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What is sensitive skin? Contrary to popular belief, sensitive skin is a common skin concern, but not a skin type. Oily, dry, and balanced skin can all develop sensitivities at some point. Sensitive skin is an umbrella term used to describe skin that’s more prone to have adverse reactions to external irritants and inflammation. Here, we answer commonly asked questions about sensitive skin.

Question: How Do I Know If My Skin is Sensitive? 

Answer: Sensitive skin will exhibit similar symptoms as other skin issues, like rosacea, eczema, or allergic contact dermatitis, so make sure to rule these out and consult with your dermatologist for an accurate diagnosis. If you suspect that your skin is sensitive, check if you have the common symptoms. 

If your skin is sensitive, it would be reactive to specific triggers, such as soaps, fragrances, detergents, and other household products. External factors, such as exposure to extreme cold or heat, can also make your skin react. Most people with sensitive skin also experience redness, bumps, rashes, and blushing. Your skin will also be itchy, dry, and tight, and some products will make your skin sting. 

Question: What Are the Common Triggers of Sensitive Skin?

Soaps may contain harsh ingredients that are irritating to skin.

Answer: If you have sensitive skin, check your household for common irritants that may trigger your sensitivity. The usual suspects include soap, household cleaners such as dishwashing liquid, laundry detergent, and fabric softener, rough fabrics that cause friction against the skin, heat and sweating, and fragrances not just in perfumes but in all products.

Moreover, certain ingredients may work well with your friend's skin but not with yours. For example, some people can tolerate Vitamin C, AHAs, and preservatives. Some people find chemicals used in sunscreen harsh. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends conducting a patch test by applying a small amount of the product behind the ear and leaving it overnight. 

Question: What Skincare Products Should I Use for My Sensitive Skin?

Answer: Because sensitivity is not a skin type, it’s not that easy to identify products that are suitable for your skin because they won’t necessarily be labeled. But in general, try looking for products that list fewer ingredients are fragrance-free. 

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, “fragrance-free” refers to products that don’t use fragrance materials or fragrance-masking ingredients — not to be confused with “unscented,” which means the product may contain chemicals that mask the odors of certain ingredients. You can still use unscented products as long as it doesn’t contain any of your triggers and you’ve done a patch test. 

Avoid products containing antibacterial agents, alcohol, retinoids, or AHAs.

Use soap for sensitive skin or switch to a moisturizing bar like Dove Bar for Sensitive Skin, which has a fragrance-free, hypoallergenic formula enriched with ¼ moisturizing cream to comfort itchy, tight skin and leave it feeling soft and smooth. It also comes in a liquid formula, Dove Sensitive Skin Body Wash, which has NutriMoisture technology to replenish lost nutrients in the skin. It’s clinically tested, hypoallergenic, and fragrance-free.

Question: What Cosmetics Should I Use for My Sensitive Skin?

Use non-waterproof mascara instead of eyeshadow to avoid irritating your skin.

Answer: Good news! Having sensitive skin doesn’t mean you’d have to avoid makeup. According to the AAD, you can still wear cosmetics — just be more aware of what’s in them. 

They recommend using makeup products that have fewer preservatives to minimize the risk of skin irritation. Avoid using waterproof cosmetics because the makeup remover needed to take them off may contain irritating chemicals. Avoid using eyeshadow and use pencil eyeliner and mascara instead. Liquid liners and brow fillers may contain latex that can irritate, so use an eyebrow pencil to draw on your brows.

Check the products that you have and be mindful of their expiration dates. The back label usually carries an icon of a jar or bottle with the recommended period of use from opening (6 months, 12 months, 18 months, etc.). Throw out expired or contaminated products because they may cause a reaction to your skin. Because it’s easy to lose count of the months, here’s a no-fail trick: If the product starts to smell funny, it’s time to chuck it.

Having sensitive skin doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy an extensive skincare routine or wear makeup — it simply means you need to be more aware of what comes into contact with your skin.