Chapter 2: Ask a dermatologist: Your sensitive skin questions answered

When it comes to understanding our sensitive skin, it’s important to consult the experts to get a true sense of what’s going on under the microscope. We spoke with leading dermatologist Dr. Nina Roos to get her expert advice on all things sensitive skin, from classic symptoms to different skin types’ reactions.

How do we develop sensitive skin?

When it comes to defining sensitive skin, Dermatologist Dr. Nina Roos tells us that symptoms linked to skin sensitivity can vary from woman to woman, with diet, lifestyle, genetics and even where we live playing a role in our skin’s reactions to the environment. Nina notes that while some women are genetically predisposed to suffering from sensitive skin, others begin to experience symptoms later in life as a result of hormonal changes due to aging, with over 50% of women in their twenties report having sensitive skin, compared with under 30% of women in their seventies. Other women may experience heightened sensitivity pre- or post-menopause, as well as during pregnancy. In other words, even women who consistently describe their skin as very sensitive may experience changes to their skin’s reactions depending on their age, location or diet.

Can our skincare routine play a role?

While we know that use of cosmetics doesn’t provoke the development of sensitive skin, Nina does note a third type of profile, a worrying phenomenon that’s currently emerging in Japan and Korea. Initial studies suggest that Asian beauty’s ‘layering’ trend, which for some woman can go as far as ten- or twelve-step skincare routines, has led to women who regularly use multiple skincare products developing extremely sensitive skin later in life. Nina points out: “If you brushed your teeth with ten different brands of toothpaste, once an hour every hour, all day every day, your mouth would immediately begin to react. The same is true for your skin.”

What does sensitive skin look like on different women?

Ever wondered why your face feels far more sensitive when it’s windy than when it’s cold out? Or why spending hours in heavy traffic can sometimes leave your skin feeling irritated? You’re not alone. Research suggests that pollution can seriously alter the skin’s cutaneous barrier, while high winds can lead to stinging and redness. Studies also have shown that regular consumption of spicy food results in higher levels of skin sensitivity.[1] Finally, ethnicity also plays a role: European and Asian skin is more susceptible to extreme changes in weather or temperature, while women of African origin are less likely to suffer from redness.[2] [3] Remember though - sensitive skin affects all skin types, so don’t fall for the myth that oily skin can’t experience the symptoms listed above!


[1] Ethnic variations in self-perceived sensitive skin: epidemiological survey. R. Jourdain, O. De Lacharriere, P. Bastien and H.I. Maibach - L’Oréal Recherche

[2] Jourdain R, de Lacharrière O, Bastien P, Maibach H I. Ethnic variations in self-perceived sensitive skin: epidemiological survey. Contact Dermatitis 2002.

[3] C.M. Willis et al. Sensitive skin : an epidemiological study. Brit. Journ. of Dermatol. 145 : 258-263 (2001)