Sensitive Skin

by Katie Faulkner

According to a poll from the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), nearly half of the U.S. population identifies as suffering from sensitive skin. Read on for tips on symptom identification and some of the most common irritants to avoid.

soap, thermometer, jewelry, bra, lip gloss, makeup brush and powder chattanooga

What is Sensitive Skin?

The NLM and NIH define sensitive skin as, “Hyper-reactivity to environmental factors.”  This means that diagnosable sensitive skin has extreme reactions such as: hives, bumps, erosion, pustules, itching, burning, stinging, a tight sensation, excessive dryness that exposes nerve endings, and a tendency to flush or blush.   


Soap (and water) can strip skin of its natural oils, contributing to excessive dryness.

Detergent or Dryer Sheets

Many ingredients found in these can contaminate clothing, towels, and bedding. If you’re skin reacts to everyday textiles, try switching detergents or dryer sheets.


Found in everyday items that contain elastic, latex can cause reactions around bra straps, waistbands, or gloves.


With numerous ingredient combinations and little to no manufacturing or labeling regulations, everything from hand lotion to perfume to baby powder could cause irritation.

Household Cleaners

The numerous chemicals found in household cleaners can cause irritating effects.


Excessive heat or cold can cause sensitive skin to itch, burn, tighten, chafe, and dry out.


Found in costume jewelry, zippers, watches, and even some household hardware or over the counter vitamins, nickel can cause a reaction.


Scratchy or synthetic materials are usually to blame. Stick to soft natural fabrics like cotton, linen, and silk (not wool).


PABA-based chemicals found in some sunscreens can cause irritation. If you find that sunscreen causes issues for you, look for one that doesn’t contain PABA-based chemicals and stay protected from the sun.

If your skin is having severe reactions, you may have sensitive skin. Try eliminating synthetic materials and chemicals from your daily life. If you still can’t identify the triggering irritants, see a dermatologist for help.