is to eliminate the allergen itself.

Environmental Factors

Daily interactions with the environment can also influence our skin health. Prolonged exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays, for example, is infamous for its harmful effects on skin, making sunscreen a crucial component of daily skincare. However, it's not just the sun that can cause damage — extreme temperatures, wind, and pollution also play their parts. 

Cold winds can sap moisture from the skin, while pollution can leave behind particulate matter that contributes to oxidative stress and irritation. It’s important to consider these environmental factors when addressing skin sensitivity.

Even daily activities like showering in hot water can worsen skin sensitivity, disrupting the natural lipid barriers that protect you against irritation. Understanding and adjusting these practices can help you maintain your skin's natural balance.

How Can the Right Skincare Help Sensitive Skin?

Another common cause of skin sensitivity actually exists in an area meant to help: skincare. 

If you’re using too many harsh products or your routine is simply too complicated for your sensitive skin, you may actually end up doing more harm than good. In order to restore your complexion to its most radiant state, consider approaching your skin with a gentler, simpler routine that delivers the nourishment your skin needs without overwhelming it.

How Can You Build a Skin-Supportive Skincare Routine?

Catering to sensitive skin means engaging in a careful selection of products that bolster skin's defenses while eschewing ingredients that might provoke. A regimen that emphasizes hydration and mild cleansing agents sets the tone you need to truly glow. 

Start with our Starnectar™ Barrier Protect Marshmallow Jelly Cleanser, which exemplifies this philosophy. This blend, leveraging the soothing properties of marshmallow root, licorice root, and orange peel, dissolves makeup and impurities without compromising the skin's moisture. The formula's highlights include the calming vibrations of Moonstone and a plant-derived scent profile that offers a sensory experience without the use of essential oils or synthetic fragrances.

Afterwards, hydrate your skin with our Moonbounce™ 2% Bio Retinol Irish Sea Moss Plumping Moisturizer introduces a fusion of natural retinol alternatives like rock samphire and nutrient-rich Irish sea moss, promoting skin’s elasticity and smoothing fine lines without irritation. Its comprehensive approach, backed by consumer studies, showcases a dedication to delivering deep hydration alongside a firmer, rejuvenated skin appearance.

If your skin needs a little boost throughout the day, our Empress Sweet Fern Hydrasoothe Face Mist is the perfect detoxifying pick-me-up. Utilizing the detoxifying powers of sweet fern, along with the hydrating and soothing benefits of damask rose and the purifying effects of Douglas fir, this toning mist serves as a testament to the power of cold-pressed ingredients. 

This careful curation of ingredients and sources, with a keen eye on the holistic benefits — from skin to spirit — forges a skincare routine that's not only sensitive to skin’s needs but also conscious of environmental and emotional well-being.

Easy Does It

Giving sensitive skin the right TLC requires an understanding of its causes and crafting a lifestyle that supports your skin’s needs. It's all about fostering a relationship with your skin by choosing products that embrace and support it rather than stripping and aggravating it. With a proactive and informed approach, you can soothe sensitive skin and work towards a radiant complexion.


Skin Barrier Function | National Library of Medicine

Understanding the Epidermal Barrier in Healthy and Compromised Skin: Clinically Relevant Information for the Dermatology Practitioner | National Library of Medicine

Sensitive Skin: Review of an Ascending Concept | National Library of Medicine

Allergic Contact Dermatitis | National Library of Medicine