Why Is My Skin so Sensitive?

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Sensitive skin is a common condition which means your skin is more prone to reactions such as redness and itching. Most people who have sensitive skin notice occasional or frequent itching, burning, and stinging of patches of skin. Sensitive skin may require a visit to the dermatologist.

There are many ways to treat sensitive skin, from prescription and over-the-counter creams to discontinuing the use of a product that's causing a reaction.

This article discusses how to know if you have sensitive skin, what might be causing it, and ways to treat it.

Signs of Sensitive Skin

Ellen Lindner / Verywell

How to Know if You Have Sensitive Skin

Signs of sensitive skin come from the breakdown of your skin’s protective barrier. This can be caused by the environment, dehydration, or an underlying condition. Signs include: 

  • Rough, flaky patches
  • Wrinkled, rough texture
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Open sores or yellow crust over the skin
  • Peeling skin

Sensitive skin can cause both objective signs and subjective symptoms. Objective signs are physical changes that your healthcare provider can observe, such as redness, swelling, or sores. They are changes to your skin’s protective barrier and are easy to observe from an outsider’s perspective.

The subjective symptoms refer to the sensations that sensitive skin can cause, like itching, burning, and pain. They are just as real, but only felt or observed by you. 

Causes and Treatments for Sensitive Skin

If you’re wondering, "Why does my skin hurt?" one of these reasons may be the culprit. 

Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis refers to the inflammation that can occur in your skin when it is exposed to an irritant. When the irritant, such as a strong fragrance in laundry detergent, comes in contact with your skin, it causes minor damage to the surface. In response, your body tries to protect itself from this perceived threat with an immune response.

This is similar to what you experience during an allergic reaction of the skin. Contact dermatitis is a common type of eczema.

The best way to treat contact dermatitis is to avoid the substance that's triggering it. If you don't know what's triggering it or it's not possible to avoid it, healthcare providers typically prescribe topical steroids, such as hydrocortisone. If this treatment doesn't help, they might prescribe a topical calcineurin inhibitor to help with symptoms.

For more severe or widespread rashes, a provider may prescribe short-term oral or injectable corticosteroids. These are effective but come with side effects, such as weight gain and sleeping issues.


Dermatitis, or inflammation of the skin, can also be caused by an allergic response. When your skin has an allergic response, it means your immune system is in overdrive. When your skin touches an allergen, such as pollen when pulling weeds, your body tries to protect itself by releasing T-cells. This process can lead to redness and itching.

If you use makeup, your dermatologist may recommend stopping all cosmetics for two weeks, and then adding each product back in one at a time. This will give you a clearer idea if any of your regular products are contributing to your skin sensitivity. 

The most common way to treat allergies is by taking an antihistamine, which can be bought over the counter in pill or liquid form. Hydrocortisone or another topical steroid may be prescribed to relieve itching.

For allergic reactions that don't respond to those treatments, injectable biologic therapies may help.


Rosacea is a skin condition that causes redness and swelling in the face and neck. It can start as flushing of the cheeks and sometimes spread to the ears. Healthcare providers do not have an answer for what causes rosacea, but they know that people who are fair-skinned and have a family history are more at risk. 

People with rosacea should wear broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 daily because sunlight can trigger rosacea. Other treatment includes:

  • Topical treatment such as azelaic acid and metronidazole
  • Antibiotics such as tetracycline
  • Laser or light therapy, which can help reduce redness and acne breakouts


If you survived your teen years without a bout of acne, then you’re one of the lucky ones. Acne is a skin condition that causes pimples on the skin. It is the most common reason for seeing a dermatologist. There are plenty of myths for what causes it, but acne is triggered when your skin pores are clogged. 

You can reduce acne by washing your face daily with a gentle, non-drying soap. Over-the-counter acne medicines may also help. Your medical provider may also suggest:

  • Topical or antibiotics, such as tetracycline
  • Prescription creams or gels
  • Minor procedures, such as chemical skin peeling or photodynamic therapy, in which a chemical is applied to the skin and then exposed to light

Dry Skin

It turns out the dry winter air may be enough to cause your skin sensitivity. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, excessively dry skin can put you at risk of developing another skin condition due to irritation and itching.

To combat dry skin, your healthcare provider may recommend ointments or creams containing ingredients such as urea, ceramides, lactic acid, or glycerol. These can be found over the counter or prescribed. The best time to apply moisturizer is within a few minutes of washing. A humidifier may also help by adding moisture to dry air inside your home.

Other Causes

There are other, less common causes of skin sensitivity. They include:

  • Aging, which results in your skin losing moisture and becoming dry and cracked
  • Certain medications, especially ones that treat hypertension, that can cause dehydration
  • Hormonal changes, such as those during the menstrual cycle
  • Cancer treatment, which can cause patches of dry, itchy skin
  • Smoking, which speeds up skin aging and can lead to premature wrinkles and irritation
  • Pollution, a skin irritant
  • Certain medical conditions, such as skin cancer, kidney disease, liver disease, shingles, multiple sclerosis, and HIV

Women Are More at Risk

Global studies have found that about 50% to 61% of women and 30% to 44% of men have experienced sensitive skin. One theory for why women are more prone to skin sensitivity is differences in skin thickness. Women may also be more at risk for dehydration and dry skin due to hormonal changes. These theories still require further research. 

Questions Your Healthcare Provider May Ask

Prepare to answer these questions:

  • Where on your body do you experience skin sensitivity? 
  • Do any of your close relatives have sensitive skin?
  • How long have you noticed skin sensitivity?
  • Does anything make it better?
  • What makes it worse?
  • What types of cosmetic products and laundry detergents do you use at home?
  • Is your skin affected by changes in the weather?

Caring for Sensitive Skin

There are a wide variety of options for treating sensitive skin, both at home or at the dermatologist’s office. Treatment for sensitive skin usually has three components. The first goal is relief, to get the itching or burning under control. After that, focus on treating the cause of your sensitive skin. This may be best done with your dermatologist. Finally, work on preventing sensitive skin in the future. 

At-Home Treatments

There are several options for treating your sensitive skin at home. They include:

  • Moisturizing: A quality, unscented moisturizer can soothe dry skin and hopefully help prevent scratching.
  • Taking oatmeal baths or applying lotions containing oatmeal: A 2016 study found that lotions that contain colloidal oatmeal provide clinical improvements in skin dryness and irritation. Using oatmeal lotion can also protect your skin’s barrier, making it less likely to react to environmental irritants such as perfumes or dyes in clothing. 
  • Limiting the duration of hot baths and showers: Limit these to five minutes. Hot water could further irritate sensitive skin. When you towel off, gently pat your skin dry, as opposed to rubbing it.
  • Applying sunscreen: Make sure to apply sunscreen any time you’ll be spending time outdoors, even in the winter.
  • Wearing loose fitting clothing: If certain fabrics irritate your skin when they rub against it, opt for loose-fitting clothes. 
  • Taking a probiotic: Taking a probiotic or using a probiotic cream may help restore your skin’s protective barrier, helping it to heal and guard against possible irritants. 

When to See a Healthcare Provider

When your at-home treatments are not providing relief, it’s time to talk with your healthcare provider. A dermatologist can also help you determine if there is an underlying cause, such as kidney disease, for your sensitive skin. Your practitioner will know what questions to ask and what tests to run to move forward. 


Sensitive skin is a common condition characterized by skin that becomes easily red, swollen, or otherwise irritated. A number of things can lead to flare-ups, such as allergies or rosacea. Fortunately, there are many treatments. They include over-the-counter and prescription creams, oral medication, or minor procedures. You can take care of your sensitive skin by moisturizing and wearing sunscreen daily.

11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH
Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH, is a health writer with over a decade of experience working as a registered nurse. She has practiced in a variety of settings including pediatrics, oncology, chronic pain, and public health.