Physical Health, Wellness / Self-Care

Is your Skin actually sensitive or just sensitized?

Skin can be confusing.

words by: Natasha Marsh
Aug 27, 2022

A few months ago, my sister and I went to a Black-owned Brooklyn-based spa and treated ourselves to facials. We had such a luxe experience, and as women of color, we wanted to support the establishment. Therefore, we purchased one of the many skincare products our estheticians used during our treatments.


For myself, I got the hydrating facial serum. For my sister, she clung to the facial moisturizer that she said made her skin next level. After a day of using the serum, I still felt like my skin was super hydrated and had a good glow. However, for my sister, instead of the glowy skin the bottle promised and esthetician delivered, her face was red, blotchy and even a bit itchy.


Her situation is not unique. With the amount of skincare brands and products on the market today, competition is at an all-time high. Brands will formulate products with high levels of active ingredients or cut corners to get sales. In fact, in 2019, a study proved that 70% of women had a reaction to a skincare product, leading them to believe they had sensitive skin. But did they actually? Or are the products they are using lying to them, and stripping their faces of natural oils?


Maybe, just maybe, your skin is not actually sensitive, but instead, sensitized to poor products. Sensitive skin and sensitized skin look and feel similar, but they are not at all the same. Below, we break down the main differences.


Sensitive skin vs. Sensitized skin

First and foremost, sensitive skin is a skin type, typically a permanent situation. If you have sensitive skin, your skin is easily irritated and will tend to produce dryness, itching, redness, or flaking when it comes into contact with an ingredient that doesn’t play well. For sensitive skin types, you will usually have to select very specific ingredients and products for your skincare routine.


Alternatively, sensitized skin is a temporary situation that occurs when the skin comes into contact with something externally. Sensitized skin can sometimes happen with allergies. If you have runny nose or swollen eyes, it could trigger a reaction to your face.


Which do I have?

Yes, the big question. It’s a lot more complicated than that, as sensitive skin can be sensitized skin as well. However, sensitive skin can easily inflame when triggered by harsh skincare ingredients, like lactic acid, or the big acne combatting one, retinol. Plus, fragrance and preservatives don’t help either.


Sensitized skin, on the other hand, can happen when the skin touches specific chemicals, like dyes that can cause scaling and itching. If you are unsure of what you have and how to treat it, speak to a dermatologist or medical professional.


Here’s a breakdown of different skin types to get you started.


Photo via Shutterstock