Sensitive skin has always been a fairly common problem. Lately, there has been a slow and widespread increase around the world. According to one report1, around the world there are 60% to 70% of women who suffer from sensitive skin, and 50 to 60% of men.

For a long time, the prevalence of sensitive skin was underestimated. It is not generally a condition that you consult for. Sensations are subjective, occur frequently and are considered normal. Most people tend to think they don’t need medical attention.

And yet despite it being a "minor problem", it is clear that for people who have sensitive skin, it has a real impact on their quality of life. Sensitive skin plays a major role in their lifestyle choices, influencing their decisions about what foods to eat, what products to buy, what clothing to wear, and even where to go, since indoor and outdoor air can make skin react. Dealing with its consequences everyday can be a real burden for them.


Read more in our article "Measuring and alleviating the burden of sensitive skin on daily life"


1 Farage MA. The prevalence of sensitive skin. Front Med 2019; 6:98.
Sensitive skin role in lifestyle choices

Sensitive skin symptoms

As a result of the increase in people suffering from it, sensitive skin was qualified in 2017 by the International Forum for the Study of Itch (IFSI) as a legitimate dermatological syndrome.

  • Dr Michèle Sayag, allergologist

    Dr. Michèle Sayag, Medical Strategy Director - BIODERMA.

    Sensitive skin is defined as the appearance of unpleasant sensations including stinging, burning, pain, itching and tingling that occur in response to stimuli that normally should not provoke such sensations. Skin can appear normal, but it’s possible that temporary redness, light and fleeting, may also accompany the other symptoms. It is different to the permanent redness associated with skin conditions such as rosacea.

    Dr. Michèle Sayag, Medical Strategy Director - BIODERMA.

All of these symptoms for sensitive skin can last one or two or several hours. Haunted by their skin’s reactions, sufferers can be driven to change their skin care routines and even aspects of their lifestyle, in an effort to find relief. The struggle can last a lifetime.

Sensitive skin symptoms

  • Aurélie Guyoux, NAOS Research & Development Director

    Aurélie Guyoux, R&D Director - NAOS.

    Sensitive skin is actually an advantage at the outset. Our skin is our interface with the environment. It provides constant information about the nature of the environment and potential irritation, which triggers appropriate adaptive and protective measures from the body. For example, our skin adapts constantly to warm temperatures thanks to the perspiration mechanism but also to UV rays thanks to melanin and its oxidative defence. But today, skin has to constantly adapt to more and different irritants. Sensitive skin therefore over-reacts with varying intensity to different stimuli in its environment. This exacerbated sensitivity can be regulated.

    Aurélie Guyoux, R&D Director - NAOS.

While studies are still ongoing to fully understand this condition, Laboratoire BIODERMA has recently identified that sensitive skin originates in one of two ways:

There is natural sensitivity, due to a biological dysfunction. In this case, nerve fibres quickly become hyperexcited when exposed to certain triggers, and skin overreacts. The different symptoms appear. Natural sensitivity tends to be a permanent condition.

Nerve fibres

There is also induced sensitivity, which arises due to a number of environmental and lifestyle factors. In today’s urban environment, your face is continuously exposed to daily irritants – pollution, UV rays, stress, etc. To protect itself, the skin produces free radicals. When these factors that are aggressive for skin become too much, the skin produces too many of these free radicals. This creates oxidative stress, which alters the skin’s protective barrier function so that even more irritants penetrate. Oxidative stress and the altered barrier function together lead to inflammation and sensitised skin. Induced sensitivity can exacerbate natural sensitivity. It can come and go depending on a person’s lifestyle and environment, but is globally on the rise around the world.

Skyline sunrise

In both cases, sensitive skin is out of balance and unable to correctly defend itself. In fact, sensitive skin is constantly fighting to achieve a normal, healthy state. When it reacts, it has much more trouble returning to normal by itself. A vicious cycle develops that swings between health and reaction, when stinging, itching, burning and redness all appear. All signs that sensitive skin has settled in.

What triggers sensitive skin?

The factors that can trigger sensitive skin are many and various, coming from a wide range of sources.


Pollution, various volatile organic compounds, heavy metals, particulate matter can all affect skin.

UV rays

UV rays can also impact sensitive skin.


Hot or cold temperatures, the wind, humid or dry air, air conditioning, changes in the season can all provoke sensitive skin.


Detergents, surfactants and other cleaning products can be too hard on skin.


Hormones related to pregnancy and menstrual cycles can affect skin. 42% of premenopausal women say their skin feels more sensitive just before or during their menstrual cycle, and over 70% of post-menopausal women say their skin sensitivity increased after the menopause².

Lifestyle factors and choices

Lifestyle factors and choices such as smoking, contraceptive pills, shaving, clothing, sleep disorders, fatigue and certain foods may have an effect.

Cosmetics and make-up

Cosmetics and make-up may contain irritating molecules such as pigments, preservatives or sulphites. A gentle, non-irritating and adapted cleanser that preserves the skin barrier is essential for sensitive skin.

2 Farage et al. 2020, Laurent Misery et al. 2017

BIODERMA product photo, Sensibio H2O 500ml, Micellar cleansing water for sensitive skin

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