You know that sensitive skin requires special care—but how to know if you have sensitive skin isn't always so simple.

To get a better idea of whether you have sensitive skin, we spoke to Dermatologist Dr. Robert Finney to learn about the symptoms of sensitive skin and the best regimen to take care of this particular skin type.

What Exactly Is Sensitive Skin?

"Sensitive skin" is a general term for any condition that causes the skin to become irritated or inflamed at even minor stimuli that wouldn't cause a similar reaction in most people. Irritants can include air pollutants, such as smoke, certain fabrics, or even lotions and cosmetics.

According to Dr. Finney, some signs that you might have sensitive skin include regularly experiencing the following:

  • Rashes
  • Bumps
  • Redness
  • Peeling
  • Itchiness
  • Dry patches
  • Acne

One clear sign you may have sensitive skin, he says, is if you feel any burning or stinging when applying a product. Any irritation that occurs before more serious side effects (such as redness or peeling) is your skin telling you that it needs something gentler—and perhaps a bit of extra help.

Pay Attention to How Your Skin Reacts to Products

Still wondering how to know if you have sensitive skin? Finney explains that, in many cases, it can be difficult to tell because of all the things people do to their skin: "In this day and age, where many people are using toner, exfoliating frequently, and using many topical lotions that have alpha and beta hydroxy acids, it is not that they truly have sensitive skin, but that their regimens are too harsh for their skin leading to sensitivity."

If you have skin conditions such as eczema or rosacea, you'll be prone to additional sensitivity. If so, it's especially important to curate the right routine to take care of your skin properly. And when it comes to sun care, look for products specially designed for sensitive skin. All EltaMD sunscreens are formulated with zinc oxide, which is known to be good for sensitive skin types.

Skip the Exfoliation and Other Harsh Ingredients

If you have sensitive skin, there are a handful of products and ingredients you should avoid. Dr. Finney says those with sensitive skin will want to stay away from any mechanical or chemical exfoliation (think scrub pads and chemical peels), as well as any alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids.

"If you want something that can gently exfoliate and hydrate simultaneously, you can try a product containing a poly-hydroxy acid," he says.

Other ingredients to be wary of include retinols and acne treatments containing benzoyl peroxide, as they can be drying agents. Finney also cautions that overdoing it with hyaluronic acid can lead to irritation in some. Instead, he advises using gentle cleansers and moisturizing often to help offset any redness or peeling.

Keep Ingredients Moisturizing and Anti-Inflammatory

For sensitive skin, your go-to choices will always be moisturizing and anti-inflammatory. Dr. Finney says to look for products that contain ceramides, glycerin, and dimethicone, as they are hydrating. To help combat inflammation, he recommends products with niacinamide.

As a general rule of thumb, you'll also want to look for products that are fragrance-, paraben-, and preservative-free and those that are non-comedogenic, so it doesn't clog pores or lead to breakouts.

Your morning routine should include a gentle cleanser for the face, moisturizers for the face and body, and a moisturizing sunscreen (Dr. Finney prefers EltaMD UV Daily Broad-Spectrum SPF 40, and physical formulas work quite well for this, as well) to help protect your already sensitive skin from further irritation via the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays. At night, he says to remove makeup with cleansing oil or micellar water, followed by a gentle cleanser and moisturizer to keep skin hydrated.

Having sensitive skin isn't something to be ashamed of. It simply means you'll have to be a bit more mindful of what you use on your face and body. If you think you may have special skin care needs, schedule an appointment with a Dermatologist. With their help, and all the great products available today, you can give your skin—sensitive or not—just what it needs.


  • Audrey Noble

    Audrey Noble is a New York City-based reporter specializing in features, celebrity profiles, and beauty topics. Her work has appeared in Vogue, Harper's BAZAAR, Allure, Vanity Fair, Refinery29, and more. She is a University of Southern California alumna with bachelor's degrees in print journalism and creative writing.

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