Is it Reactive Skin or Sensitive Skin?


Do you ever get a rash or breakout from a lotion or a cleanser?

Does the wind or weather conditions irritate and dry your face or hands?

Does your skin burn or tingle when you use a product with fragrance or perfume?

How about itching sensation or redness on your skin?

What about dry red eyes?

Having sensitive skin is something you learn to live with, and every day is a challenge. We experience things such as tingling, burning, tight/dry skin, itching, pain, discomfort, flushes, redness, scaling, swelling, and even oozing and scabs. All of these are signs that you may have sensitive skin.

Do you have sensitive skin? If so, how sensitive is it?

In her wonderful book, Beyond Soap, Dr. Sandy Skotnicki introduces us to a simple test to determine if you have sensitive skin. The test is included in a study performed by Dr. Laurent Misery, who developed and designed the test. [source]

1. On a score from 0-10, with the maximum being 10, what has been the severity of the following over the last few days:

  • Overall Skin Irritation
  • Stinging
  • Burning
  • Tautness
  • Itching
  • Pain
  • General Discomfort
  • Flushes
  • Sensation of Heat
  • Redness
2. Total all the scores and see what the outcome is out of 100.

If you scored over 20 on the test, based on Dr. Misery’s study, you would be considered to have sensitive skin. However subjective the test, it may help you rethink your skin sensitivity and heighten your awareness towards the products and ingredients you apply.

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Now what’s the difference between sensitive skin and reactive skin?


Sensitive skin is usually considered to be a genetic trait resulting in a poor skin barrier allowing irritants and allergens to penetrate. This in turn causes adverse reactions such stinging, burning, redness, flushing, and even pain, just as we learned in the test from Dr. Misery. Sensitive skin is typically thin, with blood vessels near the surface which can cause the skin to appear red. Everyone with this skin knows and understands what causes the symptoms to appear on their skin. It differs from person to person and can range from a material to wind, and everything in between.


Reactive skin can develop due to the environment in which it’s exposed. Skincare ingredients, cosmetics, and other external factors are typically responsible for the triggers of reactive skin. After prolonged use of certain products, contact allergies can develop. However, by eliminating these product ingredients from your daily life, you can avoid the reaction. There are, unfortunately, other triggers such as environment and temperature that can cause these reactions and do require other changes such as lifestyle and self-care.


Reactive Skin Allergies

In her book, Dr. Sandy Skotnicki also discusses skin reactions, allergies, and the product ingredients of the beauty industry in-depth. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in understanding what our products are doing to our skin, how it’s effecting our skin, and how we can change it.

Dr. Skotnicki brings to light the some of the basics of skin allergies:

  1. An allergic reaction never occurs after first contact with a substance. It’s only after repeated exposure to chemical, that the immune system becomes sensitized.
  2. “Once allergic, always allergic.” After your immune system has been sensitized to a substance, it will always cause an allergic reaction. If you notice that you only have a reaction sometimes to a substance, then you’re most likely not allergic to it.
  3. Allergies can develop slowly over time, sometimes it takes years of using a product before the reactions occur from its ingredients.
  4. The rash from a reaction could last several weeks, even if there’s only a small amount of allergen.
  5. The reactions can become stronger over time, with each new exposure to the chemical.
  6. Reactions aren’t necessarily localized and can spread.
  7. Some reactions after exposure can take hours and even days to flare up.

[source: Beyond Soap by Dr. Sandy Skotnicki, Chapter 5] 

Okay, but is this really important for me?

Understanding what we put in our body and on our skin isn’t a new topic. There has been debate for many years on what’s good for you and what’s not. Fat used to be the enemy in the weight-loss diet, and now the fat-heavy keto diet is all the rage in today’s gyms. These debates will continue, and the trends will shift, but it will always come down your unique body. What works for others, may not work for YOU!

Being mindful of what we put on our skin is crucial for the future of our skin health and even our mental health. The magnitude of ingredients that the average person applies to their skin daily, 126 unique ingredients according to an EWG Survey, can potentially lead them to severe skin allergies as they get older.

Now the question is, are all these ingredients in all these products necessary?

Can we reduce the number of products we use by using products with dual uses?

Can we reduce the amount of ingredients by using products with minimal, effective ingredients?

As the years continue on, dermatologists will continue to inevitably see more patients with these allergic reactions if we continue on this path of constant cleansing, exfoliating, serums, lotions, creams, balms, and 10-step beauty regimens with 30+ ingredients in each product.


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