Hey lady…do you have sensitive or sensitized skin?

Many ladies tell me they have sensitive skin when in fact, what they’re really suffering from is a case of sensitized skin. “What? There is a difference?” Oh yeah, there is and I hadn’t realized it until a beauty expert pointed it out to me about two years ago. However, I didn’t give much thoughts to it until now because I’d just noticed that many products out in the market are labeled for “sensitive skin” but not “sensitized skin”.

Sensitive skin is inherent
According to information gleaned from various sources, sensitive skin is genetically-inherited and those with truly sensitive skin are prone to blushing, asthma and allergies. Such skin types are considered more delicate with a lesser amount of pigment, a thin epidermis, and also vessels that are closer to the surface of the skin. As a result, the skin color tends to be marked by some amount of redness.

Sensitized skin is acquired
Sensitized skin, on the other hand, is acquired and is usually caused by both internal and external factors. Like sensitive skin, sensitized skin experience tightness, redness, rashes and sometimes swelling too. But it’s triggered by factors like pollution, stress, hormonal fluctuations, diet, alcohol intake, smoking, cosmetic irritants, and sun exposure.

Damaged epidermal lipid barrier layer
But both sensitive and sensitized skin are characterized by the defective epidermal lipid barrier layer, which allows any irritants and bacteria to penetrate the skin easily, resulting in flare-ups such as inflammation, eczema, atopic dermatitis and rosacea. Such flare-ups, when allowed to persist, can cause premature aging. Not too pretty I must say.

Sensitized skin can be overcome
If you were to think about it, it is better to have sensitized than sensitive skin because there is a chance you can “break the cycle of sensitization” by making improvements in your lifestyle choices and environmental triggers. However, if you’re born with sensitive skin, it’s really something innate and irreversible.

Identify trigger factors
But the good news is that whether you have sensitive or sensitized skin, you can get the condition treated and moderated. In the case of sensitized skin, you can even overcome the condition by avoiding all the trigger factors – provided you can identify them. I would think the trigger factors are also easier to identify for those suffering from sensitized skin as compared to those with sensitive skin.

General strategies to control flare-ups
So general strategies to control the flare-ups include: avoid harsh skin treatments, avoid using products with harsh ingredients such as alcohol and fragrance, avoid excessive exfoliation, avoid strong sun exposure, avoid using too hot or too cold water, etc. If you know a certain food can trigger your skin condition, then avoid it altogether.

A fine difference
However, the difference between sensitive and sensitized skin is really very fine and I’m not too sure if it’s all that important to know given that symptoms are pretty similar. And going by that line of thought, I suppose it’s not wrong for products in the market to be marked for sensitive skin without giving attention to those with sensitized skin. But personally, I have slightly sensitized skin and knowing the difference helps me to understand that my skin issue is not permanent and can be reversed if I make the right choices.

Share your thoughts on the subject
But I do wonder how others feel about this difference. Is it important to know or is it something that’s trivial. If you have sensitive skin or sensitized skin, perhaps you can share your thoughts with me?


  1. Scott says:

    YES..I only found this out recently too when speaking to a cosmetic sales assistant who told me she blushes when she drinks wine which is a classic symtom of sensitive skin…and since I never blush when I drink wine and since my skin is not particularly thin(like hers) I realised the my sensitization is not innate…but from dryness…damaged barrier..hope I can fix it..

  2. Juniper says:

    Hi Sesame,
    Does damaged epidermal lipid barrier layer cause oily skin to be dehydrated? In such cases, can still use OCM?

  3. Kay says:

    I am specifically allergic to animal fur, like cats or dogs. But not sensitive skin.
    There’s a period of time I tried to treat my acne flare up using strong acne medication, oral and external, and didn’t hydrate my skin sufficiently. My skin became sensitized after a few months that it’s so painful just by applying a lightweight moisturiser. My skin also irritates easily from dust or pollution. I stopped the acne treatment and changed my skincare to a gentler range all together and my skin gradually improved overtime. Right now it’s in a better stage than before and I’m working towards reducing the remaining light scars I have now. Definitely back to normal ?

  4. EcoBeauty says:

    Great post! I think that I’ve been hearing lots of people, probably most of them unknowingly, over-using the word “sensitive skin”.

    “I’m having breakouts! My skin is so sensitive!”
    “Oh, my skin turned red, I’ve got sensitive skin!”
    “Can’t use this, can’t use that because I’ve got sensitive skin!”

    But ever since I developed eczema after having skin as tough as that of a cow for more than 20 years (almost not exaggerating here because I had peels at a young age and didn’t experience any problems then), I suspected that there’s more to problematic skin that it being potentially ‘sensitive’. And that’s when I observed that the products I used had a lot to do with how my skin reacted and if I kept my lifestyle healthier and used products which are quite simple in formulation, my ‘sensitive’ skin stopped acting up.
    EcoBeauty last post is: Do you believe in Collagen Supplements and Drinks? Do I?

  5. fwy says:

    I have both. Guess it is tougher for me to take care of my skin. One way is to use less product unlike some asians who uses 8 to 10 products in their skincare routine.

  6. suzie says:

    recently I tried a home Latic Acid peel on my skin twice and god how I wish I could turn back the clock of time. First time, My whole face was blistered even though I left the acid for less than 2 minutes. Second time, if you all wonder why I was so stupid to do that to my skin again, the reason is they all said the skin will get used to Latic Acid after the second time so I decided to give it a try again and also my skin felt congested and I was desperated.
    3 weeks after that, the red scabs still not completely cleared. And from that point onwards, my skin was sensitized. It started rejecting all the normal skin-care that i have been using. I woke up in the morning with a blotchy face when I used my usual AHA lotion. So now, damage done, lesson learned..extreme stuffs like acid should never be home handled.

  7. eve says:


    Have u tried enzyme mask, like Andalou bioactive 8 berry enzyme mask? Will this type of mask be suitable for sensitive or sensitised skin?

  8. Marla says:

    Very good article. Sometimes less is best on your skin. More products sometimes causes me more problems.

  9. Sesame says:

    Actually it’s quite shame that I’ve gotten my skin sensitized cos it used to be much healthier…*sigh* all those years of listening to the wrong advice even though they were so-called beauty experts.

  10. Sesame says:

    Yes, it can but I can’t be certain. Oily skin can also be a result of dry skin – when the skin is too dry, it tends to secrete more oil to try to protect. I would advise against OCM cos you’ll need to use a certain amount of hot water and that can be drying for the skin. If you really have to use OCM, don’t do it too regularly.

  11. Sesame says:

    That’s good! I’m glad you identified the issue and managed to arrest the problem in time. You’re right that some medication can cause skin issues too. But I can just imagine skin that’s painful to even apply moisturizer!

  12. Sesame says:

    Often than not, I use the word “sensitive” too rather than “sensitized”…I guess it’s something ingrained.

    I think the peels might have something to do with your issues now too. That’s the problem…when we have hardy skin, we tend not to think much about what we use. I was like that too.

  13. Sesame says:

    Oh, you have both? Definitely using lesser products will help.

  14. Sesame says:

    I feel your pain…but if you take proper care of your skin now, it can help and become better.

  15. Sesame says:

    No I haven’t tried but I took a quick look at the ingredients and they seem quite okay. But again, no one can be sure. Best you do a patch test before using all over your face.

  16. Sesame says:

    True…less is indeed better.

  17. Jyoan says:

    I have never heard of “sensitized skin”. I guess it’s good to know which you are, if you experience some form of redness, swelling, etc.

    It’s good to read this and know that I have sensitive skin… … can’t take funny stuff from young, itchy, asthma, yes. However, the sad thing is that nothing really helps me since it’s genetics. I try as much as possible to use good ingredients, eat good food, exercise etc.
    Jyoan last post is: FOTD: The Grey That Wasn’t Meant To Be ft. Laneige Love in Bloom

  18. Sesame says:

    Oh you have sensitive skin. But I think you’re doing it right…keeping to good ingredients, good food and exercise! I don’t exercise. ?

  19. lenny says:

    through this i realized i have sensitive skin but I question if it’s herditary because my complexion is blotchy and red and veiny but it wasn’t always like this .. my skin used to be flawless.. .I’m currently using this Korean face serum by Sulwahsoo and it works great with dry skin and improving my complexion, however that tiny bottle of 60 ml is USD $110. >_<

  20. Sesame says:

    Oh that’s an upmarket Korean brand and that’s why the pricing. But there are other products that are good too but the problem is you’ll have to try to know.

  21. Zaza says:

    Hi, I knew this is an old post of yours but I wanted to hear your opinion. This is actually the first time I heard about sensitized skin.. After reading this article, I am convinced that I have sensitized skin…it all happen when I tried a certain whitening product to even my skin…it was gre8 at time but after a while I found dry patches then my skin starts to itch and redden…it was totally horrific for me..I went back to the beauty ctr and they basically told me I have sensitive skin & they give me a diff one, milder they said but it still happen. I stopped everything and just use a milder cleanser…only that for my face for a few mths…no sun block no moisturiser as I was afraid of what it cud do…recently i used back the moisturiser which used to work well previously but now it just itch when ever I used them…so I stopped…I am so afraid now to put any form of cream on my face…In your opinion, what should I do…so I ll be able to use back moisturiser and sunblock again?

    PS: I ve read ur article on whitening products that could cause ur skin to be sensitized which brought me to this realization…thanks it was a great article…

  22. Sesame says:

    I think you need to choose gentler products. Stop using whitening products. You can try using a facial oil like sweet almond or grapeseed.

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