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Am J Contact Dermat. 1998 Sep;9(3):170-5.

Factors defining sensitive skin and its treatment.

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Estée Lauder Companies, Melville, NY 11747, USA.



Users of cosmetics and skin care products often report adverse reactions ranging from itching and dryness to intense inflammatory responses such as erythema or wheal and rash. Self-assessment is not always an accurate parameter for categorizing skin as sensitive or nonsensitive, although it can be valuable. For this reason, it is important to define sensitive skin by more objective factors.


Studies were undertaken to determine if objective biophysical measurements could detect differences in barrier function between those individuals who identified themselves as having sensitive skin and those self-identified as having normal skin. In addition, the effects of treatment on barrier functions of individuals with sensitive skin were determined.


Three main factors that contribute to cutaneous reactivities were observed for the estimation of skin sensitivity: barrier functions, reactivity to irritants, and neuronal responses manifested as sensory reactions. Barrier functions of the skin was tested by gentle removal of the stratum corneum with simple cellophane tape stripping followed by measurement of transepidermal water loss (TEWL) as a marker of barrier loss. The onset and intensity of skin reaction against an irritant, balsam of Peru, was tested on the same individuals to observe the reactivity of their skin. Using the lactic acid sting test, additional information regarding skin sensitivities was obtained.


Sensitive skin individuals exhibiting easy barrier damage possess delicate skin that is also highly reactive to irritants. When these individuals used a regimen of products that contained minimal preservatives and no surfactants for 8 weeks, the skin barrier and reactivity changed such that it was similar to nonsensitive skin.


Skin sensitivity is observed because of a combination of factors, including a disrupted barrier and a tendency to hyperreact to topical agents. Treatment with special topical skin care formulations can reduce overall skin sensitivity.

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