What Causes Sensitive Skin?



Jul 30, 2023

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I understand the toll chronic stress takes on your mind, body, and skin. Throughout many years of figuring out my health issues, I have channelled my existing knowledge as a Holistic Remedial Therapist and up-skilled as a Certified Cosmetic Formulator to create FIFTY7KIND, offering a collection of Multi-Award-Winning, Luxury formulas elevated by High-Performance Clinically Proven Actives, designed to holistically treat the impact of stress, by calming, nurturing, rejuvenating and restoring balance to the skin. Every product is made by hand in my Artisan lab in Australia.

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Do you have sensitive skin or has your skin become sensitised, is your barrier function damaged or are you the reactive type? Here we take a deep dive into what this all means for your skin and what the heck you should or could be doing differently. By the very nature of this complex issue, I have decided to split this post into two parts, in part one we look at “What Causes Sensitive Skin” and in part 2 “How To Treat Compromised Or Sensitive Skin”

what is sensitive skin?

If your sensory perception of your skin feels something like this – tightness, burning, tingling, pain, dryness, stinging and pruritus (itching) then you would be classed as having sensitive skin. Environmental factors play a role, as does having fair skin, lifestyle choices, stress, and hormones – throw rosacea, atopic dermatitis or psoriasis into the mix equals complete CHAOS!

What Causes Sensitive Skin? This is a complex issue and we can see that sensitive skin may be triggered by hypersensitivity to a range of stimuli which can be physical, chemical, psychological, and/or hormonal, multiple factors such as age, skin pigmentation, anatomic region, cultural factors and pre-existing diseases all have an influence. Now let’s unpack all this information and look at each different aspect to understand what is potentially happening to your skin. 

What Causes Sensitive Skin?


  • Irritation. This is caused by a chemical compound, the skin will react as soon as it is exposed to it, the concentration of the chemical irritant will dictate the severity of the skin reaction experienced.
  • Sensitisation. This is a type of allergic reaction that you may not notice upon immediate exposure to the chemical compound, further exposure to the compound will cause an inflammatory response by your immune system causing further sensitization. In other words, this has been acquired over time and by repeated exposure and can happen to anyone. It’s a never-ending cycle, once you’ve reacted to a product, your skin’s uppermost layer (stratum corneum) is compromised, giving way to the potential for even more problems.
  • Phototoxicity (PT). Also known as photosensitivity, is a skin reaction that occurs in the presence of ultraviolet (UV) light. Certain compounds found in essential oils are capable of absorbing energy from UV light much more effectively than skin. The application of the Essential Oil itself will not cause PT unless the skin is exposed to the sun or another UV light source. PT agents are known as ‘Bergapten‘ or ‘furocoumarins’ these are polycyclic molecules whose structure gives them the ability to absorb ultraviolet photons, store them for a while and then realize them in a ‘burst’ onto the skin.


  • Air Pollution. The generation of free radicals that may oxidize amino acids in tissue proteins and initiate lipid cell damage of polyunsaturated fatty acids, resulting in dermatitis and atopic eczema [when exposed to high levels of traffic-related air pollution] Particles in the nanosize range, especially those from traffic sources, are considered among the most harmful components causing oxidative stress in skin meaning premature aging – pigment spots and wrinkles. Pollution breaks down the acid mantle of the Stratum Corneum and damages the barrier function.
  • Exposure to UV rays. Has been linked to skin photoaging and to the development of skin cancers. UVA penetrates deeply into the basal layer of the epidermis and dermal fibroblasts. UVB has also been linked to the development of skin cancers. UVB is largely absorbed by epidermal cellular components.
  • Adverse Climates
    Dry. Sucks the moisture from your skin by literally drying it out, this climate can also induce and/or worsen some skin conditions – such as eczema and psoriasis. 
    Humid. Humidity often causes your pores to go into overdrive producing sweat to cool your body – which leaves you more prone to breakouts. 
    Cold. Exposure to cold air strips the skin of moisture and dries it out. 


  • Alcohol. Dehydrates your body, including the skin. This happens each time you drink. Drinking too much is also thought to deprive the skin of vital vitamins and nutrients. Over time, drinking heavily can have other, more permanent, detrimental effects on your skin. Rosacea is a skin that is linked to alcohol. 
  • Caffeine. Is highly acidic, and high doses of acidic caffeine disrupt your stress hormones, which control your skin’s oil production. Caffeine can act as a diuretic, dehydrating your skin if you drink too much.
  • Sugar. Breaks down collagen, the springy substance that makes your skin look plump, youthful, and lifted, it can weaken the immune system, and a suppressed immune system is bad at fighting off bacteria. Bacteria = clogged pores = pimples. Sugar triggers insulin production, which triggers protein-utilization malfunctions affecting the production of the proteins and amino acids that build up collagen and elasticity. It also creates more testosterone, which makes pores larger and skin oilier.
  • Cosmetics. Soaps, perfumes, stripping ingredients, excessive cleansing, and excessive exfoliation.
  • Smoking. Chemical substances from cigarette smoke activate transepidermal water loss, and degeneration of connective tissue, causing deeper wrinkling, and premature facial skin aging in smokers along with orange-purple skin discoloration. Free radicals from cigarette smoke cause oxidative stress, leading to lipid cell damage. Studies have shown a higher occurrence of acne among smokers and a correlation between the severity of acne and the number of cigarettes smoked. Cigarette smoke is also linked to psoriasis.
  • Medications. Doctors often prescribe steroid creams for severe irritations, eczema, and allergic reactions. While these creams reduce inflammation, they also thin the skin, leaving it more vulnerable to further irritants.


  • Hormones. Estrogen levels decline as we age, creating significant changes in how the skin looks and feels. It becomes dry, less elastic and more fragile. In humans, over age 40 the biggest culprit of dry and sagging skin is declining estrogen. Skin appears thin and sallow, with fine lines turning into deep creases. The areas around the eyes and lips may droop slightly and lose firmness and because of less blood flow and circulation, skin starts to appear less vibrant. 
  • Testosterone. It stimulates the sebum-producing glands, which are important for protecting skin with natural oils, but overproduction can lead to acne. 
  • Thyroid. This is a hormone that influences your skin’s appearance. An overactive thyroid can cause warm, sweaty, and flushed skin, while an underactive thyroid can lead to dry, coarse skin with a reduced ability to perspire.
  • Stress. Daily stress or poor stress management can weaken the skin barrier permanently, which slows down the skin healing process, including skin barrier recovery.


  • Atopic Dermatitis. This is the genetic form of eczema, which affects about 10-20% of people worldwide. Eczema is a chronic, long-lasting form of dermatitis.
  • Rosacea. This is an oxidative stress condition – this is due to an imbalance between antioxidants and reactive oxidizing species within the skin. Free radical damage causes this phenomenon, which worsens rosacea through inflammatory pathways.
  • Psoriasis. This is characterised by skin cells that multiply up to ten times faster than normal. As underlying cells reach the skin’s surface and die, their sheer volume causes raised, red plaques covered with white scales.
  • Genetic. You’re born with certain skin characteristics: thinner, delicate, possibly translucent skin tends to be redder due to blood vessels being close to the surface of the skin with visible capillaries on the rise and across the cheeks – this is common for Northern European ancestry. 
  • Disturbed Barrier. Studies suggest that sensitive skin is the result of the impaired barrier function of the stratum corneum (SC), this is the very outer layer of the epidermis, therefore, the body’s first defence against the environment, sun damage, and penetration of foreign matter toxins and microorganisms. A healthy functioning SC is key to healthy robust skin. Research suggests a link between atopic dermatitis and sensitive skin. 
  • Sensory Nervous System. A Disturbed Barrier of the SC can lead to the exposure of immune system cells and sensitive nerves, resulting in marked cutaneous responses (sensitive skin) to otherwise harmless stimuli.
  • Age. Your skin barrier weakens with age, generally the whiter or paler the skin, the thinner the barrier, which means you’re more prone to rashes, redness and irritation.
  • Hydration. The body consists of 75% water at birth, but this percentage gradually decreases as we age, nearing 0% at the end of life.
Over cleansing the skin with foaming products can Cause Sensitive Skin

Skincare Products and the Overuse Issue

The overuse of certain cosmetic ingredients can cause sensitive skin by disturbing the skin barrier function leading to various skin issues. The skin barrier is essential for maintaining hydration, protecting against external aggressors, and preventing the loss of essential substances. Overuse of certain ingredients can compromise this barrier, leading to dryness, irritation, inflammation, and other skin problems in other words your skin has now become sensitive!

Examples of specific cosmetic ingredients that, when overused, can disturb the skin barrier function:

  1. Retinoids (e.g., Retinol). Retinoids are used in pro-aging products because they promote skin cell turnover. However, excessive use can cause redness, peeling, and increased sensitivity, disrupting the skin barrier function.
  2. Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs). AHAs like glycolic acid and lactic acid are exfoliants that can help improve skin texture. However, overuse can lead to excessive exfoliation, disrupting the skin’s protective layer and irritating it.
  3. Benzoyl Peroxide. Benzoyl peroxide is used to treat acne due to its antibacterial properties. However, excessive use can strip the skin of its natural oils and compromise the skin barrier, leading to dryness and irritation.
  4. Essential Oils. While some essential oils can have beneficial properties, overusing them can irritate the skin and disrupt its barrier function. Examples include lemon oil, lavender oil, and tea tree oil.
  5. Alcohol – Alcohol is commonly found in toners and astringents. While it can help remove excess oil, overuse can lead to dryness and disrupt the skin barrier.
  6. Cleansing/Exfoliating. It is easy to over-cleanse the skin because we have been conditioned to think clean means squeaky clean. No!!!! this is stripping your skin barrier – also known as stratum corneum — the outermost layer of your five epidermis layers. The skin barrier is composed of 3 main elements, the microbiome, the acid mantle and the Lipid Barrier. (I will address this in another blog post!)

Final thoughts about the causes of sensitive skin

Everyone’s skin reacts differently; what may be too much for one person could be well-tolerated by another. Essential oils, for instance, are highly concentrated plant extracts containing various compounds. These compounds can sometimes trigger allergic reactions or irritate the skin.

The European Union (EU) has strict regulations in place to ensure the safety of cosmetics, including those containing essential oils. According to this regulation, cosmetics manufacturers must conduct safety assessments for their products, including those containing essential oils. The safety assessment process involves evaluating the potential risks associated with the ingredients used in the cosmetic product, including essential oils, and considering potential adverse effects, such as skin irritation or sensitization.

The EU Cosmetics Regulation requires the mandatory labelling of 26 specific fragrance allergens when they are present in cosmetic products at certain concentrations. These allergens, known to be potential sensitizers, often appear in essential oils used as fragrance components in cosmetics. Annex III of Regulation (EC) No 1223/2009 lists these 26 fragrance allergens.

Some examples of common essential oils containing these allergens:

  • Limonene (CAS No. 5989-27-5): It is a common component in citrus essential oils like lemon, orange, and grapefruit.
  • Linalool (CAS No. 78-70-6): Present in essential oils like lavender, rosewood, and coriander.
  • Geraniol (CAS No. 106-24-1): Found in rose, geranium, and palmarosa essential oils.
  • Citral (CAS No. 5392-40-5): Typically found in lemon, lime, and lemongrass essential oils.

Manufacturers must list these allergens on the product’s packaging if their concentration exceeds EU regulation thresholds. The expanded Annex III Regulation 1223/2009 will cover 82 allergen substances.

So many cosmetic products contain essential oils and/or “perfume”, why? because a pleasant aroma sells! it is part of the overall experience of product use and application. My concern is the lack of worldwide standards in cosmetic regulation in general with each region/country having its standards/regulations.

FIFTY7KIND ensures high standards by obtaining EU Certification and completing Safety Assessments. They rigorously test the essential oils in their products using GCMS to verify efficacy, purity, and safety. Additionally, they source essential oils that are Certified Organic or Wildcrafted, traceable to their origin, and used in precise, micro-dose amounts. Expertly formulated, multi-use and multi-award-winning artisan skincare you can trust.

TANU Skin Affinity Coactive Serum – Blue Tansy, Turmeric Co2 Extract, and Roman Chamomile.
NADI Innate Flow Quell Balsam – Blue Tansy, Rain Forest Blue.
LUCA Lipid Ferment Vitamin C Serum – Essential Oil Free.
ZUCI Unbind Balancing Purity Cleanse – Essential Oil Free.

Until next time, be human, be kind, be you.

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FITY7KIND Skincare Products ideal for sensative skin



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