Sensitive skin: an epidemiological study

Br J Dermatol. 2001 Aug;145(2):258-63. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2133.2001.04343.x.


Background: There is a growing awareness that some individuals exhibit heightened skin sensitivity, particularly on the face, and have a high incidence of adverse reactions to cosmetics and toiletries.

Objectives: To carry out an epidemiological study to assess the prevalence of sensitive skin and cosmetic-related adverse events in a U.K. population, and to examine possible factors that may be associated with sensitive skin.

Methods: Self-assessment questionnaires were sent out to 3300 women and 500 men, randomly selected, who were over the age of 18 years and lived within a 10-mile radius of High Wycombe (Bucks.). Fifty non-responder women were also questioned by telephone to ensure that the postal responders were representative of the population as a whole.

Results: The response rates were 62% for women and 52% for men, with the incidence of self-reported skin sensitivity being 51.4% and 38.2%, respectively. Ten per cent of women and 5.8% of men described themselves as having very sensitive skin. Fifty-seven per cent of women and 31.4% of men had experienced an adverse reaction to a personal product at some stage in their lives, with 23% of women and 13.8% of men having had a problem in the last 12 months. Among the women, symptoms of cosmetic-induced subjective sensory skin discomfort (burning, stinging, itching etc.) occurred more commonly in the sensitive skin cohort (53%) than in those who regarded themselves as non-sensitive (17%). An atopic diathesis in women did not appear to be a predictive factor for sensitive skin, the incidence of self-perceived sensitive skin being equivalent for atopics (49%) and non-atopics (51%). Furthermore, some 34% of atopic women described themselves as being non-sensitive. Nevertheless, the incidence of atopy was higher among the women in the sensitive skin group (49%) than among those in the non-sensitive group (27%). Dry skin and a predilection for blushing/flushing were associated factors for sensitive skin.

Conclusions: Our survey indicates that sensitive facial skin is a common problem for women and men in the U.K. and points to the need for the development of personal products designed for this skin phenotype.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Blushing
  • Cosmetics / adverse effects*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Dermatitis, Allergic Contact / epidemiology*
  • Dermatitis, Allergic Contact / etiology
  • England / epidemiology
  • Facial Dermatoses / chemically induced
  • Facial Dermatoses / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Flushing / complications
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity, Immediate / complications
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Normal Distribution
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Cosmetics