Perceptions of sensitive skin: changes in perceived severity and associations with environmental causes

Contact Dermatitis. 2008 Oct;59(4):226-32. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0536.2008.01398.x.


Background: The number of individuals who perceive themselves to have sensitive skin appear to be on the increase. A single definition of this condition remains elusive.

Objectives: We used an epidemiological approach to evaluate the reasons why responders feel they have sensitive skin, how their skin has changed over time, and if there are sex, ethnic, and age group differences.

Methods: A total of 1039 individuals filled out standard questionnaires. Respondents were not selected based on any criteria related to sensitive skin but consisted of individuals participating in other studies.

Results: About 53% stated that their skin had been sensitive for more than 5 years, and 31% claimed that their skin has become more sensitive. When asked to describe why they have sensitive skin, severe weather was the reason most commonly selected. Visual (redness/swelling) and sensory (burning/stinging) reactions to products was also selected as the reason. Caucasians more often claimed that products produced visual effects, whereas African-Americans more often claimed that products produced sensory effects. The environmental factor most strongly associated with sensitive skin was stress.

Conclusions: Overall, the data support the generally accepted definition of sensitive skin as a reduced tolerance to cosmetics and toiletries; however, many individuals feel they have sensitive skin for other reasons unrelated to cosmetics and toiletries.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Cosmetics / toxicity
  • Dermatitis, Allergic Contact / epidemiology*
  • Dermatitis, Allergic Contact / etiology*
  • Environmental Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity, Immediate / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Self Concept
  • Skin Physiological Phenomena*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Weather*


  • Cosmetics
  • Environmental Pollutants