Are you causing your skin to become sensitive?

I have a bit of a sensitive skin issue. No, I don’t have dermatitis or eczema but the skin my face turns a bit red on contact with certain ingredients and treatments. At one stage, the skin on my body got itchy quite easily too. I believe many ladies have similar issues as beauty salons I’ve visited have reported an increase in customers with sensitive skin seeking treatments. So why are there more and more people with sensitive skin if they’re not born with it or have a skin issue due to a medical condition? What’s causing our skin to become sensitive? Am I doing something to sabotage my own skin and causing it to become increasingly sensitive?

Strong skin treatments
During my recent facial, the therapist asked me if I’ve done any AHA peel before as she noticed that my cheeks turn red quite easily. And her hunch was right. Many years back, I was recommended to do an AHA peel using a high percentage of glycolic acid to eradicate my pigmented spots. At that time, I had no idea about skin care ingredients and hence, not knowing better, I agreed to the peel. However, my spots never got better and my skin definitely got worse! So now, I avoid AHA as they can aggravate my skin’s sensitivity. Apart from that, a series of IPL treatments about 6 to 7 years ago must have also aggravated my skin, causing increasing sensitivity. So generally, I avoid harsh treatments, and even regular ones like microdermabrasion, which can also trigger our skin to become more fragile over time.

Skin whitening and lightening products
I wrote about how skin lightening products causing skin sensitivity, especially those that use harsh ingredients such as Glutathione, which may result in heavy peeling. Other common whitening ingredients include Kojic Acid, Licorice Exctract, Mulberry Extract, Arubtin, Vitamin C (L-Ascorbic Acid), Retinol, Glycolic Acid, Lactic Acid, Lemon Juice Extract, and Papain and when used over prolonged period, can also cause skin to become sensitive. I guessed that’s also a major cause for the fragile state of my skin now as I was using whitening products over a long period in the past.

Environmental factors
Some people have griped that a change in a new environment, like moving to a new country, has caused their skin to become sensitive. So environmental factors such as cold, wind and rain as well as pollution and cigarette smoke can cause our skin to become sensitive over time. Mine is definitely due to exposure to the sun without using proper sun protection.

Photosensitive ingredients
In addition, using some ingredients can cause also cause skin to be photosensitized and be more sensitive to sunlight. Such ingredients does not necessarily have to be chemical based. Some pure essential oils are known to be phototoxic as well. I have also used a mineral foundation that caused my forehead to itch and developed rashes when exposed to the sun.

Over exfoliating
Even though exfoliation products sold for home use are usually quite mild, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to exfoliate our skin too often as doing so can cause our skin to lose the protective barrier and causing it to become sensitive. The most I’ve exfoliated is daily for a week to resolve some acne scars but it’s not something I’ll recommend doing often.

So do you have sensitive skin? Were you born with it? Or was it developed over time? If so, do you know what triggered it to become sensitive?


  1. flym says:

    I have sensitive skin that is prone to itchiness. Many products cause a stinging or burning feeling. My problem is due to allergic rhinitis which means I often experience itchiness & irritation of eyes, nose, ears & throat as well. I guess i have inherent sensitivity.

  2. astrorainfall @ beauty box says:

    Yeah my sensitive skin was developed over time as I got into my 30s. I feel very frustrated over this issue. But I think my problem is hormonal related but I do see your point in how we can make our skin more sensitive. I have used some really strong acne treatments before and now my skin turns red or breaks out in rashes after just a few days’ use.

    I think I just bought a night moisturizer with some AHA in it but haven’t used it – oh no!

  3. sesame says:

    Don’t use it nightly…alternate it with a gentler formulation. That’s what I do with my skin lightening product…use once or twice a week at most.

  4. sesame says:

    Yes, sounds like it. So I’m guessing the only way to help maintain your skin condition would be something to control your health condition?

  5. Beezy says:

    Hi Sesame, off-topic here. Am wondering if you ever covered a topic on washing our hands with the harsh liquid soaps found in public toilets/office toilets etc? Wonder if it means we need to bring our own hand soap? Thanks.

  6. Soos says:

    Since I use Retin-A at night, I know to avoid anything which contains glycolic acid. I do use a gentle, creamy cleanser which contains AHA every morning. All of these USUALLY work to keep my skin relatively clear.

    I just saw the dermatologist for another issue, but did ask about the persistent acne around my mouth. His answer was that it is HORMONAL, and to continue my regimen.

    One ingredient I avoid is benzoyl peroxide – causes pain, swelling and redness for me.

  7. Caramel says:

    Hi Sesame, thanks for the timely post. I have been trying DHC acelora 100 for about 3 weeks now every morning and night. I have not seen obvious effect yet, though tt seems to contain high content of vitamin C, which I thought will be good for my skin pigmentation.
    I am also wondering if I should try MVO’s skin lightening serum and its vitamin C supplement after finishing the DHC acelora 100.
    I have rather severe pigmentation on my skin, due to high exposure to sun without proper protection in my younger days.. I am quite bothered by it and am actually seriously considering getting some laser or chemical treatment to resolve my problem:(

  8. EcoBeauty says:

    One of the greatest regrets of my vanity-filled life was using exfoliating acids when I was just around 14-15 years old—and it’s because I didn’t know they were bad for my skin. After that, I suffered from sensitive skin for a few years. Good thing I grew out of that stage. My skin isn’t so sensitive now but I’m still scarred with all the sun damage I accumulated during those early years.

  9. Reena says:

    Thank You so much for this. I used a LOOOT of whitening products on my face, and it did cause a great deal of sensitivity at some point. I try to stay away from these products now,

  10. sesame says:

    Yes, best to stay away for awhile or moderate your usage by alternating your products.

  11. sesame says:

    Oh you started so early! But your skin looks pretty good to me. ?

  12. sesame says:

    If the spots are big, then laser treatment will help. I’ve found them less effective on the smaller spots though. What I’ve found is the combination of products plus increased blood circulation through diet has helped to lightened (but not gotten rid of them).

  13. sesame says:

    Not bad that the dermatologist can acknowledge that it’s a hormonal issue. Some dermatologists here will sure we didn’t wipe our mouth clean.

  14. sesame says:

    No, never covered the topic but it sounds interesting. I hardly use the liquid soaps in public toilets but if I do, I’ll just moisturize my hands immediately after.

  15. EcoBeauty says:

    pictures can be deceiving… I’m surprised, too, how my skin can sometimes look so good in photos. :S

  16. Shelly says:

    actually it’s not only just the strong treatments or environmental factors etc. I was on nimegen, pharmaceutical name for isotretinoin medicine. the doctor had to immediately prescribed it to me as my skin was in a DIRE need of saving as i had a really
    bad bout of cystic acne, they were really red and painful and lol during that period of time i never took pictures of myself with face, ever (yeah my friends only got body shots of me :D) so i was on nimegen for a year and it made my skin peel like maddddd and i was also given retacnyl to apply all over my skin to generate peeling and thus, lessen the scars.

    however, all those stuff has thinned my skin over time and i’ve only just 20 this year ? even the facial therapist commented that my varicose veins were all showing up ? so just to let everyone know, go on isotretinoin treatment if you’ve absolutely exhausted whatever treatments or alternative ways to treat acne, else you’ll have pretty thin skin. though it did save me from getting really bad craters. ah well, give and take.

  17. N. says:

    Nope my skin allergies are definitely here with me since I was born.

  18. holly says:

    I was considering IPL treatments for my sensitive, red skin. I heard it could help, but did you find it a too intensive treatment? I certainly don’t want to make my condition any worse.

  19. simplystephy says:

    You really made some great points regarding popular skincare methods/products causing skin sensitivity. I am a victim of a few of them, thank goodness I’ve never had a problem with skin sensitivity. However, I will be sure to let some of my fellow followers know about this post, since they often have problems. Thanks ?

  20. sesame says:

    Haha…I also say the same about myself when others comment. But you’re still young so the skin is still good. ?

  21. sesame says:

    Oh so those medications they prescribe might get rid of one problem but create another.

  22. sesame says:

    So it’s also more of an internal issue…

  23. sesame says:

    IPL helps to some extent but you have to maintain your skin. It is a treatment that can make your skin dry and sensitive. Moreoever, after the course of treatment, I didn’t see marked improvement when I didn’t continue. So I would say, if you can use products, then go with products.

  24. sesame says:

    Yeah, if it’s not something inherent, then it’s good to know what not to sabotage our skin that can cause sensitivity.

  25. snow says:

    Hi,I have developed eczema on my hands (fingers).. I was not born for it as it started since I was in my mid 20s till now.. I have seen a lot of skin specialist but it only cure it when I applied the oilment. Once I stop the oilment or medication, it came back again.. it’s very irritating as it itchy, with water bubble then dry and crack and bleed sometimes.. do you have any idea that what should I do with it? thanks!

  26. sesame says:

    If yours is only on your fingers and it’s not something inherent, it sounds like it’s due to contact with stuff you use or even heat. The only thing apart from applying the oilment is to avoid contact with harsh chemicals but I read that some people recommend a diet change to get rid of the problem. However, I don’t know how well it works. Have you tried taking honeysuckle? You can get it at the Chinese medical halls and they are supposed to help with skin conditions. I’m going to post something about it this week so you might want to keep a look out.

  27. snow says:

    Hi Sesame, thanks! What is the honeysuckle looks like? I would love to have a try on that ? Thanks ya!

  28. sesame says:

    It’s a bit like dried flower buds. If you go pass Hock Hwa Medical Hall, check them out. In Chinese it’s “Jin Yin Hua”.

  29. Shelly says:

    that’s for my case i guess…or maybe i wasnt born with the thickest skin lol. anyways sesame, i’ve a random question. is it true that the bubbles in foaming facial cleanser can cause wrinkles on the face?

  30. sesame says:

    Interesting question. I’ve used foaming cleanser for a long time but I don’t really see them aggravating my wrinkles. I’m not sure what’s the basis for this assumption but I’m thinking it could be referring to the drying nature of foaming facial cleansers? If that is the case, then it’s only true of those using harsh detergents like SLS or SLES.

  31. holly says:

    I’ve also heard that taking omega 3’s help the skin improve alot and that most people already have too much omega 6 in their diet. I tried flax seed oil, but it was too hard on my digestive system.

  32. Cscn says:

    Wow, you listed quite a number of acids that are used in skin lightening that aren’t good. I was wondering about acids in general; would they cause harm/sensitivity to your face? (for instance, I see a lot of products list stearic acid as one of their ingredients) Or are they gentle enough that they won’t damage your skin?

  33. sesame says:

    No, not all acids are harmful despite the name. Stearic acid that you mentioned, primarily fulfills the role of a thickener or hardener. It also acts as an emulsifying agent. It is pretty okay in my knowledge for skin…no issue.

    Those whitening ingredients I mentioned are not all harmful…just that long term usage might promote skin sensitivity for some skin types.

  34. sesame says:

    Flaxseed oil does not work for all cos it’s plant-based omega. I’ve got personal issues with it and I wrote about it here:

    However, fish oil would be better.

  35. Caramel says:

    Thanks, Sesame. I need to do more research on the treatment and on the proper diet for my skin. What’s your take on DHC Collagen Beauty 7000 drinks?

  36. sesame says:

    Never tried that brand of collagen drink so not sure if they’re effective. I know the gals rave about the Fancl one. I think these are ok if taken continuously…they do improve the skin condition.

    On a related note, maybe you want to try the Lustre supplement I blogged about (it was an advertorial I wrote). I am almost completing the bottle and think it’s not bad but just that I’m taking one per day. I was told it will help to even out skin tone too. Seeing a slight improvement so far. But my skin is definitely not so tight by the end of the day so the oil production seems to be under control.

  37. L. says:

    @Soos: I don’t know why but whenever I hear that someone has acne, in your case even a persistent one around the mouth area, the thought of Perioral dermatitis crosses my mind. I’m not a dermatologist but if it happens to be PD then it has to be treated because it won’t go away on its own. When it’s a hormonal issue then the acne will vanish sooner or later.

  38. Soos says:

    Thanks – I looked this up & it doesn’t sound or look like what I have. I’m getting a recheck in 5 weeks and I’ll ask the question.

  39. C says:

    Great comments on the products- jumping from product to product, especially if it has strong ingredients, without giving it adequate time to work can create disturbance in the skin and cause it to go sensitive.

  40. sesame says:

    That’s a good point…but I wonder what about alternating products.

  41. Carrie says:

    I do not have sensitive skin but somehow I was also too confident about my skin condition. Last night my mom asked me to help her finish off some Vit. C serum (to which I guess it is L-Ascorbic Acid as you mentioned above) because it is causing her some irritation and dry skin. Even though the serum was rich and creamy, I had a sudden burning and tingling sensation on my face, and straight away my whole face turned reddish, but faded after few minutes. Yet a patch of redness and tingling sensation still lingers around my mouth and chin today. Even though I do find my skin becoming brighter and lighter overall with the serum, I guess my skin would not suit it in the long term. I wonder if we can use the serum on our hands and feet?! Seems a waste to throw them away haha!!

  42. sesame says:

    One way is not to use it too much or too often…that serum your mom passed you must have good amount of L-Ascorbic Acid and it was a stable formulation. Another way is to use on other parts of your body like you mentioned.

  43. Carrie says:

    Thanks for the tip!! Despite some temporary irritation has occurred, I do like the outcome of my skin as it does make my skin looks bright with rosy cheeks ? So might give the serum another try, but I think I will just use it once every two weeks for now.

  44. sesame says:

    Vitamin C has that effect…can cause some serious reddening. Once, my eyes look like red lobsters! But the results are quite desirable.

  45. Nn says:

    I have sensitive skin as well. Agree that harsher treatments thin the skin but my prob is I have dull skin that looks tired. Lasers have good rejuviation effects. Using skincare may take forever. What’s ur take on skin rejuvenation without help of above treatments?

  46. sesame says:

    You mean without laser treatments? Yes, probably slower but it depends on which salon you go to. I’ve tried at least two that gave me instant results…but I can’t say how it is compared to laser.

  47. Hazel says:

    I think the mineral makeup i use is photosensitive. Because i apply it and sometimes i feel itchy on the forehead. Should i stop using it?
    Hazel last post is: Review: Tony Moly Expert Triple BB Cream SPF45PA+++

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