Sensitive and intolerant skin: what it is

Why we have it and how to take care of it

Skin is sensitive because its protective barrier is compromised.

Sensitive skin reacts more strongly to external stimuli that typically are not a problem to normal skin, such as heat, cold, cosmetics, UV rays, contact with fabrics.
It is not about sensitized or allergic skin, but rather skin being more vulnerable to environmental agents, generally due to alterations of the epidermal barrier function, which expose it more to potential irritants.

Skin sensitivity is increasingly growing worldwide in industrialised countries and affects mostly women and in the face. It can be a constitutional condition or temporary, as a result of dermatological conditions (seborrheic dermatitis, acne rosacea, ...) or aesthetic medicine treatments like laser, peels and pulsed light.

It shows with burning, itch or tingling, a feeling of " skin tightness." It can often be dry, even flaky, and show rosacea, which are not always a sign of sensitive skin, but may be associated to it.

When these feelings are stronger, we speak of hypersensitive skin.

Sensitive skin can cause discomfort but may be treated by following a few important rules:

  • identify and avoid or protect from the triggers
  • prefer products that are very well tolerated by skin, both for your daily skin care treatments and makeup
  • Always use a sunscreen formulated for sensitive skin

How can I tell I have sensitive skin?

People with sensitive or intolerant skin typically report they have:

  • tingling or stinging
  • itch
  • burning
  • tight skin 

What are the causes?

The exact causes of sensitive skin are still to be clearly defined, yet recent dermatological literature suggests the following as predisposing conditions:

  1. a compromised protective barrier because the stratum corneum (the outermost epidermis layer) is thinned and less compact and thus more permeable to the penetration of external substances and to aggression by environmental factors
  2. an alteration of certain cutaneous receptors (vanilloid receptors) which makes the reaction more "acute".

In addition, the damage to the protective barrier speeds up the loss of transepidermal water, which is the water contained in the epidermis, hence causes dehydration, dryness and flaky skin.

What are the triggers?

Early research on skin sensitivity dates back to the 1980s and dermatologists have identified two categories of triggers, often related one to the other and concurrent.
Physical/environmental factors (such as heat, cold, wind, sun, pollution)
Chemical factors (use of drugs, cleansers and soaps, cosmetics)

Besides these factors, a reaction can also be triggered by particular physical conditions, like the menstrual cycle and hormonal changes, and psychological factors, like stress and anxiety.


Further reading:
Hypersensitive skin 
Allergic contact dermatitis and Irritant contact dermatitis 
Atopic dermatitis 

How can I take care of sensitive skin?

Hypersensitive skin can greatly benefit from a daily routine that is respectful of its fragility and restores balanced conditions.

In particular, sensitive skin requires products formulated without ingredients that can potentially irritate and/or sensitise it and that have strong moisturising, protective and replenishing effects.

Learn how to cleanse and moisturise sensitive skin by reading our article: Cleansing and moisturising sensitive skin


Makeup can be a problem for sensitive and hypersensitive skin, especially due to a number of components that makeup may include and also because of the low quality of the products.
Hence, it is of great importance to pick makeup that is formulated with selected ingredients that are also controlled accurately and specifically to check heavy metal content, such as nickel, chromium, cobalt, which may lead to contact allergies. 

If you wish to learn more on this subject, read our article: What problems does makeup cause in sensitive skin.

Want to learn more?

Ask a question to our experts

All BioNike products of the TRIDERM, DEFENCE and PROXERA ranges are developed to reduce the risks of intolerance and are suitable for sensitive skin. Such products are, in fact nickel-tested, preservatives-free, perfume-free (or having an allergen-free perfume), gluten-free and manufactured ​​with carefully selected and controlled ingredients.

In any case, we recommend that you consult your pharmacist and/or dermatologist, who will be able to recommend what is best for your skin.

Did you know it?

BioNike has patented the Beta-Glucan/L-Carnosine complex, an association of ingredients that is very effective in rebalancing and potentiating skin defences and in protecting skin from dehydration and redness. In particular, this complex has been included in the products of the DEFENCE Tolerance range.