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Contact Dermatitis. 2005 Aug;53(2):93-9.

The complex problem of sensitive skin.

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Safety and Environmental Assurance Centre, Unilever Colworth Laboratory, Sharnbrook, Bedford, MK44 1LQ, UK.


There exists within the population subsets of individuals who display heightened skin reactivity to materials the majority find tolerable. In a series of investigations, we have examined interrelationships between many of the endpoints associated with the term 'sensitive skin'. In the most recent work, 58 volunteers were treated with 10% lactic acid, 50% ethanol, 0.5% menthol and 1.0% capsaicin on the nasolabial fold, unoccluded, with sensory reactions recorded at 2.5 min, 5 min and 8 min after application. Urticant susceptibility was evaluated with 1 m benzoic acid and 125 mM trans-cinnamic acid applied to the volar forearm for 20 min. A 2 x 23-h patch test was also conducted using 0.1% and 0.3% sodium dodecyl sulfate, 0.3% and 0.6% cocamidopropyl betaine and 0.1% and 0.2% benzalkonium chloride to determine irritant susceptibility. As found in previous studies, increased susceptibility to one endpoint was not predictive of sensitivity to another. In our experience, nasolabial stinging was a poor predictor of general skin sensitivity. Nevertheless, it may be possible to identify in the normal population individuals who, coincidentally, are more generally sensitive to a range of non-immunologic adverse skin reactions. Whether such individuals are those who experience problems with skin care products remains to be addressed.

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